Category Archives: Property Caretakers

Wax On, Wax Off

Wednesday 23 July 2014

It’s training day for cleaning the villa – top to bottom, end to end. Today Carol and Scott show us how they want it done. The day begins at 0800. 

This training is to show us what a full turn would involve once a full house departs. Full house is 4 King bedrooms AND the owner’s 2-room apartment.  The reason it is dirty and needs cleaning is the owner’s family departed right before we arrived a few days ago.

I won’t go into the details but the cleaning involves spit-shining the bathrooms, all with tile floors and showers, vacuuming wooden floors, clean sheets and bathroom towels, packing up the dirty linens for washing, cleaning sliding door screens, wiping off porch rails and porch furniture, inspecting and making sure all AC units and TVs are in working order, cleaning and shining the great rooms and common areas, large kitchen, skimming the pool and surrounding decks, and various other odds and end that need checking. And then there’s the washing to do later. Whew.

Oh look. It’s 5 pm. Where did this day go?

Yes, it took us all day and we stopped for lunch. But there was a lot of discussion with the owners and taking time to explain everything that needs to cleaned and checked to make sure the entire villa is “Show Ready” for the next guests. It’s not hard. But a full house turn will need to be done in 5 hours or less if we have a back-to-back booking in the future. But that is not the norm so we’ll usually have plenty of time to get the villa in A-1 condition.

All in all a very informative day and I believe we now know what the owner’s expect as it relates to cleaning. We can do this. We got it covered.

Villa Caretaker/Host Training Begins

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Today is shopping day for our groceries and other odds and ends we need to set up home here in our apartment. We already know the prices are going to be higher than the U.S.

But first, Scott and I have to go into town to pick up a couple of recliner chairs that go in our apartment. They are at an upholstery shop they have been using for years. They tell us you make things last down here any way you can – just too hard and expensive to get good furniture. The trip to this guy’s shop was enlightening, to say the least. A very nice, local fellow he was who also asked Scott to take him to a gas station to get some fuel in some gas cans for his vehicle that was soon to be out of the shop. We did. Then returned to his shop and loaded the two recliners in the bed and headed back to the villa.

Around lunch, Sharon and I headed out with Carol for the shopping trip. She requested I drive and Sharon navigate from some pre-printed directions they provide to guests so they can get around the island without getting lost. Since I had been out with Scott earlier, I knew a little about the general direction we were headed and had had a chance to see how folks drive down here. A little scary at first but the trip with Carol went fine as far as my driving was concerned. Even Sharon said I did fine.

After 3-4 stops at various shops and stores, we completed our shopping and headed back up to the villa. I say up as it is located at about 700 feet above sea level, perched on a hill, overlooking Charlotte Amalie and the bay where the cruise ships dock. There are some pretty sharp curves and blind spots but as long as you’re careful, you’re OK. Generally, the drivers on the island are courteous, so far.

Later that afternoon Scott requested we take another ride to let Sharon get some practice driving but she just wasn’t ready yet, so I drove again. This time, we went down to the water’s edge, drove along there for awhile, then headed east by the cruise ship port then on out to Red Hook, which is as far east as you can go by car. Then headed to the north side by Megan’s Bay where we learned where we have to take the trash and garbage. Then on to Hull’s Bay which is a very lovely and secluded place we plan to visit often. I have a feeling it will become our little hideaway. Even has a bar and restaurant. Departed Hull Bay and headed back over the top of the mountain to the villa. Nice driving learning trip and got oriented to most of the eastern and northern parts of the island.

We still have a lot of exploring to do. It should be fun in the coming months. Click the map below for a larger version. The general location of the Villa is: find the words “Charlotte Amalie” in the middle of the map, then go up/north where you see “Hotel Mafolie”, see the little white road off the yellow road, leading to the red road? We’re off that white road.

Leaving On A Jet Plane

THE DAY has arrived. The day we depart Georgia and head off to St. Thomas, V.I. to start our new position as Caretakers and Hosts for Silk Cotton Villa.

It was a busy weekend finishing up the packing of our personal items at our home andLeaving for STT getting them in the storage room in the basement. Then, the packing of the two bags we’re bringing to STT. We were able to get all the clothes we are taking into one suitcase under 50 lbs. Then another suitcase for personal items, toiletries, shoes, etc. 1 year, 2 suitcases. But we did ship 5 Priority Mail boxes down last week full of other personal items, vitamins, extra contact lenses, etc.  When Saturday night rolled around, we were pooped but had a nice dinner with one of our cabin neighbors on the mountain.

