The house we bought two years ago had been empty for 5 or 6 years. The man who owned it (it had been in his family for 3 generations) died and left it to his girlfriend who had no interest in living here. Gary was taking care of the house for her, and after we bought it, he’s helped us out a lot as well. He’s not technically our caretaker, but he keeps his lawnmower and some tools in the barn, and in exchange he keeps an eye on the place for us when we aren’t here. It’s good for us since he’s in and out of our property at least once a day. We also pay him to mow our lawn, and he also knows the secret locations of wild ramps (pictured above) which will be in season soon!
I thought it might be useful to talk to him about what he does as a caretaker and what he thinks about weekenders.
Kim: Are you originally from the area?
Gary: My grandpa had two summer homes up here and we used to come up a lot from Newburgh when I was a kid. I still have family around.
K: How long have you been living here full time?
G: 22 years
K: How did you start doing caretaking?
G: The guy who owned your house, Robert, told me he wanted his house painted and asked me if I would do it. I realized there was good money in house painting, so I started doing it for other people too. Then I started caretaking for him when he wasn’t around. So I’ve been caretaking for about 15-17 years.
K: How many people do you caretake for now?
G: About 20
K: As a caretaker, what are the types of things you do for people?
G: A lot of it is stuff I do in the winter. When people aren’t here, I can check that their heat is on and is set at the right temperature. A lot of people set their heat at 50 or 55 which can be too low if it gets really cold. I’ll open cabinet doors in the kitchen if it’s really cold to make sure the heat can get to the plumbing.
I’ll make sure they didn’t leave hot fireplace ashes in wrong place – like a plastic bucket on a wooden porch. I’ll check the fireplace to make sure it’s not open or still burning.
During the week, I’ll check for broken pipes, make sure the heat is working, check for break ins, and bring in any packages left by UPS or FED EX. In the summer it’s mainly checking to see if they left any windows open or if there is any damage from rain or wind storms, checking to make sure doors are locked. Pipes can break in summer too, especially in an old house.
I also let in contractors or make arrangements for repairmen to come in if things like appliances need to be fixed. One guy was getting new window shades, so I was there to let in the guy to measure all of the windows.
If there is an emergency, like the boiler stops working or a pipe breaks, I have a list of everyone’s oil company and who they have contracts with. First I’ll call the customer, then call the oil company and make arrangements for them come out and fix it.
A few people leave their cats through the week, so I feed and clean up after the cats.
I also do house clean outs when people sell their house, like when you guys bought this place.
K: How much do you charge for caretaking?
G: If you’re local, about $125 per month. If you’re not local, it depends on how far away you are.
K: What are biggest mistakes you’ve seen weekenders make?
G: Not leaving the heat on at the right temperature. In the summer, leaving windows open.
K: What other additional services do you provide?
G: During summer I do mowing and yard care. Other small jobs like tree cutting. You know me, I do everything – driveway repair, light masonry, light carpentry, stuff like that. In the winter I do snow removal with a snow blower, especially for places where you can’t plow – near garages and walkways, where there’s no room to pile up snow. If they do have a contract with someone to plow, I make sure that the plowing gets done. If I know when they are coming up, I can call the plow guy and make sure it gets plowed so when they come up they can get in the driveway.
My main business is painting – interior and exterior, including paint removal on woodwork. But I have caretaking clients that I’ve had for 15 years.
K: How far do you travel outside of Lexington?
G: About 20 miles one way, 40 miles round trip. So Hunter, Tannersville, Windham, Ashland, Jewett, Prattsville, Shandaken – around that area.
K: What kind of advice do you have for people looking to buy a weekend home?
G: Don’t buy a house too near a creek, especially any little creeks that come down the mountain behind your house. They can be a small stream in the winter but if there’s a big storm, they can come into your house. We saw this happen a lot with Irene.
K: Any advice on buying a fixer-upper?
G: If you buy a fixer-upper either have the experience and skills to fix it, or a lot of money.
K: Any advice on getting along with the locals?
G: Try to mind your own business – even though none of the locals ever do.
K: Do you think weekenders generally need a caretaker?
G: If you can afford it, get one for peace of mind. If you’re stuck in the city and you need something fixed or taken care of, you can call a guy and he can help you out. Then you don’t have to worry about it.
If you want some painting done, or need a caretaker, give Gary a call. He’s insured and has references available: