From burst pipes to leaking ACs, travelling can leave a home vulnerable. During one of the recent storms in Dubai, cabin crew Lisa Groves said were it not for her being home, she would have had floods in her bedroom.
Groves lives in the Meadows with her husband, who, like her, also travels. So the couple’s home is often left unattended. “With the recent rain, our bedroom balcony got totally flooded as the drain was full of sand, so the water ran right into the bedroom. Luckily, I was at home, so nothing was damaged, but leaving the house for long periods can be a worry. In the summer, we worry about leaving the AC off as it very quickly gets mouldy in the house, so it would be great to have someone to just turn it on and off periodically while we are away.”
At times like this, a home-watch service can be helpful to protect properties. The Dubai Police offers free home security service to residents who are away. As Christmas gets closer, many residents will be leaving the city to return home to family and enjoy a winter break. For a good number of these residents, leaving the home unattended can be a cause of concern. From internal and external house inspections to watering the plants and removing unwanted junk mail piling up at the front door, a home watch service can also double up to maintain the property.
Catering to this need, British couple Mark and Elaine Parsons say their company, Succeed Home Watch Services, takes care of leaking water tanks and even flat car batteries for residents who are away. “An empty home can be a vulnerable home,” says Mark, who along with his wife has been a resident of Dubai for 15 years. “In Dubai people are far more mobile than in most other countries. Although we don’t suffer from the same kinds of issues as other countries, namely crime, we have many other risk factors from scorching summers leaving our homes open to mould and humidity, to sand storms leaving things broken and battered in our gardens.”
Mark says there are a number of important things to take care of when travelling. “It’s really basic, but you don’t have to publicise that you will be going away, particularly today on social media. Once you’re actually away, it’s also really important to have someone remove flyers from front of property as that’s an open invitation that you’re away.”
He adds there are some handy ways to secure the home too. “We advise people to install timers on your interior and exterior lighting so that it looks as if there is movement there. Very simple and cost efficient.”
According to Elaine, keeping costs down is important as well when securing the home. “You can easily adjust the thermostat on air conditioning up by three or four degrees to the temperature you usually set it, which keeps the property cool enough to avoid any problems and also reduces running costs. I always recommend that people turn off the water heater too, and remove any perishables from the cupboards and refrigerator. It’s always a good idea not to have leftovers.”
Especially for people without home safety deposit boxes, Mark says: “Hide money, valuables and important documents, but preferably store them in a safe.” Also, don’t forget “to secure any outside shed or storage areas whether from animals, extreme weather or thieves,” he says.
Tor Malmos, a UAE resident for 20 years who currently lives in Arabian Ranches, has heard “many horror stories” about leaks while people travel. “People come back to a ruined house and it can easily happen,” says the Swedish business owner. “Regularly I have water tanks in the ceiling which leak. That’s common; perhaps every 12-18 months. For me, water is the most pressing issue when it comes to having someone check what’s going on.”
Malmos, who travels for leisure around five times a year, says he usually asks people he knows to house sit as “usually the maid will be on holiday at the same time as us.” However, he says it’s now becoming increasingly hard to find people to do this.
“I also worry about my plants. It’s a smaller issue, but it all needs to get sorted.”
Lissy Morris, a pet food importer, shares the same concerns. “I think a home-watch service helps in a lot of ways,” she said. “When I travel I usually have someone stay in the house or ask a neighbour to keep an eye on things. But neighbours don’t have an idea if you’re flooded inside or anything, and I’ve had that before and it’s awful.”
Morris, who has been a resident in the UAE since 1977, said residents must pay attention to technical failures and extreme weather conditions that can play havoc with an empty home.