Yes, I know what you are going to say: “don’t do it!” or “rent it!” or “sell it!” I’ve already heard this from all of my friends and family. Now, I want to hear how it is possible to keep a house vacant for a long period of time…
You see, we’ve spent the last 11 years lovingly restoring an old Victorian townhouse in the city. We just didn’t do a quick “home depot” job. We took our time researching the history and architect of the house and “listening” to our house on what it wants us to do (paint color analysis, reading an old diagram, on the wall drawn by the original builders from 100+ years ago on how a particular moulding was assembled, etc.) We spent our weekends dumpster diving to get period hinges, claw foot tubs, and mouldings. We scoured architectural salvage yards in three states just to get the perfect hook to go into our closet which was an old trunk room.
As a result of our work, the house includes 17 custom made wood windows which cost an arm and a leg; two period bathrooms that took months to build out (with very expensive fixtures and Ann Sacks tiles); a custom kitchen with very high-end appliances, hand-made cabinets that match a 100 year old china cabinet we had, and delicate marble countertops; 12 original doors that were dipped and refinished (each door costing $1,500 including antique hardware); antique light fixtures we personally imported from Europe; antique delft tiles in the foyer; new(old) floors that are composed of old growth heart pine salvaged from the bottom of some river; numerous silk Persian carpets; rooms with walls we had plastered by a plaster artisan (I had to sell my other leg to pay for this); several high-end built-ins we commissioned, and marble fire place surrounds salvaged from local mansions. In addition, we stripped 10 layers of paint from all of the window mouldings and an entire stairway, stained and sealed them. As you can see, the house is a result of 11 years’ of our blood sweat and tears and we can’t help but be attached to it, so selling is not an option – we want to keep it as long as possible. After all that work, we just can’t see ourselves renting the place either (honestly, could you rent a place like this?). I know that there are good renters out there – I was one of them – but even I didn’t take care of the place as well as I would if I owned the place.
After 11 years of renovation, I was finally relaxing and enjoying the fruits of our labor when BAM! My spouse decides to become a Foreign Service officer and before we know it, we are being assigned to a country far, far away (it takes over 24 hours to fly to this country). Ugh! Our first assignment is for 2 years and then we move to a different country. This could go on for the next 10+ years.
We are doing the best we can to plan for the vacancy. We hired a property manager who will come into the house to make sure things are working ok. He will turn on the air conditioner and heat in the summer/winter (our winters are mild). I have a very dependable sibling who will spend at least one night during alternating weeks. We will install several cameras that will alert us via web/smart phone if it senses movement. We also have a good alarm system. We hired a gardener to do upkeep of the yard and shovel snow in the winter. I also have a really good neighbor who will keep an eye out on the place. Also, we will be home for several weeks every six month or so for R&R and vacation.
What else should we be doing? Should we do more? Should I install a dehumidifier that drains directly into a drain pipe? I read other posts about mothballing the house, but it’s for short term. I’m talking years here. Any suggestions would be appreciated, but please try not to tell us to rent the place. It’s really not feasible at this time. The house is not up to code as a rental property and we are not willing to alter the historical integrity of the house just to accommodate a renter. Thanks in advance!