Seasonal/Second/Part-time Home Ownership in Florida
When it comes to second homes in the United States, Florida holds the largest percentage (14.5% of U.S. second homes). Sarasota County ranks among the top three counties in the state for vacation mortgage home applications. With our agreeable climate, miles of beaches, and varied cultural attractions, it's easy to see why you've chosen to make this area your seasonal home away from home. But don't let paradise fool you - the unexpected and undesired can happen, even here. That's why we at Coastal Haven Home Watch continually educate ourselves (and our clients) on best practices when it comes to Florida homeownership.
Florida's Response to Seasonal Home Ownership
The construction and real estate industry has been a booming industry in Florida for years. The consistent trend of a growing population, combined with other factors that make Florida a desirable place to call home, push it to the front of the national market for new construction - continuing the cycle of population growth. It's no surprise, then, that the markets for supporting industries like realty (Florida has more real estate licensees per 1,000 residents than any other state), mortgage brokerage (the majority of U.S. mortgage brokers are located in Miami and Tampa, and Florida is the hottest state on the Mortgage Broker Heat Map), and property management (1 property manager for every 378 residents) are also saturated. And other industries have taken note.
Insurance Policies Favor Full-time Residents
Protecting the investment in your Florida property is a big deal, so it's important to familiarize yourself with your homeowner insurance policy. While all insurance policies list exclusions and limitations, time-sensitive restrictions become especially significant to part-time residents. For instance, one common exclusion is for damage from water intrusion that occurred over a period of 14 days or more. For seasonal residents who spend months at a time away from their Florida home, meeting a 14-day window is a challenge.
Growth of the Home Watch Industry
As the number of seasonal residents in sunbelt states have increased, so has their savvy. They've realized the need for someone more long-term than a house sitter, more accessible than a property manager, more versatile than a home security company and more specialized than a personal assistant. And to accommodate increasingly stringent insurance requirements, they need someone who follows established visit and documentation protocols. The Home Watch industry began emerging in sunbelt states at least 20 years ago, although some consider it still in its infancy. The industry is not regulated by any government agencies. The National Home Watch Association (NHWA) and the International Home Watch Alliance are two organizations dedicated to industry self-regulation through training and standardization.
June 1st officially marks the beginning of Hurricane Season in the Atlantic, and in 2022 Mother Nature wasted no time testing the storm readiness of Gulf coast residents. Potential Tropical Cyclone 1 blew into town June 3rd.
Thankfully the impacts were minimal, but it did offer a good trial run for our home watch clients.
We made several visits to help ensure homes were ready. In addition to mounting hurricane shutters, basic preparations for absent homeowners include clearing any outdoor items that aren't tied down. Should you find yourself in town during an approaching storm, review the All Hazards Disaster Preparedness Guide and other materials published by Sarasota County government.
"Any time" Yard Preparations
The good news is there's no need to wait until a storm is approaching to start preparations! We can help move outdoor items inside at any time, leaving one less worry on your mind if a hurricane is on the way. It's more than the big stuff (patio furniture, grills) - outdoor items include planting pots and watering cans, wind chimes, and other miscellaneous yard decor that can become high-velocity flying objects during severe winds.
Crime Prevention & Detection in Unoccupied Homes
Recent statistics from the FBI indicate approximately 2 of every 100 inhabitants will be victims of property crime each year. Even though the presence of home security systems may deter 60% of burglars, that still leaves 40% who are undeterred. Whether or not you have a home security system, it's important to exercise simple crime prevention strategies.
Encourage Natural Surveillance Through Strategic Lighting
One basic principal of crime prevention is to enable natural surveillance. Illuminating a space can remove sweet spots for would-be criminals. Traditionally, turning a light on in a Florida home when the owner was out-of-state wasn't so simple. Today several lighting advancements can help with remote lighting. With a choice between hardwired, battery-powered, or solar-powered fixtures, motion-sensor outdoor lighting is a great place to start. Mechanical or electronic light timers are another option to consider. Smart Home technologies offer the most flexible and responsive setup by allowing users to automate and remotely control lighting systems.
