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What to do with your house when traveling long term

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You have to be careful not to let strangers know you’re out of town for an extended period of time, of course, but it’s usually a smart move to keep a trusted neighbor in the loop.

Owning a home is normally a smart investment. But it can impose challenges when you travel for extended periods of time.

Not only are you stuck paying the mortgage, but you have the challenge of keeping the property safe and properly maintained in your absence. The way we see it, you have three major options when traveling long-term.

The one you choose will depend on your particular circumstances, such as how long you’ll be gone, how comfortable you are with other people stepping into your home in your absence, your financial situation, and other factors.

Let’s look at each of your potential solutions.

Option #1: Rent Your House With Airbnb
If you’re comfortable renting your house, you might generate enough cash to cover your mortgage, and break even on all other expenses, while you’re gone. In some cases, you might also draw enough extra cash to fund part of your travel expenses.

Airbnb and other websites like Homeaway and VRBO are the most convenient choices. They make renting your house as easy as taking a few photos, setting a price, and creating a listing.

If you’re short on time and don’t want to jump through hundreds of hoops just to rent your home, they offer the easiest DIY option. The drawback is you’re ultimately responsible for keeping your short-term guests happy.

If something goes wrong – say, an appliance stops working or a guest loses the keys – you have to be on call.

The biggest perk of renting via Airbnb is that it gives you substantial flexibility. Should you decide to come home a month early, you can simply cancel the reservations and everything is fine.

Option #2: Sign a Short-Term Lease
If you’ll be gone for a serious amount of time, it may make more sense to rent your house the traditional way; i.e., find a tenant and sign a lease agreement. Although it may not be easy to line up a short-term renter on brief notice, it’s certainly possible.

If you hire a property management service to do the marketing, screening, and day-to-day oversight, this can be a fairly turn-key process.

The only downside to signing a short-term lease is that you’re legally locked into the contract. Thus, if your trip ends up being a week or two shorter than you had planned, you’ll have to find somewhere else to live in the interim.

An alternative option is to find someone you know already to rent the place. This would give you more flexibility, while ensuring you have an acquaintance you trust living on the premises.

Option #3: Arrange to Have a Caretaker Stop By
Not keen on the idea of having other people inhabit your home while you’re away? If you don’t need the cash and are able to continue paying your mortgage in your absence, you could allow the house to remain vacant and hire a caretaker to stop by on a regular basis.

Depending on the specific nature of your residence, you should have the caretaker come by two or three times a week to handle duties such as:

  • Mow the lawn, pull weeds, and tackle other basic landscaping
  • Collect your mail, newspapers, and any packages that may arrive in your absence
  • Turn various lights on and off, and adjust any light timer switches so they don’t appear too predictable
  • Water indoor and outdoor plants
  • Check for any signs of emergency problems (for example, a leaking refrigerator or suspicious signs of a break-in)
  • Turn faucets on and off / flush toilets to ensure all of your plumbing remains operational.

These might seem like minor items, but they make a big difference. Not only do they keep your house in good shape, but it’s also wise to have regular activity apparent on your property. This discourages burglars and other criminals from recognizing your house is vacant.

You have to be careful not to let strangers know you’re out of town for an extended period of time, of course, but it’s usually a smart move to keep a trusted neighbor in the loop. He or she can keep an eye on things from the street and let you know if any suspicious behavior appears to happen.

Add it All Up
Most people end up choosing one of the three options above. If you’re going a short-term trip – four to six weeks, perhaps – option three would probably be the best.

But if you’re looking at being away for three months or longer, options one or two could prove to be financially lucrative as well as good policy for ensuring your home remains unmolested.

You’ll want to run the numbers to see which option makes the most sense for you.

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