Plenty can go awry with an unattended home during a single day. Multiply that day by months, and disasters can be epic.
Broken water supply lines. Floods. Mold. Earthquake damage. Wind storms. Fallen trees. Failed air conditioning units.
Oh, and the bugs.
“Serious bugs,” says Leslie Spoor, founder of Palm Desert-based Executive Errands. Unattended homes can see “an inch of bugs pile up. Black widows. Crickets. Sometimes scorpions. We clean up a lot of dead bugs.” Others have wrangled reptiles including rattlesnakes from homes.
Home concierge services are booming in the Coachella Valley, North America’s favored spot for residences left vacant for entire seasons. The industry ranges from firms with a fleet of vehicles to boutique companies that tout such personalized attention as starting your car so the battery doesn’t die.
Basic services include weekly or semimonthly inspections. Vacant homes are scrutinized to determine what’s amiss — or what might soon ruin a home, such as malfunctioning gas and water lines, toilets, refrigerators, air conditioning systems, washing machines, and pool filters.
“A pool can turn green rather quickly in 110 degree weather,” says Rick Walker, founder of Palm Desert-based My Desert Home Concierge. Concierge services often coordinate visits from outside vendors, he explains: “If your pool service guy is sick or his truck broke down, you can lose a whole pool of water in a few days with that kind of heat.”
The Key Is Key
Absentee home care starts at the front door. Whom you entrust with your key while you’re gone is important, and what happens to that key can be critical.
“I’m surprised at how many people say, ‘I’ll leave the key for you under the mat,'” says Spoor who founded Executive Errands in 2006. Spoor’s strict policy prohibits even outside vendors from possessing keys.
“Sometimes you don’t know how many keys are out there,” says Walker. A homeowner might tell friends or relatives to enjoy her desert digs for the weekend — but neglect to inform the concierge.
“I’ve walked in on a few people, and that’s been interesting,” he says.
Guests may palm their keys to others – which further complicates the degrees of separation between key owner and key possessor. Walker recalls a houseguest who gave his key to a friend who had no knowledge of “codes, the procedures, how to turn off the alarm …”
Powers of Observation
Clients returning to vacation property “never like to walk into a home that’s dark or looks shut down,” says Danny Munoz of Palm Springs-based Casa Runner Property Watch. The short list when opening a home: Cool the house, heat the pool, lay out fresh towels, turn on lights, recharge golf cart batteries, stock the refrigerator and bar, and place fresh flowers in every room.
In short, the entire property should shout, “Welcome home!”
A skilled home concierge is not just wellorganized, but cultivates her senses.
“I stop and smell, listen for things,” says Jessica Young, founder of La Quinta-based Desert Concierge. “Toilets that run constantly, appliances and air conditioning units that aren’t running properly. I have familiarity with plumbing, electrical, irrigation systems – everything.”
Young sniffed out a musty refrigerator, and then spotted a dried water line. “Sure enough, there was a pinhole in the line, leaking water into the wall behind the fridge,” she says. “About $17,000 in damage.
The relentless desert heat can dry roast a home to a crisp – cracking water supply lines and weather stripping, as well as torching roofs and landscaping.
“Air conditioning systems go out all the time,” says Spoor. “One part of the home might be 85 degrees, and another’s 100 degrees. So much can happen in one week.”
Spoor employs her feet to detect looming disaster: “We do all our home inspections barefoot, so we can feel if the carpet is damp or wet. We want to make sure to catch problems as early as possible.”
Anyone can become a home concierge and sometimes, anyone does – it’s an unregulated industry. One family handed its property over to its Christmas decorating service. How much harder could it be to maintain an estate than to untangle 700 feet of icicle lights? “The fountains on the property flooded,” Young reports. “I hear stories like that all the time.”
Ask a prospective concierge company about its background, and get references. The best have extensive experience in real estate. Spoor and Walker, for example, are licensed contractors.
A capable concierge should have excellent communication skills, beginning with prompt inspection reports. Spoor has developed a proprietary software system that extends “full transparency” to homeowners. Hours are logged, visits are scheduled and tracked, and reports are sent. Clients log into online accounts to “see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” says Spoor.
Homeowners are entrusting major real estate to another human, so preferred companies are bonded and insured. Firms cite the high level of liability in the industry, and say vendors also should be insured.
Home concierge services generally are either large or small. Single proprietor services say their advantage lies in familiarity. “I have close relationships with my clients, and they always know who’s coming to their house – me,” says Young. “We exchange gifts, and sometimes go out to dinner,” she said of a client’s grandparents, who visit year after year.
Larger firms say they offer a trusted, timetested brand. “We do background checks on all hires, and everyone is subject to random drug tests,” says Steve Ezer, senior vice president of Palm Desert-based Premier Residential Services, founded in 1959 (formerly Do All Services).
Ezer’s staff of 70 operate a fleet of 17 vehicles during peak summer seasons. “There’s not four or five guys hopping out of a car with buckets,” said Ezer. “Everyone wears a uniform, a name badge. We’ve tried to create a premier look.” Premier, which also staffs a 24-hour emergency line, serves upward of 700 clients.
Most firms offer hourly rates ($45 to $75) and monthly packages that range from $60 to $650 a month, depending on inspection frequency, home size, and included services.
A capable concierge will satisfy clients needs — whatever they are. Spoor was asked once to source a 2008 gold Saturn to “re-enact an accident.” She found the auto, “the only one in the whole desert,” she says, adding that she had no clue what the staging was about, and she didn’t ask.
“I don’t say no to very much,” she says. “As long as it’s legal and kind, I’ll do it.”
GUIDE TO HOME MINDERS
Premier Residential Services
Desert Luxury Concierge
Casa Runner Property Watch
Desert Home Or Away