What about phone calls, mail, and newspapers while you’re away? What if guests have questions or something breaks? Figure out how to handle these kinds of details early so you can turn your attention to more interesting things, such as how many pairs of shoes to pack.
Decide how to handle the mail, phone, and newspapers
- Most guests will have cell phones. If guests plan to use your phone, make sure they know which calls are free and which are not. Ask them not to change the greeting on your voicemail and leave any messages that come in so you can pick them up remotely.Uncollected newspapers papers are a beacon for burglars. If you still take a printed paper, stop delivery so papers don’t pile up in case guests don’t want to bother with them.
- We’ve found that stopping mail delivery results in delayed or lost mail, so we ask guests to empty our mailbox every day or two, toss the supermarket mailers and bonus coupon envelopes, and keep the rest for our return. No one has ever minded. If you have a locked mailbox, be sure to leave the key.
Set up a support system
What if the washer overflows, the garage door won’t open, or the furnace goes on the fritz? Guests can’t turn on the fancy new induction stove or lock themselves out? You can’t anticipate everything. But when guests try to figure complicated systems out for themselves, make repairs on their own, or turn to Yelp for a repair person, even a minor problem can balloon into a major expense. Arrange for people you trust to be available to answer guests’ questions and help resolve problems. That’s especially important if you will be off hiking in the Himalayas or otherwise unreachable.
- Authorize people to do repairs. Have a handyperson or a series of repair people at the ready. Let those people know you’ll be away, authorize them to do minor work, and tell them how to reach you in case there is a serious problem. Be sure your agreement with guests spells out who pays.
- Arrange for “eyes on the ground.”Ask a friend, relative, neighbor, or housekeeper to check in with your guests from time to time “to see if everything’s okay” and let you know if anything seems amiss. Give that person authority to handle emergency repairs.
- Hire a property manager. If you travel often or for long periods of time, the cost of a part-time property manager can save you – and your guests – a lot of grief.
Alert your neighbors
It’s common courtesy and good practice to let your neighbors know that strangers will be staying in your home. Watchful neighbors have been known to call the police or building security when they see people they do not know going in and out of a nearby home or apartment. Also let nearby neighbors know who to contact if they notice any disturbing behavior.
Write a “user guide”
We once shivered in a Paris apartment for two days before figuring out how to turn on the heat, and the washer and dryer combo remained a mystery throughout our stay. In those situations (and others), it would have helped a lot to have some sort of “user guide.” Topics might include:
- An itinerary showing how to reach you during your trip
- Names and contact information for support people
- Emergency phone numbers (visitors from other countries might not know to dial 911), and possibly, contact information for a doctor and pharmacy
- Instructions for accessing the Internet, including the name and security code of your network, and what to do if the Internet connection fails
- If guests will be using your phone, how to access voice mail or use the answering machine
- How to set and disarm your security system, if any
- Instructions for using electronic equipment, appliances, and heating and air conditioning systems
- What to do with trash, including when to take trash cans out for pickup and what, when, and where to recycle
- Instructions for watering plants and/or taking care of pets, if guests have agreed to do so
- Cautions toilets that back up easily, washer drains that overflow unless cleared, windows that won’t shut when opened too far)
- The location of circuit breakers and the main water and gas shut-off valves
- Instructions for what you want guests to do when they leave (empty the refrigerator, leave some toilet paper, strip the beds, lock all the doors and windows, put all the keys on the kitchen counter)
Assemble an information kit
An information kit is a sort of goody bag, a gift from you to your guests, with information and tips about the area. Your “kit” can be a binder, a folder, or a basket with local maps; train, bus, subway, and ferry schedules; names and locations of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, pharmacies, dry cleaners, shopping malls, and gyms; menus from restaurants you recommend; brochures for art museums, nature preserves, wine tours, theaters, monuments, and other places of interest; contact information for responsible child care providers; and anything else you think would be useful or interesting for your guests. Your local Chamber of Commerce or tourist office is a great source of free materials.
What’s Next: Clean house!