New Business Helps Protect Vacant Homes from Thieves and Squatters

Posted By Mike Padgett

May 4, 2009

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It was a whisper that launched an Arizona couple’s unique business in one of the nation’s toughest real estate markets.

John and Cyndee Bezik were seated in a Scottsdale church. His real estate business, like many others, was stalled, as was her interior design work. Cyndee leans over to John and whispers an idea that, after church, sent them home where they began their research on the Internet.

That was about 18 months ago. Today, the Beziks’ HomeTenders of America business in metro Phoenix is expanding to Tucson and Sedona. They offer a solution to ward off thieves, vandals and squatters targeting vacant houses.

The Beziks recruit qualified caretakers, called home tenders, willing to live temporarily in vacant homes, tending them until the properties are sold. They say everyone wins – homeowners who want to protect their vacant properties from theft and vandalism; real estate agents who prefer to show occupied properties; the caretakers interested in short-term housing other than apartments; and neighbors concerned about the negative impact of vacant homes on their own properties.

There are similar businesses that specialize in vacant luxury homes, but the Beziks have a wider scope. They accept homes priced anywhere from $100,000 to $3 million or more. Many of their 40 or more houses so far are in the $500,000 to $800,000, “and I don’t care which part of the Valley it’s in because there is this demand all across the Valley,” Bezik says.

Neither the homeowners nor their real estate agents pay a fee to join the program. HomeTenders of America is paid a monthly fee by the caretaker who otherwise would be paying rent or lease for other housing. The fee paid by the caretaker is based on the location and size of the home, and it is much less than market value for the property.

“Our people are not renters, nor are they lessees,” Bezik says. “They are actually subcontractors of my company. Their stay in the home can vary. They understand that. And they do sign a commitment to me for 90 days.”

If the property sells within 30 days of the caretaker moving in, HomeTenders will pay the moving costs to another property in the program, Bezik says.

The owner of the residence, whether it is an individual or a bank, pays the mortgage and any homeowner association fees. The caretaker pays the utilities. HomeTenders pays landscaping and pool expenses.

The caretakers must carry a minimum of $300,000 of liability insurance and a minimum of $25,000 insurance on their furniture and personal goods. In addition, HomeTenders has a $2 million liability policy. Those insurance policies are in addition to the homeowner’s policies, Bezik says.

When the property sells, most escrows close in 30 to 45 days, but the caretakers must agree to move out within 10 days, if necessary.

One downside facing the Beziks is the uniqueness of their business. Although the concept has existed in other states for many years, the Beziks say it is a service relatively new to metro Phoenix. And because of its newness, some real estate agents and homeowners are unsure about it, Bezik says.

About 62 percent of Bezik’s caretakers are over 50. Families are allowed, but pets generally are restricted to small dogs. The caretakers also must undergo background checks and complete the company’s training program. The caretakers will be matched to the vacant homes that match their lifestyles and their furniture. Cyndee Bezik, through her interior design company, Elegant Interiors, will arrange the caretakers’ furniture in the vacant home.

“This is her own furniture, and then we stage it,” Cyndee Bezik says, pointing out a caretaker’s stylish furniture in a luxury home in an upscale, gated community in north Scottsdale. “I put it where it belongs, with all the knick-knacks and things like that. This house showed horribly before we put furniture in it. It echoed, it smelled, it was hot. And now you walk in and it’s like wow, I could live here.”

The homes have lockboxes, giving access to real estate agents when the caretakers are away. The homes must be kept ready for open houses and showing at a moment’s notice, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. The Beziks will stop by the homes, unannounced, to be sure they are kept neat and ready to show to prospective buyers.

Some of the caretakers have lost their own homes to foreclosure, and they want short-term housing until they recover financially.

One of the homes in HomeTenders is in an exclusive part of central Phoenix. Its caretakers are a husband and wife whose printing business suffered when a major client was merged into another company. Eventually, as they used their home equity to keep their business afloat, and as the value of their home declined in response to the metro Phoenix real estate market, the couple’s own home went into foreclosure. They are paying $1,200 monthly to HomeTenders to live in a luxury, gated community.

Another HomeTender property is a patio home in northeast Scottsdale. Its caretaker is a doctor working temporarily at the Mayo Clinic in north Scottsdale. The Beziks also are searching for the right home for an automaker executive from Detroit.

Cyndee Bezik says there are about 47,000 homes for sale in the greater Phoenix region. Of that number, about 26,000 are vacant. She adds that of the vacant homes, about 20 percent are new homes still owned by builders who were unable to sell them.

The Beziks add that vacant homes are targets for thieves and squatters. Bezik recounts a story about a friend who asked him to inspect a West Valley home and add it to the HomeTender program. The friend held an open house on the property on a Saturday. Three days later, Bezik visited the home and found that it had been stripped of its carpeting, appliances, cabinets, commodes and chandeliers and other light fixtures.

Word about HomeTenders appears to be spreading. The Beziks have two Tucson homes in their program, and they recently opened an office in Sedona. Currently, they have more qualified and trained applicants than they have vacant homes. “If I had 100 more homes, I could fill 100 homes right now,” Bezik says.


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May 4th, 2009

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