On a fateful evening in 1999, house cleaner Cynthia Ward and property manager Chris Capalbo were in the right place at the right time.Sitting a few tables away from one another at The Corner Bar in Sag Harbor, they were out to dinner with their respective clients. Their eyes met. And then, he smiled.
“He was attracted to me,” she laughed, girlishly flipping her brunette tresses over her left shoulder. “But we had no idea we’d work so well together. Professionally.”
Within a year, the couple was married, with twins and a newborn business: C’s Home & Office Management in Sag Harbor, which recently earned Accredited Member status for the second consecutive year from the National Home Watch Association.
For just over a decade, the business has operated two divisions: a cleaning branch, primarily handled by Ms. Ward Capalbo, and a home-watch branch, headed up by her husband. He is the first to be called if there is a problem—be it a blaring security alarm or impending natural disaster.
“Our clients are generally looking for someone to be on-call for a 24-7 emergency,” Ms. Ward Capalbo said.
“Their eyes and ears as if they were home,” her husband said. “If they’re in Hawaii or out of the country, they can have dinner without wondering, ‘Is my house okay today? Is the temperature right? Do I have the proper fuel, the proper gas?’ They can sleep a lot better.”
“They know we’re here,” his wife said. “And we’re ready whenever there’s an issue.”
On a day-to-day basis, Mr. Capalbo stays out of his wife’s way, he said, and she stays out of his. After all, each knows his or her individual side of the business much better than the other.
Ms. Ward Capalbo cleaned her first house at age 13 in Sag Harbor. With an extra $35 in her pocket, she was hooked. She honed her craft as a side job that paid her way through college. Meanwhile, 190 miles upstate in Rhinebeck, New York, her husband was also knee-deep in his profession. He was practically born into it.
“My older brothers—I’m from a family of eight—they did property management,” Mr. Capalbo explained. “So, I was with them. It was something in my blood, something I understood. I took that out west with me to Colorado and helped a ranch out.”
But in 1993, a riding accident left him with a broken tailbone, two titanium rods, eight screws and a blank road map that led him to the East End, where he eventually met his wife and started a family. The couple brought their twins, Haley and Christopher, to every job for nearly the first two years—seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
And from those humble beginnings until now, the Capalbos have seen it all.
“We’ve walked into floods, no heat, two near-death experiences, a caved-in third story. One time, there was even a raccoon in the house,” Ms. Ward Capalbo said. “We thought the house was burglarized. It just destroyed the house. You’d be surprised what a raccoon can do.”
While the home-watch system cannot guarantee protection against theft, flood damage or other disasters, it is a preventative measure, the couple emphasized. And, at the very least, a luxury.
“A lot of these people who come out here, who have second homes, they have a lot going on,” Mr. Capalbo said. “They have a lot on their plate. Their house is the last thing they want to worry about. They expect it to be ready for them. And that’s what we’re here for.”
A $250 package will buy five house checks and any phone call that needs to be made on the home, Ms. Ward Capalbo said, such as a plumber or fuel delivery. Overseeing the execution is an additional charge, she said. The couple recommends at least one house check per week, which ranges from $40 to $50 per visit, she said, depending on the size of the home.
At any given time, the business is watching 20 to 25 homes from Wainscott to deep in Southampton, Mr. Capalbo said.
“Wherever I am, I can usually get to a house within 20 to 30 minutes, if there’s an emergency,” he said. “I get offers to go to Westhampton, but it’s too far.”
“If we get an emergency call, it’s not fair for them to have to wait 45 minutes,” his wife added. “We have four within a half mile of right here.”
With that, the couple hopped into their grey Chevrolet Suburban and headed to one of their nearby clients for a routine house check.
“A nice little bungalow, right?” Ms. Capalbo smirked as she walked up to the 8,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom, shingle-style manse in Sag Harbor. Her husband sorted through dozens of keys, trying to locate the right ones.
“These aren’t even the problem,” he said, jangling the rings. “The hard thing is to remember all the alarm codes because I can’t write them down. I have to sync all these alarm codes to the keys.”
Once inside, the first thing he checked was the hot water by turning on the kitchen faucet and letting it run while he opened the refrigerator, smelling for mold or rotten food, and made sure the stove’s gas knobs were off. They toured the house and flushed all the toilets, turned on the televisions and listened for the phone’s dial tone. They checked the thermostats, breaker boxes, washing machines, air handlers and made sure all doors and windows were locked, while keeping an eye out for potential problems, such as mold.
“You have to worry about the burglaries—and there seem to be a lot recently, at least in Sag Harbor,” Mr. Capalbo said, walking up the stairs. “But a lot of what can go wrong is living inside the house itself.”
Outside, Mr. Capalbo checked the gas and oil levels before packing up the truck. The job was done in a half hour, the work of well-seasoned pros.
“People think they can do property management, that it’s so easy to just check houses all day. They always think it’s such an easy business,” Ms. Capalbo said. “But it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of headache. You have to always be prepared.”
So prepared that the couple can rarely take a vacation at the same time. Their last getaway together was about two years ago, she said. And it was a “five-day stress-fest.”
“I was still taking phone calls. So we decided we just have to go separate,” she said. “My season is in the summer. His is in the winter. And we’re in it for the long haul. Our kids are gonna be doing this. They know all the customers’ names, they know what’s going on.”
They smiled at each other as Mr. Capalbo slung an arm around his wife.
“It’s our lives,” she said.
For more information on C’s Home & Office Management, visit cshomemanagement.com.