If you’re one of the lucky residents of the Far North or even the Near North to own a second home in Arizona, you may have recently arrived and are getting ready to swim laps or play golf while your friends back home are researching a new snow blower.
But along with enjoying yourself, we have a few suggestions for improving your property here and now. They’re tips for giving your house loving care that will be a benefit even when you’re not around all the time.
If you’re just returning, you may have wondered whether the September rain (and the floods) that you saw on TV may have affected your home in some way. As you probably know, the rains were spotty. Some parts of Arizona got hit hard; some did not. With luck, your home was not damaged. But even so, you should talk to your neighbors about what went on while you were gone.
Check your ceilings. Are there any signs of leaks on the Sheetrock in your living spaces or garage?
If you spot problems, be sure to call a roofer to check the tiles, shingles or flat roof now instead of waiting until later. December and January probably will be the next wet months, and you want your roof fixed now. If you wait until the rains come, it will be much harder to find a roofer to look at your house. And the longer that you wait to take care of a leak, the more likely that mold could develop in your drywall.
Want to remodel? Because you’re returning in the fall, you have the jump on other winter visitors who may want to upgrade kitchens or bathrooms. As time goes on, more and more snowbirds, as well as full-time residents, may call painters and other contractors because they want to fix up their homes before the holidays. After the New Year, the remodeling business explodes and keeps going right through the early spring.
If your Arizona home is a getaway spot devoted to fun and recreation in the sun, you’re probably not going to gut the living spaces while you’re here. You have a natural advantage in this situation because you could start the work next spring and leave for the summer for your regular home. That can be a good move, particularly if bathrooms and the kitchen will be almost unusable. When you leave, of course, you won’t be able to keep track of the day-to-day situation in the house, including mistakes that could be fixed right away. The best idea would be to make some visits to the house during the summer to check in with a contractor you trust. Call that person regularly; you can also ask them to send you videos and photos of their progress via the Internet. Not all contractors will be diligent enough to do that, however.
Your yard may need help. We did get big rain in September, but this actually has been a very dry year until recently. Even if you have landscapers who come in to prune and clean up, your irrigation system may need attention, too. If plastic lines in a drip system have split open or heads have come off the drip areas, you may have gushers in your yard every time you water, and some of your plants may be thirsty while others are overwatered. Test the system to determine what repairs are needed. Perhaps you don’t even have an irrigation system. Maybe this year is when you should install one.
“The No. 1 problem we see with winter visitors is that they wait until they’re just about ready to go home to do things in their yard,” says John Jay Harper of Harper’s Nurseries in Scottsdale and Mesa.
“So if they plant something new, they don’t have time for those bushes or trees to get well-established before they leave. They assume that their neighbors will take care of the plants, and that doesn’t always work out so well. They also think that if they just plant cactus, everything will be OK.”
It’s good to pick hardier plants, like cactus, of course. But every desert plant craves water in the hot months of the year — even prickly pears, agaves and saguaros.
Fall is the best time of the year to replant bushes and shrubs. It might also be a great time to think about getting rid of a lawn and replacing it with hardier plants that are drought resistant.
As the weather grows colder, prune trees that may have gotten huge during the wet monsoon. You can also prune all the sages and bushes in your yard to one-third their present size; they’ll grow back like crazy in the spring.
Can you take better care of your home when you’re not there? It’s easy in many neighborhoods to spot the snowbird houses, because the shades and blinds are always closed, birds are making nests on the outdoor lighting fixtures and mesquite pods are spread all over the sidewalk.
Maybe you need to have someone visit your home more regularly in the summer to ensure that the house is secure and there are no problems in the yard — such as trees blown down in a storm. Consider house-sitting services. You even can hire someone to take your garbage can out to the curb now and then — just to make it look like you’re home. You might want to install a security system. You might want to leave your phone number for the summer with a trusted neighbor as well.
Getting ready to sell your home? Maybe this will be your last visit to your winter home in Arizona. If so, you want to start now to clean up your house and make needed repairs before you put it on the market. If your home is in a neighborhood where a lot of winter visitors live, the best time of the year to sell might be in January, February and March. But if you’re out in a mixed community where many full-time Arizona families live, you might shoot for putting your house on the market during the summer when you’re not around.
Next week: What does it take to build a sustainable house in Arizona? Is anyone doing it? And what is a “sustainable house,” anyway?
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona homebuilding and remodeling industry expert for 25 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Rosie on the House radio program heard in Phoenix from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3). Call 888-767-4348.