Houses on Vacation

Have you noticed that Baristaville is quiet? Many of our neighbors have fled for summer vacation. I tell this cautionary tale below now, not to be a summer buzz kill, but as a reminder that it’s a good idea to have someone keeping an eye on the homestead while you’re out playing.

Ten years ago, while on our annual sojourn to Cape Cod, some kids we didn’t know discovered that we had a trampoline in our fenced-in yard. A group of 10, ranging in age from around 5 to 12 years old, created their own, unsupervised jumping camp on our property, while we unknowingly enjoyed our time away.

Our neighbor (who has since moved), noticed the kids’ daily visits and decided it was harmless. She opted not to call the police, or us, for that matter (she had our emergency contact information). Nor did she mention the issue to us when we returned. We only found out later, when things got ugly.

The kids kept showing up, despite our homecoming. I confronted them — politely at first, then more sternly — and told them they were not allowed to play in my yard. They were opening our gate and throwing themselves around the trampoline with carefree abandon, defiant towards my efforts to get them to leave. Had one of them gotten hurt, I knew it could result in a nasty lawsuit. And, despite my love of kids, this bunch was disrespectful and nasty.

Ultimately, I brought out my dog (who is very friendly, though I let them think otherwise), threatened to call the police and they left. A few days later, I came home to the smell of burning rubber. The trampoline was on fire. Luckily I caught it early, and it didn’t spread. The fire department determined the cause to be arson, which came as no surprise. The kids were never found.

Not to make you paranoid, but a good away plan can make a vacation (and your re-entry) a bit more carefree.

How do you handle leaving an empty house, sometimes for weeks at a time? Do you appoint someone (with better judgement than my former neighbor, hopefully) to keep watch? Do you get a house sitter, notify the police of your absence, or take other precautions against intruders? If you have a pool or other backyard attraction, how do you keep it off-limits when you’re away?

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  1. I’d imagine those kids are the kind of kids who would also spray paint a wall they don’t own. It represents the same kind of disregard for private property and lack of respect for others. It’s part of the general breakdown in social morality which you cheer when it’s paint on someone *else’s* property.

    You can’t “admire” the one, Erika without expecting some of the other.

  2. House sitter!

    Many of my friends who live in the city have offered and I’ve taken some of them up on the offer. Having someone in the house makes me feel safer and my friends enjoy the use of my pool and that we’re walking distance from Brookdale Park, Clark’s Pond, Brookside Park and the bikeway on Ridgewood Ave.

    We stock the house with food (some who live in the city don’t drive). Ask the house sitter to come out the weekend before we go- explain everything and introduce them to our neighbors.

    We’ve never had a bad experience.

  3. Thanks to the job market, there is someone at home all day in every house on the block except mine. The neighbors take my mail and keep an eye on the house. And would never think it’s harmless to let kids play in my yard.

  4. This year, my parents came form Florida to visit the week before we left for Martha’s Vineyard. They stayed in our home while we went on vacation and it was the best thing. Not only was I more relaxed, not worrying about if anything was going wrong at home, I came home to a clean house!

  5. Oh are the people away, I thought they were open houses offering free samples, oops, my bad, I guess that’s why there weren’t any realtors when I visited. *snort* giggle giggle

  6. The second time the kids showed up after explicitly being told to leave. You should have called the police. I’m going out on a limb here and assuming that these weren’t children that you recognized from the neighborhood, whose parents presumably would have reinforced your request. You are very lucky that no one was injured, because you certainly would have been sued.

  7. I always tell a couple of neighbors when we are going to be away for more than a day or two. I feel much more comfortable knowing that someone will take in the papers and mail, and in general keep an eye on things.

    Never occurred to me that anyone would use the backyard for illicit playing, though. Somewhat related story: last year our neighbor was away for weeks and had their teenage babysitter coming to feed the dog. The girl would come over with her boyfriend and disappear into the house for long periods of time every afternoon…I emailed my neighbor to let her know, but judging from her (polite) response she wasn’t crazy about me butting in. Oh well, best intentions…

  8. Summer is not our “go away on vacation” time, since… well, we both teach, so as another teacher friend suggested: “vacation from what?”

    So I make a point to be aware of what’s going on in my neighborhood (in truth, from my command post in the west wing library, it’s my usual place). For that, I always collect newspapers for neighbors and ALWAYS check out any “repair/cable/van/truck” that shows up.

    When we do go away- Spring Break, Christmas- I could care less about the Palatial Estate. I only care that my cats are tended to. That the same person is in the house everyday is only an added “safety” benefit.

    Oh, and at no point has the 35,000 gallons of water in the backyard ever been touched by anyone other than an invited guest. I guess we’re lucky in that regard.

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