Sunday was spent handing over our car to Sharon’s daddy, having lunch with her family, and a ride to an ATL airport hotel. Then we hooked up with some more friends for a few drinks in the hotel bar that evening. All in all, a nice last day on the mainland.

Got up and decided to head to the airport for some breakfast and give ourselves plenty of time for a no-stress departure. Although it’s a Monday morning, we made it from hotel to check-in and then through security and on the “train plane” in right at 30 minutes. Unbelievable.

So here we sit, at the gate, waiting to board a jet plane to start our new position at Silk Cotton Villa. Next stop, St. Thomas.

Purging Is Fun

Near the end of summer 2013, my old 1995 GMC pickup just quit working. I needed a truck to perform my Getaway Valet tasks. Plus, with a home and needing firewood and always working on projects, you have got to have a truck. Right, guys?

Toy 002

So, in August 2013 Sharon and I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new Toyota Tacoma pickup. We hadn’t had a new vehicle or a car note in umpteen years – now we did. But at least most of it could be expensed out through the businesses.

Now we’re departing for a new life in St. Thomas for a year and who knows where we’ll be after this gig. We don’t need the truck any longer. Need to sell it. So we created a flier, sent it out to friends and family and their networks. Also placed an ad in Auto Trader. Guess our “luck card” hasn’t run out yet … had a buyer from Auto Trader in a week of placing the ad. Cash money. And got the price we were asking that paid off the note. Toyota Tacoma gone and another hurdle out of the way.

GV_Logo_red-black_RGB

Now we need someone to take over our Getaway Valet business. Lucky us … again. One of our neighbors we’ve know for a few years is retired from the military and U.S.P.S., is young, healthy, and looking for a business that’s not full-time and will bring in a little extra cash. We offer him the business. He decides to take it over. After a little training and learning what each existing client requires to be happy, he’s now on his way to growing a nice little business in Blue Ridge. Good luck, Mark! You will do fine!

About all that is left to do now is pack up our personal stuff to get it out of the way for the new renters coming when we depart. Sharon’s current office becomes the personal storage locker. It’s also a great time to purge and get rid of stuff we just don’t use or need any longer. Purging is good. Purging is fun. Purging makes us feel good. Purging is good for the local thrift stores (and relatives and friends who want our stuff – LOL).

To Sell or Lease

OK. One major task completed – we found a great home for Bailey. Now, what to do about our home – sell, rental program, or lease?Front view

We had done so much in the past few months to get our Blue Ridge home ready to sell regardless of getting a caretaker position or not that we almost completely forgot about the lease/rent option. We did contact a few cabin rental companies about putting our cabin in a vacation cabin rental program but initial responses were that it didn’t look like a cabin. They are right … at least from the outside. From the inside, it looks like a mountain lodge. Oh well, we don’t have time to worry about that.

Screened porchTime is slipping away and selling a home sometimes takes more than a few weeks. One morning I woke up and remembered that Sandy had told us that there was always a need in Blue Ridge for long-term home leases. I decided to make some calls to my contacts at the Chamber to see if maybe they had heard of anyone needing a long-term lease.

I guess we’re on a lucky streak because within a few hours, I received a call from a fellow who wanted to come by and see our place after I sent him a few photos. His dad lives in the area, runs a successful business, and this guy and his wife just moved to Blue Ridge from Memphis so they could be closer to the parents. She recently started work at the local hospital.

Long story short … over the next few days they decide they want to lease our home for at least a year, maybe longer. Our timing works for them so we start the background check process and before long, it’s a done deal. Both sides are happy. And they need it furnished as they still have a home to sell in Memphis. Home issue resolved for the next year. Another major task completed.

Bailey, A Good Dog, Good Friend

We got the position of Caretaker / Host at Silk Cotton Villa. The house is “Show Ready” to put on the real estate market. But do we have time? About four weeks before we have to report for duty at the Villa on July 21st. It’s crunch time.

Let’s see. We need to get the cabin on the market. Find a new forever home for Bailey (the beautiful rescue we got back in early 2013), sell the 2013 Toyota Tacoma truck, and decide what we will do with our other vehicle.

Bailey 3

Sweet Bailey

Finding a new forever home for Bailey was first priority. I created a nice flier on her and within days it was flying through cyberspace from the help of many friends and family who are extreme dog lovers. We received a lot of calls but it was the first person that I discussed our situation with that ending up helping the most. I met him at our Vet’s office. He overheard me telling the Vet what was going on with our moving and why we needed to find Bailey a new home. This guy knew of someone close by who had recently lost a beloved pet of 18 years and had been dog-less for about two years. Within a week these folks came to our home for a personal family visit and they fell in love with our Bailey. We agreed to drop off Bailey the next day at their home for a Saturday visit while we attended an all-day family affair. When we arrived to pick her up that evening, there sat Bailey on the couch with the husband watching TV – like she owned the place. They had a great time that day and asked if she could stay overnight with them. They said they really wanted her. We could tell then Bailey had found a new home. We agreed.

