Clipboard in hand, Carrie Blair walks through her client’s summer house in Cutchogue, making sure the fridge is stocked, the thermostat is set and the windows are locked.
Outside, she rearranges pillows on a couch by the pool overlooking the Peconic Bay. She checks for erosion on the bluff. She reaches a line of bushes and frowns.
“I don’t like this,” she mutters. “I think this is poison ivy.” Ms. Blair reaches into her pocket and pulls out a cell phone to snap a picture of the leaves. She’ll check it later and have it removed if necessary.
“I want to make sure that isn’t something scary,” she explained.
The homeowners aren’t in town to do it themselves. In fact, they’re rarely home; Ms. Blair said they come a couple of times each month in the summer.
The family hires Ms. Blair and her husband, Justin, owners of NoFo Property Management, to be caretakers of their property while they’re away. It’s a service many second-home owners are now using as summer residences become more popular on the North Fork.
“We’re taking the pressure off home ownership and putting the pressure on us,” Ms. Blair said.
“We’re here to give them peace of mind,” added Kristen Rishe, a North Fork real estate agent who manages properties with her son, Mark. Their company is called North Fork Management Group.
These caretakers shouldn’t be confused with house-sitters, people who live in a house during off-seasons to ensure it is kept in good condition. Mr. Blair said his company doesn’t cater to the higher-priced mansions that would need such a caretaker. Most of the Blairs’ clients — about a dozen in total — have homes in the $500,000 to $3 million range: well-off clients, but without extravagance.
Part of being a property manager involves coordinating a small army of contractors who can be ready at a moment’s notice to address problems with any property. Mr. Blair said he and his wife perform weekly checks on the homes in their care, and work with plumbers, electricians, landscapers and others to deal with any issues that arise.
Mr. Blair said clients can choose the services they need and can even specify which contractors should be called in the event of an emergency.
“Every client is unique,” he said. “It’s really adding a level of support and assurance that you’ve got a contractor you can trust looking after your home.”
Before booking a property manager, homeowners will meet with the manager to do a survey of the property. This not only gives the managers a baseline concept for the house, but also lets homeowners decide if the property manager is the right fit.
“We don’t want to be too big because then we lose that personal touch,” Ms. Blair said. “They’re putting the houses in our care. They want to get to know us, too.”
Ms. Rishe said property owners who want to hire a manager should be looking for a “standard of excellence.”
“If you’re going to have someone, you need to have to have high standards,” she said.
Mr. Blair, meanwhile, recommends that second-home owners consider the worst thing they could imagine might happen to their home while they’re away — a plumbing issue, an erosion problem — and then ask a prospective property manager how he or she would handle it or prevent it from happening in the first place.
While both the Blairs and Ms. Rishe work with second-home owners, other property managers specialize in helping owners rent out their second homes.
Marilyn Anne Marks of Shorecrest Property Management said many of those homeowners are future retirees who want to rent out their homes to earn extra money before they retire to the North Fork.
Ms. Marks, who runs a bed and breakfast in Southold, treats her clients’ renters with the same hospitality she shows her own guests. After the tenants depart, Ms. Marks goes through and cleans the homes, making sure they’re ready for the next guests’ arrival.
It can be a hectic schedule, she said.
“The property management side of things grew out of that as neighbors and friends asked me to help them manage the rental of their homes for vacationers,” she said. “It is a natural fit, seeing as I already manage several hospitality websites, and have all the software in place for online tracking, a cleaning staff that can take care of the houses as well as my bed and breakfast and, in some cases, I oversee the landscaping, repairs and maintenance.”
Ms. Marks said it’s important to ask questions of any potential property manager.
“Be clear about your expectations and ask for references from the property manager’s clients,” she said.