HUDSON — Your home is locked, the main water valve is shut off and a neighbor has promised to keep an eye on things from across the street, so what’s to worry about while you are away on vacation or spending the summer up north?
Maybe nothing; maybe plenty.
Leaving one’s most valuable asset unattended for more than few days could mean a roof leak develops, causing mold to bloom throughout the house. Leave it a few weeks and one might return to an insect or rodent infestation. Though rare, one could even return home and find strangers squatting in their home.
Mike and Brenda Martyniak, owners of POV Home Watch, have seen just about everything since they started their home watch service five years ago. They have clients in Brooksville, Spring Hill, West Pasco and Wesley Chapel.
From dealing with a major hatching of fleas, to finding failed pool filtration systems and air conditioners, to discovering a burglary, they’ve been the eyes, ears and noses for area homeowners — some who are thousands of miles away.
Part of the National Home Watch Association, a network of “watchers” around the country, the Beacon Woods Hudson-based couple have clients from as far away as Canada, Scotland, Norway and the Philippines. Their website is www.povhomewatch.com. Licensed, insured and bonded, the service offers higher level of care than “asking a friend or family member to check on the house once in a while when we’re gone,” said Brenda, who recently left her job with the Hudson unit of the nonprofit senior services agency CARES because the demand for the home watch business run by her husband was became so great. It was the moment they’d been working for.
“When we started it, the plan was to, hopefully, one day work together,” Brenda said, referring to POV. That day came last year, when more and more area residents began discovering the service.
“A lot of people still don’t know this is available around here,” Mike said. “It’s well known and very popular in Sarasota and Fort Myers, but hasn’t really caught on so much here yet.”
That will change, the couple believes, and they expect more people will learn about professional house watching. Real estate and insurance agents are spreading the word, as are mortgage companies and banks advising new homeowners who are buying but plan to leave the home vacant until they are ready to move in.
“A lot of people don’t realize that their homeowners insurance might not be able to cover damage if it isn’t reported within two weeks,” said Brenda.
What that means, said Mike, is if a water pipe leaks and floods a home while the owners are away for the summer, they may not have a valid claim when they discover the damage in the fall.
“Insurance companies consider it negligence if you don’t report an accident within two weeks, and sometimes deny covering,” said Mike.
That’s why POV recommends contracting for service that provides at least two house checks per month, he said. All POV contracts start and stop at will, and there are no long-term commitments, he said.
When taking on a client, the couple does a custom profile of the home they will watch, surveying and photographing it, taking note of all its features and systems that should be monitored.
They record the location of air handlers to monitor for leaks, the locate electrical breakers and water shutoffs and gather other important information.
The average cost of POV service for a three-bedroom, two-bath home is $65 to $75 per home visit. The visit charge for a small condo might be $45. They note that while people with condos might feel more comfortable leaving a home unattended while away, as they share walls and halls with neighbors, but it can be even more important because of those shared walls.
The absent owner of a ground-floor unit would never know if a water leak in the unit above them is dripping down into their wall, said Mike, adding that’s not something anyone wants to discover too late.
If POV discovers a problem, the homeowner is contacted and advised of it. If a repair professional is needed, POV travels to the home to open it for the service call, supervises and secure the home when the work is done. If the homeowner doesn’t have a regular repair service, POV can help find one.
Brenda said home watching is a rewarding business in that close relationships are formed with their clients.
“Our clients are a little like family,” she said. “This is an intimate relationship and a trust-based relationship.”
That trust is built when homeowners feel confident all is in hand while they are away, something that’s hard to achieve without professionals on the job.
“We had a new client once who said we wouldn’t have to worry about the pool or the yard because they had good people already taking care of those things,” recalled Brenda. “Well, within three weeks the grass was up to here (holding her hand a foot above a table) and the pool was green.”
Mike and Brenda retell a story that brings the value of home watch services into focus: Seems an overgrown yard turned out to be a case of the absent homeowners’ lawn man passing away unbeknownst to them. Had there been no home watcher, the homeowners might have racked up fines from their HOA.
“There are real advantages” to home watch, said Brenda.