Columbia couple puts new spin on neighborhood watch

Renee (left) and James Shelby prepare to search a house. Clients can ask the couple to check their properties for maintenance and safety issues while they are out of town.

James and Renee Shelby walk through the house, carefully scanning windows and doors, opening refrigerators and cabinets.

In this case, the house they are searching is their own, but in a few hours, they will repeat the process at two other houses whose owners are out of town.

"I think a lot of people have been looking around for a business like ours, and there's nothing like it around here," Renee said.

The couple started their service, called Shelby's Watch, back in April. Clients tell James and Renee how long they will be gone and leave them a key to their house. The couple then enter the client's house every day to check on things like window latches, plumbing and smoke detectors. They check on pets as well. They call the homeowner immediately if they see any maintenance or safety issues.

"We're more hands-on, so we can detect and see things quicker, I think, than alarm systems can, and we stay in contact with our clients throughout the whole visit," James said.

James, who worked in law enforcement for 12 years including 8 as a Moberly police officer, said he came up with the idea three years ago while looking for a business that would benefit the community. Once he met Renee, he said the two of them decided to start the company he envisioned.

The two visit their clients' houses at random times to avoid establishing a pattern. James said even their clients do not know what their visit schedule is.

The recent storms kept the Shelbys busy. Renee said they visited all of their clients' houses to check for property damage. She said a branch fell on one client's bushes. When she called the homeowner, the person told her not to bother calling a service company to cut it up, but Renee did at least move the branch off the bushes.

The Shelbys did not say exactly how many people have requested their services so far, but they said business has steadily picked up by word of mouth. Some homeowners have already done business with them more than once.