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It’s that time of year when the back-to-school sales start to trickle in while others start to think about those southern locals. It’s also that time of year where scores of folks trade in their primary craft for a run at the home watch business. Years ago, as I was building my base, the fly-by-night crowd drove me crazy until I realized how quickly the revolving door spun once the illusion of found money dissipated. In recent years, and adhering loyally to a cap on customer volume, Nauset Management is in the fortunate position of having to acquire a small handful of new customers each year as homes are sold or in some cases retired to. That said, I’ve finally reached a place where I can offer some genuine, unbiased, insight as to what to look for in a home watch provider.

Such as most regions of the Cape, the Orleans and Eastham home watch and property management markets are flush with landscapers, housekeepers, painters, realtors, carpenters, retirees, town officials and seasonal shopkeepers to name a few, that trade in their everyday tools of the trade and don the home watch cap in order to stem the tide of the off season.

Licensing and insurance are on par if not chasing the biggest drivers in the business which consists of trust and competency. If you find yourself having difficulty sifting through scores of experts or specialists, here are a few questions to have on hand when screening area companies as there are some good ones to be found.

License, Bond and Insurance – The MA State Police facilitate the Watch Guard Patrol License process. This is required for any company holding keys and entering your home for profit. The upside for the homeowner is that the company is the initial and annual background checks conducted by the Certification Unit. To see whether or not a candidate is properly licensed, call the Certification Unit at 978-538-6128. Anyone engaged in the home watch business that cannot produce verification [a] may not know enough about his or her industry; [b] cannot afford the bond and application fee; [c] has a felony record and cannot pass the background check or [d] isn’t overly concerned with getting caught.

Coverage Area – How many towns does the provider service? Will you have a dedicated contact or will various staff check your home? What are the response times in the event of an issue?

Background – What relative background or skillsets does the company have? Chicken or egg? i.e. is the person or persons checking your home a competent home watch inspector that cleans houses in the summer to bridge gaps or will a prolific housekeeper be charged with assuring your home is in working order?

Storm Protocol – How are storms handled in regards to extending you piece of mind? Do you have to request a check? Is there a particular criteria that triggers an automatic check? Is there a fee associated with this check? How and when is information conveyed? Dovetailing with “coverage” is response. What are average response times? How quickly can third party vendors be made available?

Fine Print – Ask whether or not you can engage services month-to-month or if there are minimum durations. Incidentals: some companies and individuals have rather detailed line item lists ranging from watering plants to flushing toilets, checking on outbuildings, ect. which may be subject to additional costs. Are there late fees for payment or fees associated with terminating a contract prematurely? Do fees vary from one area to the next? Is there a fee for simply calling an off hours number?

Access – Is someone accessible 24 hours a day? Is the person answering a call off hours a representative of the company or an answering service? Who would you typically deal with day-t0-day? Principal, secretary, regional manager?

Third Party Vendors – Does the company work with local trades or are they simply conveying information? How does the company handle subcontract vendors? What is the typical mark up? Can you use your own tradesperson?

Kick the tires, shop around and don’t be afraid to ask a laundry list of questions. With a bulging inventory of people more than happy to hang on to your keys and cash your checks, the home owner actually wields the lion’s share of the leverage as the supply and demand curve continues to shift.