Not only is it frustrating for stacks of mail to pile up at a seasonal home, it's also a telltale sign that the house is unoccupied - don't forget to forward your mail, and be diligent about checking for important letters! The United States Postal Service classifies mail forwarding for less than 6 months as a temporary change of address. The mail forwarding request can be completed online for a nominal fee. As with any shipping service, letters do sometimes get lost - if you're waiting for a piece of mail and it hasn't yet arrived, be pro-active in your communications with USPS. Don't wait until you return to your other address to see if it was delivered there. Of course, as a Home Watch provider we are happy to empty your mailbox and send photos of any envelopes.
Florida Humidity & Air Conditioning
Florida is the most humid state in the nation. Unfortunately indoor relative humidity levels above 60% create favorable conditions for mold growth. Molds produce allergens and irritants, and can exacerbate asthma symptoms. They also gradually destroy the items they grow on. The longer mold grows, the more damage it can cause.
According to the Florida Department of Health, all mold should be removed. While the homeowner may remove mold in some situations, large jobs and jobs in which the HVAC system is compromised should involve a professional.
Air conditioners remove both warmth and humidity from the air. Even if you are not in your Florida home, it is important to keep the A/C running to maintain humidity levels.
Annual Preventive Maintenance for Florida Air Conditioners
Air conditioners work extra hard during Florida summers, which makes annual HVAC maintenance extremely important in our state. It's not just about keeping your house cool while you're gone - it's about keeping humidity levels low so mold doesn't develop. According to a This Old House article, flat rates for annual maintenance plans can be as little as half the hourly rate charged for emergency A/C repairs. Sounds like the familiar "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!"
Recommended Settings for Florida Air Conditioners
Florida Power and Light (FPL) recommends several settings for air conditioning units in unoccupied Florida homes. Programmable thermostats should be set to run at 72 degrees for two hours each morning before sunrise, and at 88 degrees for the remainder of the day. They recommend non-programmable thermostats be set at 80 degrees in single-family homes, or 77 degrees in in condos/apartments.
Preventing Water Leaks
You're likely aware that undetected water leaks can mean big problems in any home. According to BobVilla.com, water leaks are common (even in newer homes) and it's likely that every house will suffer at least one. Monitoring the water bill is one way be vigilant about catching unanticipated increases in water usage. Other methods - like documenting water meter readings or checking for extra green patches of grass - require someone to be on site.
Water Heater Maintenance
Experts recommend having your water heater inspected, drained and flushed at least once a year. Although not a universal statement, many water heaters can/should be turned off via the circuit breaker when leaving the home for more than a few days. This will help both to reduce the likelihood of leaks and save energy. Note that turning the water heater off is often not recommended for northern homes, where colder temperatures may cause water in the heater to freeze and burst. That's generally not a concern for seasonal homes in Florida, which are usually vacant during the hottest time of the year.
Post-storm Roof Check
Florida is known for hurricanes and other significant storm systems. We're the lightning capital of the country. Our state government uses plain language like "FloridaStorms.org" and "FloridaDisaster.org" to help residents prepare for such events. While everyone watches as the next big weather event approaches, it's easy to overlook the impacts that can come from smaller events. It doesn't take tropical storm force winds or a limb through the roof to cause major damage to your home. These simple post-storm observation techniques can help to prevent and identify situations that lead to leaks. Call a roofing professional if you see something that concerns you.
Remind Your Service Professionals
One of the most common issues Home Watch professionals see in unoccupied homes is water leaks. That's why we recommend turning the water to your house off when you depart for an extended period of time. With each Home Watch visit, we turn the water on and flush the systems - then turn the water off when we leave. If you have a service technician or pool repair person working on your property while you are away, remind them to turn the water back off when they have completed their work.
