She keeps an eye on your house if you're away

Fenwick Island resident checks inside and out for problems at vacation homes

February 14, 2010|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Special to The Baltimore Sun

Salary: $24,000

Age: 60

Time on the job: One month

How she got started: For 22 years, Barbara Hobbs worked for T. Rowe Price in Baltimore and Owings Mills. The past 12 years were with its facilities and office services division, where she helped maintain the company's five buildings. If there were problems, she would set up the electrician, plumber or other in-house service to fix it. She also would check the buildings to ensure all was in working order.

After she built a house in Fenwick Island, Del., she began living and working most of the year at the beach. She worked first in a grocery store and then at a bank.

In January, she began Home Minders, a house-sitting service to take care of vacation homes while the owners are away.

Typical day: Hobbs got the idea for the business after she took a trip to Aruba and needed someone to watch her cat and check on her house.

"I felt like it was unfair to constantly depend on your neighbors, so I thought I'd give this a try," Hobbs said.

Living in the vacation area of the Delaware and Maryland beaches, she figured a lot of homeowners could use a house-sitting service so they didn't have to come back during the winter to keep pipes from freezing or find water problems or broken heating systems. She also offers pet sitting and will meet an electrician, plumber or handyman at the house if a problem arises.

She charges $15 to $17 per visit, but the cost depends on how often she's needed and what services are requested.

Hobbs is working with five clients. She gathers their mail and sends it to them. She also walks around the outside of homes to look for any weather damage from snow, ice or wind. Inside, she waters plants and checks that everything works properly.

She also meets with prospective clients.

Much of her time is spent setting up the business by making calls and sending letters to real estate agents and management companies to explain her services.

She plans on setting up a Web site and is compiling a list of plumbers, electricians and other service providers she can depend on if a problem arises at a house she's looking after.

In retrospect, Hobbs said it would have been better to start up last summer when homeowners were still in town, but she's busy working on getting the word out now for the coming vacation season.

"Starting the business is tough. You hope it starts with a bang. But at least it's a start and I have gotten some customers," Hobbs said. "People seem to be excited by the service."

The good: "Meeting the people."

Bad: The weather. "With the snow and everyone away, nothing has been shoveled," Hobbs said. "I check the outside as well as the inside [of the house]. You have to either walk in [the snow] or find a way around it."

Philosophy on the job: Give people peace of mind by watching over their homes or caring for their pets as if they were her homes or pets.

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