Retreat Caretakers, the Good, Bad and the Ugly
Recently I had the honor of reviewing a spectacular working retreat somewhere in Idaho. The owner, whom resides out of state, was present to give me a tour over the grounds covering hundreds of acres filled with multiple springs, ponds and varied terrain that would leave most of the readers here coveting thy neighbors retreat. I suppose I’m guilty as I write this update as well. Thank God for His grace.
The intention of this weeks update is to briefly explore the idea of retaining a full time caretaker at one’s retreat, the pro’s and of course the cons of such an undertaking and the objective of such a decision.
On the surface most, including myself, hail to an astounding NO, when the thought comes to having another person living at their retreat. What about OPSEC? Where am “I” going to stay if someone is in “my” house? What if they tell all their friends? What if….? Questions abound so let’s explore some of these on a purely logical basis, never mind someone is keeping your toilet seat warm in the winter.
First, what is a caretaker and when would one be needed? Well, generally caretakers are just that, they would be required to oversee and maintain the property in your absence and then be of utmost service while you were on site. From some quick research it is generally accepted that the caretaker lives in the home and then retires to a guest house while you are there (this could be a small apartment or a trailer on the property). There are some properties that require only seasonal attention, usually in the winter and thus caretakers may change as often as the season, making for possible problematic OPSEC issues. The best reason I can see to employ a full time caretaker is that you know your supplies and gear is safe, either they know about it and are trusted to help PM it, inventory it and rotate it or they simply are ignorant to the walls being hollow. Either way, your stomach is ulcer free and you can live your life without switching on your expensive retreat-o-cam every morning wondering if your gear is now at the local flea market.
What can a caretaker actually ‘do’ for an absentee owner? If the property is large enough there is a lot of check items that may be overlooked. For starters, like the property I reviewed there will be major daily, weekly and quarterly chores, especially in the spring and summer like:
1. Check, adjust and perform PM on the Solar/PV/hydro systems
2. Tend to animals that you want firmly in place should the retreat be activated (you won’t be able to buy them when TSHTF)
3. Tend to the garden daily and canning activities at harvest time
4. Check and rotate food storage
5. Walk the perimeter fence line and fire break attending to issues
6. Brush clean up for fire season
7. Walking trail maintenance
8. LP/OP checks (Have the critters taken a hold?)
9. Firewood cutting (maintain three years worth)
Any roads including the driveway will need to be maintained, especially in winter and after any significant storms in the summer. If there are ponds on the property who will make sure the stocked fish have a viable environment to thrive for that extra protein should food run low someday? A good caretaker also makes sure that neighborly relationships are intact and that as you approach your retreat after a major event that the odd’s are in your favor that the retreat has been well protected in your absence its’ ready to go when you arrive. The list goes on and on and is unique to each specific retreat.
I guess a good way to sum up the benefits of having a caretaker is like that ol’ Motel 6 commercial where the narrator says at the end “we’ll leave the light on for you”. A comforting feeling for sure.
What are the pitfalls of having a caretaker? I suppose even listing them here would be a waste of words as we all can think of many issues that can become major problems like theft and a total destruction of OPSEC. Those would be the worst of the worst. Should a caretaker be hired, your storage should be split into two places. The first should be the bulk of your supplies, say 75% into a known bunker that can be managed by the caretaker. The other 25% needs to be placed in a secure unknown bunker ‘just in case’, since even the most trusted person can innocently betray’ their friend. One loose word or errant comment can be an issue.
If anyone has ever seen or owned a rental property that went vacant for more than a few months then it should be obvious that homes and surrounding property can become neglected and unmanageable very quickly. A meticulous and trusted caretaker can be a blessing.
How much to pay a caretaker? Normally, in high scale urban environment caretakers (whom some are required to be certified chefs and nanny’s) are paid a salary and benefits. However, this is not the case for rural caretaking positions. Most times pay is a barter of some kind such as free room and a small stipend for duties around the retreat. The owner I spoke with had adjusted his arrangement with his caretakers over several years. In the beginning the caretakers rent was a sum and then it was worked off on an hourly rate, but this was an issue because in the summer the owner had to pay out of pocket not only the monthly maintenance tab but hours back to the caretaker since in the summer there were many projects to do. In the winter the caretaker owed the owner money since there was little to do on the retreat and this arrangement quickly was replaced with a much simpler one calling for no rent and no minimum hours, just a detailed checklist of items that needed to be completed as the seasons changed.
Another issue that roars its’ head is that caretakers normally run a cycle and over a period of time either get burned out, become complacent (or think its’ their retreat), or just simply want to move on. In the beginning they will work like Siberian sled dogs and after a time they’ll work like a seasoned union worker (no offense of course, I was a union worker years back and I knew how to take a break too!). This can be elevated by having a clear and concise contract that lays out duties owed by both parties and remedies for all.
The caretaker does not have to part of your ‘group’. There are plenty of very trustworthy individuals and families that can be ignorant to what the properties real intended purpose is so as to keep your OPSEC in place. Just remember, should a perilous situation arise it is your duty to ask them to stay and if they so choose, to keep on hand enough supplies to take care of them for an extended period of time. If you think that upon retreat activation you’ll just send them on their way, maybe you ought to re-examine your own motives and be wary, since the possibility of them returning to harm you will be very high. On the flip side, maybe a member of your ‘group’ is in a position that they can take the position to make up for any shortfalls in their capital calls to purchase the property. There are many ways to find and retain a caretaker, be very discerning and choose carefully.
So folks, either while shopping for your retreat or once you’ve bought one; consider the merits of a caretaker. After seeing first hand how a caretaker can help a retreat owner the bottom line is that if one selects their caretaker carefully the benefits far outweigh the risks. God Bless, – TS in Idaho