Cracks in Stucco Exterior
Because many Florida homes are built with pest-resistant, wind-resistant concrete, many Florida exteriors are covered with stucco. If you notice a crack on a stucco wall of your home, contact a building professional to have it examined. There are a variety of causes and concerns related to stucco cracks. Even if the crack isn't a symptom of a structural problem, it could be letting in rainfall that can cause issues with moisture and mold.
Florida Animals & Pests
Florida is home to its fair share of unwanted house guests - and we're not just talking about those sunseeking visitors who missed their flight home. Palm rats tend to find their way out of palm trees and into roofs. Palmetto bugs may not sound offensive, until you realize it's just a colloquial name for cockroach. Frogs, lizards, snakes... we'll stop there because we do want you to spend time here!
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. There are four principles that are applied in a variety of conditions, from agricultural to household use. Level of toxicity escalates as needed. In layman's terms, they are 1) identify, monitor, and educate yourself on the pest, 2) remove access to factors that are attractive to the enemy, 3) use less toxic elimination measures like traps or bait before moving on to 4) apply chemicals as a last resort, using targeted (rather than universal) application. The University of Florida offers example IPM strategies for several species.
News stories of alligator to human interactions increase in the spring, which is to be expected as alligators enter their mating season. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission points out that humans and alligators can coexist. Alligators are found in every part of Florida, and can thrive in healthy neighborhood ponds. The FWC recommends keeping small animals on leashes and at least 10 feet away from ponds, and for humans to keep their distance from ponds between dusk and dawn. You should never, ever feed an alligator. That includes not feeding fish, birds, or turtles within the alligator's vicinity.
If you see an alligator, don't try to get close to it. This less-than-impessive photo of an alligator on the banks of our small neighborhood pond demonstrates a distance of healthy respect for the creature. To report a nuisance alligator, call 866-FWC-GATOR.
Snakes of Red, Black, and Yellow
This weekend we had a bit of excitement at our garage door: a small snake with black, red, and yellow rings! But uh-oh... Floridians beware that those colors on a snake might indicate trouble. The rings could belong to either the Harlequin Coralsnake or the Scarlet Kingsnake.
The first is notoriously venomous; the second is harmless. There is a very old rhyme (with many variations) to help humans distinguish between the two snakes: "Red next to yellow will kill a fellow; red next to black is a friend of Jack." We've never found this rhyme particularly helpful, because it requires remembering the order of the colors and whether it's the fellow or Jack who meets an untimely end.
Here's a different rhyme: These words will help a Florida fellow who sees a snake of red, black, yellow: Scarlet Kingsnake, scarlet nose, gentle as a wild red rose. Harlequin Coralsnake, nose of black, harmful venom, take steps back. Of course, regardless of which snake it is, your best plan of action is to let the snake be! Neither attacks unless provoked.
If you're in Sarasota around May or September, you might notice a harmless but annoyingly oblivious bug bumping into you or landing on you. Actually, it's two bugs. May and September are "Love Bug Season." Yes, the V-shaped union floating around you is in fact a pair of mating insects. The most damaging aspect of love bug season is the havoc their speed-squashed bodies will wreak on windshield, hood, and grill of your automobile. If you are unfortunate enough to drive through love bug territory, be sure to have your car washed so the bug remains don't damage the paint job
Local transmissions of malaria have occurred in the past month in northern Sarasota County (posted: July 2023). The Department of Health continues encouraging residents to "drain and cover" for the best protection against mosquito bites. Drain standing water from your yard, cover containers or shallow areas where water may pool, and cover yourself with clothing when outside. Other tips are to avoid being outside between dusk and dawn and wear EPA approved mosquito repellents. View this video and/or visit scgov.net/mosquito for information on actions taken by Sarasota County and the Health Department to monitor and mitigate transmissions
The Sun and Its UV Rays
Public Service Announcement! The temperatures may be less sweltering (dare we say, comfortably cool?) during Florida's winter months, but don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. As one of the southernmost areas in the contiguous United States, Sarasota County's proximity to the equator means the UV Index remains at 5 or above even in December, January, and February. This qualifies as "Moderate" UV on the Environmental Protection Agency's scale, prompting the advisory "Protection needed. Seek shade during late morning through early afternoon. When outside, generously apply broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher on exposed skin, and wear protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses." Seek an annual dermatological exam to track any changes to your skin. If you'd like to incorporate protection from the sun into your home, there are UV blocking windows and window films available.
