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Home Watch: an Encore Profession for Veterans

 

Home Watch: an Encore Profession for Veterans

As second-home guardians, former military members continue to serve and protect.

by Kathy Grey

Having served their country on tours of duty and deployments, returning veterans face myriad challenges, including choosing a civilian career that at once utilizes their skills and provides a well-compensating and meaningful profession. One such career is home watch, carefully tending homeowners’ second homes when Florida “snowbirds” fly north for the summer. Home protection and service are in critical demand for these winter digs, and who better to protect and serve than former members of the military?

 

Necessary but Unregulated

Home watch service is a vital aspect of seasonal home ownership, and the need is rapidly increasing in Florida. And yet, the home watch profession remains unregulated, which means anyone handed a key by the homeowner to pop in for a look-see is also handed responsibility for the uninhabited home. In that, most friend-watchers aren’t trained to spot trouble brewing, such as excessive humidity, mold growth, and slow leaks. Sadly, and unbeknownst to many seasonal homeowners, insurance policies may require proof of scheduled supervision and maintenance when the domicile is unoccupied for an extended period of time. By the time a helpful friend spots damage, the homeowner could be facing tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs insurance won’t cover. Worse yet, the untrained friend-watcher could be held accountable.

 

Wanted: Professionals

“An unoccupied home is a vulnerable home. True professionals know what to look for,” says Diane Pisani, who founded Florida-based Your Home Watch Professionals (www.yourhwp.com) in 2009, dedicated to training home watch careerists in growing first-class businesses with her Home Watch Academy (www.homewatchacademy.com). It’s the first e-learning and resource program developed exclusively for the profession.

Furthering her support of the standardization of the home watch profession, Pisani co-founded the not-for-profit International Home Watch Alliance (www.ihwalliance.org), dedicated to professional development, mentoring, and marketing for home watch professionals. 

 

To Protect and Serve

          Dr. Sandra Kauanui is the director of the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). In 2016, she was approached by the nonprofit Veterans Florida — whose mission is to help military veterans transition to civilian life — to create an entrepreneurship program exclusively for Florida’s returning veterans. That program is now the standard for eight such programs conducted throughout the state.

          “Veterans have struggles coming home from the service. They come back and often find themselves working in menial jobs,” Dr. Kauanui says. But she has observed that veterans who own their own home watch businesses can discover “a purpose to make someone’s life better — to help them protect their homes, as they learned to protect in the military. It resonates with them … and they don’t have to have a tremendous amount of overhead.”

          The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program at FGCU is administered by Troy Bolivar, a Navy veteran whose gift is helping other vets find their career niches, assisting them with websites, social media, marketing, and business planning. The free 12-week programs (https://www.fgcu.edu/soe/ife/veterans-florida) run twice a year and are offered only to honorably discharged veterans. Participants who complete the program pitch their business model to a panel of judges to earn equity-free seed funding.

 

A Fit for Veterans

       It was in FGCU’s Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program that Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Watkins, 48, learned about Pisani’s Home Watch Academy.  There’s a huge need for home watch, Watkins says of the blossoming Hero Home Watch business he has launched with his wife.

“We just want to protect our clients. What they don’t know is what we want to inform them of. Education is key. Every job needs training, and (Home Watch Academy) was super beneficial.”

Veteran Ed Dort agrees. He’s the founder and president of the multi-faceted Directional Command LLC, which has a Southwest Florida home watch component.

Dort attended West Point and is an Honorably Discharged Service Disabled Veteran who enrolled in the FGCU Entrepreneur Incubator Program as well as the Home Watch Academy.

“I work and network with many veterans across the country. I’ve gone through Home Watch Academy. It’s an ideal program to be geographically focused,” he says about vets seeking second careers in second-home markets. Dort recognizes that skills honed in the military are transferrable to civilian life and that the Home Watch Academy provides a low-cost way to launch a business that utilizes those skills.

