Considerations for vacant dwellings when the lights are on but nobody's home

A vacant home attracting unwanted attention

There's no question that in today's real estate market, things don't always work out exactly the way you plan. Maybe you found your dream house, but your current house doesn't sell as quickly as you need it to, and you end up having to move before you have a buyer.

Maybe you're a landlord, and you find yourself with a gap between tenants, leaving your rental property sitting empty.

Or maybe you inherit a home from a relative, and it's sitting unoccupied while you figure out if you want to sell it, rent it, or live in it.

There are lots of reasons that homes become vacant, but there are some things that need to be considered no matter why the home is unoccupied.

First of all, there are some special considerations to keeping your vacant home safe. You don't want to make it a tempting target for thieves by advertising the fact that it's sitting there empty. Consider buying an inexpensive timer to turn the lights on and off at irregular intervals, so it looks like someone's home. You can even buy a device that will turn the TV on and off, so a casual observer will assume someone is inside.

Depending on the season and your location, you might want to look into hiring a lawn service or snow removal service. It's also a good idea to drop in regularly, or to have a friend or neighbor regularly check on the home.

There are lots of reasons that homes become vacant, but there are some things that need to be considered no matter why the home is unoccupied.

Another major risk to keep in mind for your unoccupied dwelling is the risk of water damage. If you're home and you notice a leak, you can address right away before it becomes a big problem. But a slow leak in a vacant home can become extremely devastating before it's discovered. If you can't check on the home frequently, you might want to consider shutting off the water entirely to lower your risk of this kind of damage.

Your insurance may be a less visually obvious risk than the snow piling up in your driveway or the weeds growing out of control, but it's something you definitely want to consider. Many Homeowners policies have limitations that kick in after 30 or 60 days of vacancy, which means you may not have the coverage you think you do. Talk to your agent to see if you can add an endorsement to your policy to extend coverage.

Another option is a policy designed specifically for vacant dwellings, which take their unique risks into consideration.

Whether it's an endorsement or a specialized policy, make sure you talk to your agent and read your policy documents so you understand exactly what coverage you have. In many cases, certain coverages like Vandalism and Malicious Mischief, Theft, or Water Damage may be unavailable or very limited on vacant dwellings. Since vacant homes are particularly susceptible to these sorts of losses, you want to know what your coverages are and take all the steps you can to make sure the home is safe and secure while it's empty.

No matter why your home is vacant, or for how long, make sure you're doing everything you can to minimize your risk.

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