Pet Owner Responsibilities
For those of you who bring your furry friends (feline or canine) with you to Sarasota, be aware of Sarasota County ordinances related to protecting your pets and the community. Licensing is overseen by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, Animal Services division. Pet owner responsibilities include vaccinating dogs and cats (and ferrets), licensing your pet and keeping the license tag up-to-date, keeping animals under the control of the owner, and removing fecal matter deposited by the animal.
Maintenance Drives for Personal Vehicles
Cars.com recommends cars should generally be driven at least once every two to three weeks. Check your auto owner's manual or with the manufacturer for information specific to your vehicle. Maintenance drives help to prevent dead batteries, flat spotted tires and other vehicle issues faced by seasonal homeowners.
A floral arrangement awaiting you on your countertop is nice (we can arrange that!), but what if your yard was full of colorful blooms when you returned to Sarasota for the winter season? Installing Florida native plants (Zone 9B) can mean your landscape survives with little care while you're gone, and rewards you with color when you fly south for the winter. Need some inspiration? The UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic is a great resource if you have specific questions and have spent some time studying the characteristics of your yard. We've also found the staff at Sweetbay Nursery to be very helpful (and their selection of native plants is formidable. If for no other reason, go there for a leisurely stroll among flowers, butterflies, and happy people).
Debris from Southern Live Oaks
Non-southerners are very familiar with the raking and collection of leaves that drop from trees in the late autumn. In Florida? Surprise! Southern Live Oaks drop their leaves (and pollen - lots of pollen) in the spring. This can be hugely important for homeowners who have rooflines that form catches, such as where it connects to the lanai. Our home is the perfect example. Even after blowing off leaves and pollen multiple times during the month of March, we had to manually clear the built-up debris from our gutters. This first picture shows the cleaning about 2/3 through the L-shaped catch (not pictured: the four garbage bags full of moist vegetative matter that we removed). If that moist vegetative matter were to sit for an extended period of time, it could contribute to wood rot in the roof.
Dryer Vent Cleaning
While not unique to Florida homes, this tip is coming from personal experience - oopsie daisie! For months the cycle timing on our clothes dryer seemed to be sluggish and getting slower. Tired of opening the door to find damp clothes, the light bulb went off (in our heads, not in our dryer). We've lived in our current house for over three years and never had the dryer vents cleaned!
Long dryer cycles are an annoyance and higher energy bills are a drain, but the risk of house fires is a real danger. Experts recommend hiring a professional to clean dryer vents at least once a year.
Edible Landscaping & Gardens
Can you eat your yard? Munching on grass probably doesn't sound appealing. But Floridians can grow a variety of edible landscape plants and container-friendly vegetables - even in the winter! In the past we have been successful with cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, green beans and peanuts(ish) in the vegetable garden. Our Everglades Tomatoes are just about ready for harvesting from their containers. The kids very boldly tasted fruit from our backyard Bird Pepper plant (the Beautyberries will need a LOT of sugar to be palatable...), and we've given our pet bunny some of the leaves from our sprawling Wild Strawberry plants and Violets. We're still working to get that stubborn Highbush Blueberry plant to thrive...
Did you know spring cleaning can actually benefit your health? If your Sarasota home lacks all the gadgets of your primary home - a pressure washer, leaf blower, lawn edger, etc. - talk to us about how we might be able to help. Or, if clutter in your home has taken away from its refreshing vacation feeling, give Ben a call to haul some items to a donation center on your behalf.