“A lot of the training veterans have is ideally suited to home watch,” Dort says. “The Home Watch Academy gives you the tools, and you walk away with a business plan,” a qualifier for veterans seeking grants and low-interest loans.

“Starting a business from a blank slate can be difficult.” As in battle, he says, “The organizational skills keep you going.”

Home Watch Academy’s structured education — down to its forms — “removes stress from having to create something from scratch,” Dort says. “It’s a well-organized program that’s comfortable for veterans.”

Having acquired a security background in the Army, Retired Sgt. 1st Class Vic Martinez has been home watching since 2017. He left Afghanistan and served as the personal guard to a Swiss CEO, protecting his multiple properties and his personal well-being. When Martinez and his wife, Roxana, decided to return to the states, they chose Estero, Florida, to be near his older brother. Not wanting to be “tied down to someone else’s agenda,” as he puts it, the couple attended Pisani’s home watch course together, “so we were both getting the same information at the same time,” he says. Course-provided coaches and mentors guided the couple through the business plan writing process. 

“We thought what (Home Watch Academy) was offering was great: learning about home watch rather than learning by mistake,” he says. “We’re fortunate that 98% of our business has been word-of-mouth, established (mainly) in one community in Naples. I’m concerned about my clients because most of them are elderly. I look after their homes more than I do my own.”

A few miles north of Southwest Florida, former Army military police officer Lisa Thompson and her husband Jeremy have owned and operated West Villages Home Watch since 2018. Jeremy had been working with builders in their community, 65% of whom are seasonal residents. He heard about the home watch profession and asked Lisa to look into it. They never looked back.

The couple, parents of children ages 15, 6, 5, and 4, built their business by networking in the West Villages’ five gated communities.

“It’s a brand-new community. We were sitting on a wide-open market,” Lisa says. She held lunch-and-learn sessions for residents in West Villages clubhouses, educating them about the home watch need. She built relationships with other professionals in the expanding community. The business, she says, “just boomed.”

“Realtors and builders are the best people to get the word out because they are the first people to educate owners,” she says, recalling one unfortunate incident in which a homeowner left for an extended time and returned to $6,000 in damages the insurance company denied because it was left unattended.

Today, Lisa says, “We are slammed. We get five calls a day about new clients,” hoping to be added to the couple’s 150-client business that employs one “home reporter” and is poised to hire two others.

“I would absolutely recommend” the home watch profession to fellow veterans, Lisa says, knowing that many share her dedication to “policies, regulations, and forms to keep everything in order.”

Veteran Greg Kaseeska served as an Air Force Chief from 1966-1989.

“When I retired, I sort of knew what I wanted to do. I have a masters in management and two other bachelor’s degrees,” he says. After “working for the man” in albeit VP-positions, he says, “I was itching to spread my wings.” He started a home inventory business in Naples that didn’t take off, he says, and that’s when he met Pisani at a networking gathering. He signed up with Your Home Watch Professionals to learn about the home watch profession.

“The big bonus was I had my learning with Diane,” Kaseeska says of Pisani. He felt his association with Pisani carried greater clout because she is recognized as a leader in the profession.

Kaseeska has been a home watch professional since 2013, serving 65 clients throughout Collier County, averaging about 30 houses a week — some once a week, some every ten days, some every other week.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Kaseeska says. “It’s very interesting and challenging. You have to have the customer service ability, dedication, and be strong with details. There’s always an opportunity for the right person. If you’re going to be your own boss, you have to break away from the mentality that someone tells you what to do.” Still, Kaseeska sees the home watch profession as a good fit for veterans.

“With military training, you don’t panic. If the A/C isn’t working or the pool is green, you just handle it. You know what to do. If a situation arises down here when they’re up there, you call the owner to get approval to have it fixed. It’s all about the customer service relationship. They trust you.”

That trust is the reason the home watch profession is ideally suited to U.S. military veterans, who live to serve and to protect.

Kathy Grey is a freelance writer and editor who contributes to a variety of print and online publications.

 

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