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  1. Business

Palm Harbor man is a professional house sitter

PALM HARBOR — As spring approaches and winter residents head for their northern homes, Richard Snyder is rolling up his sleeves and preparing to go to work.

The Palm Harbor man will periodically go into winter residents' vacant homes in the bay area and check for everything that can go wrong. He'll flush toilets, check for mildew, examine pool water, check air-conditioning units and door locks, and search for droppings from roaches and ants. He'll give the homeowners a full report of his findings.

After three decades in retail, first working for a local uniform manufacturing company and then for a men's clothing store, Snyder reinvented himself — as a house sitter. He started his business, Home Services Etc., in 2009.

In Pinellas County, most home care services revolve around senior care or pet sitting, but Snyder's job focuses on the house itself.

Most of his clients are winter residents. Other clients either have relocated but haven't sold their Florida homes or they've gone on extended vacations.

While his clients are gone, he makes weekly or monthly visits to their homes to do his maintenance checks and perform tasks such as being there for deliveries and pool maintenance service.

The New York native moved to Palm Harbor with his wife, Nancy, in 1979. He said he came up with his house-sitting idea 25 years ago, but it was too difficult to run a business on the side while working full time.

"It was something I kept in my pocket for a long time," he said. "I knew I'd come back to it because there is a need."

Snyder said he seeks new clients through networking groups and by advertising in community newspapers. Word of mouth has proven effective as well.

His tasks are many, but he sums them all up in a few words: "I touch things and make sure they work."

He also keeps an eye out for any mail that escapes the post office vacation hold — and would be a giveaway that a house is not occupied.

At the end of each visit, Snyder takes photos of existing or potential problems and emails them to his clients, or he phones if something is urgent.

"I hope to find leaks before they become floods," he said, "and get service repair people to the house quickly to avoid a major problem."

Recently, he walked into a Dunedin home and found the house "overwhelmingly hot."

"I checked the air handler and found a buildup of ice," he said. "The air conditioner wasn't functioning at all."

He has found algae growing in pool water, as well as broken pool pumps.

Snyder covers all of Pinellas County, as well as the Westchase area of Hillsborough County. The greatest challenge, he said, is securing a client's trust.

"Before I started the business, I went out and had a criminal background check done on myself," Snyder said. "When I meet someone for the first time, I present official documents."

He is insured, licensed and bonded.

Fees depend on a home's location and size. For a typical three-bedroom, two-bath home or condo north of Ulmerton Road, he charges $50 a month for one visit or $85 for two.

"The peace of mind that comes from knowing everything is okay means a lot to clients," he said. "Many tell me I'm their eyes, ears and lifeline in Florida."