Photo of Bailey at her new home after about a week. New toy was a gift from a new dog friend.

Photo of Bailey at her new home after about a week. New toy was a gift from a new dog friend. Looks pretty happy!

On the way home we decided we would just bring all her things back the next morning as we had another family function to attend on Sunday. When we arrived Sunday morning, there she sat on the couch with the husband again watching TV and didn’t even get up when we came in. We knew she knew and she just looked happy. Yes, it was hard to leave her but we knew we had found the right family.

The way we look at it now is we were chosen to rescue her back in March 2013 so we could eventually find her the perfect “forever” family. We will always love you Bailey! You brought a lot of joy into our lives.

Paradise Calls

Late June 2014

Most mornings, as I’m scrolling through my emails, I see the latest updates from the couple’s job offering sites we follow. Kind of nice to sit there and share with Sharon, discuss the potential, and maybe start our research online of the place and area. We call these discussions our “Board Meetings” before we make a decision to apply or not.

In late May, a job posted for a Caretaker / Host position in the Caribbean … St. Thomas, V.I. to be exact. Positions in the Caribbean don’t come across often so this one really caught our attention. The workload was part-time and provided living quarters. The facility was absolutely gorgeous. Silk Cotton Villa – check it out. We did our research and decided to apply.

Within a week or so the owners emailed us to let us know we had made the first cut. Now they wanted some additional information. Of course we complied. Got the requested information back to them via email ASAP.

A few weeks later we received another email from the owners informing us we had made the final cut down to three finalists. You can imagine our excitement while reading that email. We had been out all day on a lake with some friends and the email was several hours old. The owners also stated they wanted to conduct a phone interview that evening. We emailed back to let them know we would be available during the assigned time.

Sharon and I both thought the phone interview went well. The owners asked a lot of good questions that would help them make a decision. As we had been through several interviews like this before, we knew not to get too excited because you never know what the other end is thinking or who is your competition. All you can do is be prepared, be honest, and put your best face forward. Then wait.

Near the end of the phone interview, the owners told us when they would make a decision and they would contact us whether it was a Yes or No. The prescribed day came and that evening, the call came. And then the message we wanted to hear, “Are you ready to start at Silk Cotton Villa?”  Guess what our answer was?

Property Caretaker Training

The real estate agent that helped us find our home in Blue Ridge is a friend I’ve know since high school, Sandy Wilbanks (if you’re thinking of moving to Blue Ridge, contact her – she’s awesome!).  At the time we started looking for a home, Sandy had been living in BR for about 8 years and knew the area very well. I mentioned to her that my marketing business had slowed down a bit. She suggested a great idea – a property care, home/cabin watch, and concierge service business for absentee owners of mountain vacation cabins. Her suggestion got my attention.

As she explained more, I learned that a large majority of these absentee owners were in need of a trustworthy, honest, professional to handle various projects and needs for them. Example:

A new owner lives in Tampa, FL. They buy a new construction cabin and are about to furnish it. They need someone to open the cabin and accept deliveries. They need someone there to let the propane gas guy in. They need landscaping. They need housekeeping services, And the list just goes on and on. And based on what Sandy was telling us, there just weren’t many service professionals in BR filling the need. After some research and developing aGV_Logo_red-black_RGB marketing plan, we decided to start a company to fill this void and we named it Getaway Valet.

I joined the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce with Getaway Valet and also signed up for the Leadership Fannin training course in early 2013 as a way to meet local leaders and build a network. And it worked. Between referrals through the Chamber and referrals through real estate agents, Getaway Valet was gaining about 1 customer per month. And it could have done much better if I had put 100% of my time into it. But as fate would have it, when 2013 rolled around, my established marketing business (Key Concept Services, Inc.) started getting busy again and I spent most of my time on it and my long-time, established customers. Getaway Valet became the fill-in business but I knew it had great potential.

By opening Getaway Valet, I learned a lot about what people want as it relates to service and it just confirmed what I already believed … people desire and expect 100% customer service – especially people with extra money to afford a vacation cabin. But as we all know, 100% customer service is vanishing from most service-oriented businesses.  I can’t tell you how many times people smiled and thanked me just for showing up on time. I heard so many stories of how some of the local service providers never showed up, never returned phone calls, and on and on the complaints went. I found out quickly that my professional training, management training, and just a basic good upbringing from good parents made a big difference in me as an adult.

