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Tips for Protecting a Vacant Home

Lisa Loper of the Scott Loper Team offers ideas for keeping a vacant house secure.

As some sellers struggle getting their homes sold, many have opted to move on to their next house while still trying to sell their current one. 

It is critical to notify your insurance company if a property becomes vacant.  Potential losses and liabilities with a vacant home may not be covered by a standard homeowners’ insurance policy.  Homeowners’ insurance assumes that the owners are living there and vacant homes are generally considered a higher risk and carry a higher insurance premium.

Some of the risks of a vacant house include:

  • Higher probability of a break in.  Burglars will watch neighborhoods or specific houses for activity before breaking in.

  • Higher probability of vandalism.  Like burglars, vandals will target an empty house.

  • No emergency response.  Emergencies like fire or flooding will go unnoticed until they become larger (and thus more costly) disasters.

The definition of vacancy will vary depending upon the insurance company and even upon the individual policies.  Typically 30-60 days of a home being unoccupied is considered a vacant home.  Some policies will continue to cover liability for longer periods of vacancy but not theft or vandalism.

Think you have nothing to lose or there is nothing to steal?  Since the downturn of the housing market and the economy, there has been a marked increase in the number of vacant homes being targeted across the country.  Thieves are taking built in appliances such as stoves and dishwashers.  There are even cases of HVAC units, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and copper pipes being removed from properties.

If you have a property that has been recently vacated, read your policy carefully (some have “vacancy clauses” written right into them).  You would never want to put yourself in the position where an insurance company could deny the claim.

It is also critical to make a vacant home as secure as possible against theft, vandalism or loss:

  1. Lock all doors and windows. 
  2. Close blinds and drapes so strangers cannot peek in. 
  3. Put a couple interior lights on timers and exterior lights on motion sensors.
  4. Have a friend or neighbor periodically check on the house. 
  5. Keep the yard maintained, sidewalks clear, and don’t allow any mail, flyers ornewspapers to accumulate.
  6. Ask a neighbor to occasionally park in the driveway.
  7. Turn off the main water valve to prevent any bursting pipes, hose ruptures, or water leaks. 
  8. Ensure smoke detectors, burglar alarms and sump pumps are working properly. 
  9. Turn any security systems on.
  10. Unplug electrical appliances (but not the sump pump).
  11. Turn down the temperature on the hot water heater. 
  12. Set a continuous temperature for the house.  Some level of climate control is important to keep any pipes from freezing in the winter months and doors/woodwork from warping in the summer months.

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