Execs on the go often need temporary housing.
by Jerry Davich
Whether it’s called executive living, a second office, or split-work residence, it’s a rising trend in the ever-expanding business world.
More working professionals, especially executives, are living at two residences for business reasons, often leaving behind a family to better climb the corporate ladder. Some are encouraged to do so for geographic convenience, others are forced from sheer necessity.
“Many of them don’t have a choice,” says Diane Cline, an assistant broker at McColly Real Estate’s corporate office in Schererville. “Even though their company usually pays the bills, it still takes a toll and it can be very hard on a family.”
Bob Bennett has lived this split-home lifestyle for more than 30 years, involving roughly 17 household moves from city to city, country to country. The 61-year-old Valparaiso businessman has worked all over the world, from England to Japan and Delaware to Indiana. He’s on the move again, this time to Austin, Texas, via Portland, Oregon.
“It takes a special family and a special spouse to understand this work arrangement with a secondary residence,” says Bennett, who’s been married 42 years. “My wife is a homemaker, which makes it easier, but it’s very tough for two working professionals.”
As Cline notes, “I’ve seen couples get divorced because they can’t handle this kind of relationship, where one spouse is gone so much.”
Bennett arrived in Northwest Indiana seven years ago, hired as a private-contractor project manager for the BP oil refinery expansion project. The Michigan native plans to retire in three years and hopes to finally land for good in Texas to be close to family.
He has lived in most every conceivable housing option: Hotels, motels, extended-stay lodging, rental apartments and even a travel trailer. He once owned a home for just nine months, and he once owned four homes at one time. “I’ve pretty much seen it all,” he admits.
The most typical “executive in between” scenario is a corporate executive who is in Northwest Indiana for a contracted period of time while also owning real estate in another region or state. The task is to find a temporary executive lease arrangement, says Dawn Collins, owner/broker for Century 21 Executive Realty in Valparaiso.
“We have had BP, Porter Regional Hospital and Fronius executives pass through our company in recent years,” she says. “I can think of several scenarios we have been involved in with buyers and sellers who are relocating.”
Some executives feel somewhat displaced until they can sell their previous home and reestablish themselves in their destination market, she notes. Others choose to live in two places in an attempt to satisfy both personal and professional demands.
“We are sensitive to the fact that the trailing spouse and children are leaving behind not only their home, but their friends, family, schools and, perhaps, another career,” Collins says. “This causes a high level of stress not only for the transferring employee, but also for the family who may be reluctant to make the change.”
Collins’ office, as well as other agencies, offers several services to the traveling executive: introductions to local parks, hair salons, health professionals, banks, chamber members and even local veterinarians, if a pet is the lone companion.
“We can also assist with carpet cleaners, painters and landscapers, which can be helpful to transferees who don’t know who they can trust in a new community,” she says.
One Methodist Hospital executive still owns a home in Ohio though he also purchased one in Valparaiso to be closer to his daily job. The home is a temporary “stopover place” for him and his wife, who travels the country for her job.
“When assisting relocating clients, my circle of real estate professionals goes beyond the property transaction,” Collins says. “We provide assistance with reestablishing them in their new surrounding community.”
Ken Kosky, public relations director for Indiana Dunes Tourism, says a handful of local hotels cater to such extended-stay executives. “Interestingly, we get more long-term workers in refinery, construction and pipeline work,” he says.
Extended-stay hotels along the South Shore region cater to these on-the-move execs, knowing that word of mouth is still the best form of advertising, hotel workers say.
“They are typically our best customers because they’re more focused on their work than anything else,” says one LaPorte County hotel manager. “But I don’t know how they live at two different places for several months or longer.”
Real estate agents say some execs instead lease a home, offering them the comforts of a house, which doesn’t feel like “living out of a suitcase.”
One top executive for Porter Regional Hospital was in this region for two years conducting contract-labor work during the construction of the new hospital. He temporarily leased an executive-style home in Aberdeen which was owned by a local attorney who transferred out of state and couldn’t sell it during the recession.
Bennett offers advice to younger execs regarding how to best navigate and negotiate such a split-work lifestyle without splitting up your family. First and foremost, daily communication is a must, whether with a phone call, email or Skype video chat.
“You simply have to make time for your family, no matter how busy your work day,” he says. “Plus, if your kids are young, they want to physically see you, even if it’s just for a few minutes each night. They need to know you are there for them.”
Spouses also need to know where they can find their always on-the-run busy executive, so periodic updates can work wonders.
“Even a brief call or quick text can help the cause,” he says.
Bennett also suggests sending a card or some flowers every so often, which goes a long way toward bridging the gap between two homes.
“The idea is to still be a part of the family even though you may not physically be there together,” he says. “It’s possible, but it takes effort and some creativity.”