Caring for part-time homes

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By Julie Satow / The New York Times

Geneva Simms and Nathan Lavertue were driving to their country house in Dutchess County, New York, one recent weekend when yet another spring snowstorm struck. Despite that, when they arrived late that night, their home, which was built around 1780 and was once a Quaker meetinghouse and a stop on the Underground Railroad, was not bitterly cold. That is because during his lunch break in Brooklyn, Lavertue had turned on the heat remotely, using his smartphone.

“We have three cameras — two exterior and one interior — four Nest thermostats, two Echo Dots, one Echo Show, one traditional Echo and 10 smart lights. And also the Nest smoke detector,” said Lavertue, a global experience design director for IBM, who installed the equipment himself. “The cameras are for security, but they provide plenty of entertainment. I have really funny footage of Geneva running after a UPS truck.”

Like a lot of second-home buyers, Lavertue and Simms, a personal trainer, corporate wellness coach and founder of Empower to Power, were overwhelmed at first with figuring out how to protect their country house when they were not there. The married couple, who rent in Brooklyn and had never owned before buying their house in Stanfordville last year, researched their options and then turned to do-it-yourself smart home components. They plan to add another smoke/carbon monoxide detector, several more smart thermostats and a digital front-door lock to complete their home security system.

But while smart home systems can offer second-home owners peace of mind while they are away, they cannot step in if a pipe bursts or a driveway is buried beneath a pile of snow. For that reason, many homeowners, even those with extensive smart home systems, supplement the technology with old-fashioned human help.

“Usually, I suggest a two-pronged approach,” said Jessica Chutka-Pelletier, a broker with Douglas Elliman in Chappaqua, New York, who sold Lavertue and Simms their home. “For ease of use, I suggest apps and a lot of DIY things. Then I give my buyers a list of local people to call.”

Justin Brent is just such a person. Brent is based in Pound Ridge, in Westchester County, and has worked in the town’s maintenance department for more than two decades. He is also chief of the local fire department. And he is the proprietor of Pound Ridge Home Management LLC, which he runs with his wife, overseeing more than a dozen second homes in the area.

Brent checks his customers’ homes once a week, conducting a 21-point inspection, from the mailbox to the basement, for $55 an hour. The company also provides ancillary services, or will find third parties to do so, from power-washing furniture to changing light bulbs and fixing HVAC and plumbing systems.

“These are weekenders, so if they come up on a Friday night and the heat is broken,” he said, “it is an emergency and they have to call the heating company to come.”

Brent said he addresses any problems that arise during the week, “so that when they come up, they only have to turn the key in the door and turn on the lights and enjoy themselves.”

Mary Trier has a similar company on the North Fork of Long Island, New York. Her job, particularly during the fall and winter months, centers on coastal erosion and protecting homes from storm damage. “I thrive on the bad weather,” she said. “I am fixated with the weather report.”

Trier provides a range of services, from securing beachside steps to critter control, and charges a monthly retainer of $120 to $125, which includes weekly property checks. For anything more, she charges an hourly fee of $25 to $30.

For those who want to supplement services like Brent’s or Trier’s with smart home systems, there are a number of options, from traditional firms like ADT to relative newcomers like Nest.

Nest, which is owned by Google, makes products that feature modern, sleek designs but are relatively costly. The Nest Secure system starts at about $500, with the option to buy additional products like Nest Hello, a $229 video doorbell, or Nest x Yale lock, a $279 key-free deadbolt operated with a pass code.

Of course, some homeowners cannot be bothered to deal with installing smart home security systems or face having to work with management companies. They prefer to have someone on site at all times. That was one reason Joanne Intrieri recently decided to buy a home at the Four Seasons Private Residences Fort Lauderdale.

Intrieri and her husband, who are based in New York City, already own property in Arizona and Pennsylvania. “We know what it’s like to have sandstorms and snowstorms, and have to find people to fix things when you aren’t there,” she said.

At the Four Seasons project, owners will have all the conveniences of a hotel, as well as on-site managers to cater to most needs. “Having been there and done that,” she said, “I don’t want to have to lift a finger.”

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