Operating Getaway Valet for the past years also confirmed my belief that Sharon and I were ready to enter the professional property caretaker business and lifestyle. We know how to do it. We know how to WOW customers with extraordinary services. We know what we like in excellent customer service and would provide nothing short of our standards for anyone who might hire us. Our confidence is high and when the right position comes along, we will be ready.

The North Georgia Mountains Are Calling

It took over a year to sell our dream home in Alabama but the right couple did come along. We sold it in 2011. So, now where do we want to go and what do we want to do? We were watching the couple’s job sites and applying occasionally but only for jobs in the southeast as my mom was in a nursing home in ATL and we didn’t want to get too far away … just in case something happened to her. I’m sure this is and can be a big issue for many wishing to pursue the couple’s job lifestyle. But we kept looking at the updates and applying for positions we thought we’d like or fit us. No cigar yet.

Sharon found a job in the Apparel industry at a small firm located in Cumming, GA. Not as bad as ATL, but still too crowded for us. You do what you have to do to make ends meet. After about six months in a 4th floor condo overlooking downtown Cumming, we rented a cabin on the Toccoa River in Blue Ridge to celebrate our anniversary, April 2012. While sitting on the porch overlooking this beautiful and serene river and stargazing at the gazillion stars overhead, I said, “Why don’t we move here?” She looked at me and said, “Good idea.” That started the next journey to find a place to live in Blue Ridge.

Fast forward about five months and 70+ home visits later and we’re closing on a lodge typeScreened porch home on top of a mountain just south of Blue Ridge, GA. Gorgeous place and excellent views out to the east and southeast looking to the Aska Adventure area of Blue Ridge. And as fate would have it, only a few days after closing the home, Sharon received a call from some friends and co-workers from her Russell days and they offered her a job with their new apparel-related company. Everyone in the company works from a home office.

Perfect. For now. But I’m still scanning the couple’s job and dreaming. But mom isn’t getting any younger and is starting to have some health issues. We wouldn’t feel right going too far away and Blue Ridge is only 1.5 hours north of ATL.  So we settled into our new home in the north Georgia mountains. And dream.

Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Lining

We escaped the hustle/bustle, crime, and corruption of big city Atlanta, GA (where I was born and raised and Sharon lived from early teens) in 2007. The door cracked open and we jumped through it. We had been wanting to depart the ATL for about 4-5 years. Sharon’s work took us to rural east Alabama where we bought 21 acres of old pastureland and built a nice Southern Living design home.

Loved it. Planned to retire there. But stuff happens.

Prior to leaving ATL, the company Sharon worked for, Russell Corp., was bought by Fruit of the Loom out of Boiling Green, KY. In 2007, they moved her division, Mossy Oak Apparel, to Russell’s founding city, Alexander City, AL. The land we bought was about a 25 mile ride south to her work. Awesome. Living the country life. Easy commute for her. I kept running my small marketing business from a home office.

Fast forward to 2009. Fruit tells Sharon’s group they have decided to shutter most of the Alabama operation and everything and everyone is moving to KY headquarters. Dreams of our country retirement were deflated. We discussed the option of moving to KY and quickly decide NO – we aren’t following another employer. And good thing we didn’t. Within 2-3 years, FOTL had shut down most divisions of the old Russell, Corp.

So, what to do once Sharon’s job was gone? We needed two incomes to support this nice home we built.  But, we’re living in a very poor, rural area of east Alabama and there weren’t many high-paying jobs in the area. Still aren’t.  We decide to sell … or TRY to sell a $500K home and 21 acres, down a 3-mile dirt road, in the middle of nowhere (exactly where we wanted to be). It would take a special family to but this home. But we have to try so we put it on the market.

Now, what to do for gainful employment and where to live (if/when we sell it) and we have no desire to go back to the ATL or any other big city. We have learned to love small town America.

Light bulb goes off. Find a couple’s job since we have worked together a lot over the years in our marketing business.

I started doing some research online and discovered two very good websites that specialize in promoting couple’s jobs: Caretaker.org and Workingcouples.com. We had NO IDEA there were so many jobs for couples available and being offered. And, there are other sites beyond these two that can help, too. Note: in spring 2014, Workingcouples.com launched a sister site called Workinginnkeepers.com specializing in only Inn Keeper jobs since that is a big segment of these type of jobs.

That’s how our couple’s Job seed was planted. The silver lining from a job loss dark cloud. Stay positive and look for the next door to open. It will.