We think these guys are great.
- John Jacobsen
First, let me start off by saying that Home Watch is a non-regulated service. So, what does that mean? Well, because the Home Watch industry is not recognized by the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS), we have no classification code. This means that we are neither recognized nor registered for what we do with any federal, state or municipality in the US. In Canada, we are not recognized by any province, city or municipality for the service we provide. And because the current trend seems to be towards deregulating industries and services, allowing strangers into your home has become a crap shoot, for lack of a better phrase. All across North America, seasonal and part-time residents leave their homes unoccupied for long periods of time. And doing so comes with great risk. Many insurance providers charge higher premiums to homeowners that leave homes "vacant" for periods of 30 days or more. During the winter in Canada, unless these homes are checked every few days, there are companies that will deny claims. So what can you do? The obvious answer is to make arrangements with someone to check on your home during your absence. But who? Well, a lot of people choose to ask friends or neighbors to help them. This sounds like a reasonable choice. You trust these people. You know that they won't steal things. They are your people, your friends. What could go wrong? The problem lies with expectations and responsibilities, leading to "what ifs?" What if they go away on vacation, or fall ill? What if they make a mistake and miss something...and that something leads to damage? Are you going to yell at them? Stop being friends? Sue them? How can you hold someone who is doing something nice for you accountable? Exactly. So that leaves you another alternative--hiring someone. But who? Should you just shop for the cheapest price because all Home Watch people are the same? How can you tell the good from the bad? Well, that takes only a few questions and a little bit of knowledge.
Most people who are fortunate enough to own a second home have made a pretty big investment in it. And with a primary residence in another state or country, leaving this investment in someone else's hands and care should be taken very seriously. Now, there are those folks who think they have it all figured out. Shut the water, unplug all the appliances, stop the mail, and have that neighbor check on the place. "We've never had a problem," they say. "We are in a gated community, and we have property management." I say good on them. They've been really lucky. Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Powerball and MegaMillions await! Obviously I am being sarcastic, but gamblers do just that. They gamble. They know the odds, and they risk their investments like a bet on a blackjack table or buying a lottery ticket. Granted, the odds are different from those examples, but like all bets, you are gambling. And the wager is a lot bigger than a $25 chip at a table game. And the successful gambler always looks to improve their odds. So let me get to the point. There are a lot of people who are willing and trying to take your keys! And I mean a lot. That said, how to you differentiate the pros from the nos? How did I start this piece? Right. Home Watch is an unclassified, unrecognized and unregulated service. And there are a bunch of "companies" that are taking full advantage of the lack of oversight.
In 2009, when I founded the National Home Watch Association, one of the main goals that I wanted to accomplish was to set some standards. I wanted to create procedures that would protect our clients by standardizing the way we conduct a Home Watch visit. I wanted the insurance industry recognize Home Watch and actually reward those homeowners who hired professional companies to watch over their investments. There were many goals set. But the biggest one--and the only way to gain entry into the NHWA and become accredited--was to have insurance. Not having insurance and going inside people's homes? I'm no gambler, and I would never want an uninsured person on or in my property. But lots of "companies" are uninsured. Why? Because there weren't any standards set, and people and homeowners didn't think to ask. Having been in the Home Watch business since 2005, and founding the NHWA in 2009, I have learned a lot. And a big thing I learned is that even companies that had insurance...were not covered for the services that they provide. How do I know this? The NHWA vets all members for many things, one of which being insurance. Would you be surprised to learn that many companies--ones that seem professional in many ways--who advertise and claim to be properly insured--are actually insured as dog walkers, pet-sitters, janitorial companies, house-sitters (the people who live in your house while you are gone), miscellaneous, security guards, and many other services that won't protect you or your investment? How are they protecting your alarm codes? And everything in your home? If you do employ a Home Watch company, have you discussed their procedures? Have you asked for background checks? Have you seen proof of valid insurance? What is their policy on privacy? Are they protecting your data? Your keys?
So let me answer the question I asked in the very beginning: Why does a professional Home Watch company charge more than others that may look like a proper business? Because they have to. Look, I am sure that there are a lot of very nice people who check on peoples' homes. I know that they did favors for a few friends and decided that they could make a few bucks on the side, and probably keep it a cash business, or not have to show too much income. I know that there are a lot of retirees who are looking to make some extra golf or beer money. I get it. But if they are the cheapest service you can find, what are the chances that they are insured correctly? What are the chances that they will be as vigilant as a professional watching your home? This past hurricane season woke a lot of people up. And a lot of homeowners hired someone who was not there to protect them, or even communicate with them. Talk about getting your money's worth...
When you hire an NHWA Accredited Member, chances are you'll be paying more for Home Watch. Not a lot, but more. It costs money to operate a legitimate business. It costs more to be insured correctly. It costs more to report to you using the latest software, and maintaining whatever license and tax receipts that are applicable in order to be a known entity in your town or state. It costs more to operate in a proper way and spend the necessary time at your home--not just run through your place, flush a toilet and empty your mailbox. Home Watch is about trust. And you need to be able to trust your company, your advocate. And once you have found these people, they need to be able to stay in business, so they'll be there for you, year after year. And that can't happen by charging you less than what it costs for a round of golf, or a meal at TGIFridays. Don't gamble unnecessarily. Increase the odds that you'll be taken care of properly. Spend a few bucks more and hire the Pro.
Thanks for reading.