Maintaining a Vacant House – What Do I Do?

Lock and secure all windows and doors

The first thing in maintaining a vacant home is to be sure to lock all windows and doors in your home. While this may sound obvious, it’s actually very easy to forget to check the locks in the midst a stressful time.  Double checking the locks can easily fall to the bottom of the to-do list. However, it’s one of the most important (if not, the most important) step you can take to protect your home when it will be left vacant.

Check the property insurance policy

Be sure to contact your insurance company and purchase Vacant Home Insurance.  Insurance companies are justifiably concerned about the increased liability a vacant home presents. If a home is vacant for more than 30 days, most insurance policies won’t cover any damage if there’s a storm, water damage, or break in, etc.  To avoid this problem, you need to update your policy to vacant home insurance.  It will cost you more (often it costs 1.5 – 3x the amount), but if you don’t do this you may have any claims denied.

Park a car in the driveway

It’s important to make your home look like it is occupied.  Burglars are more likely to break into a home when the residents are away. By temporarily parking a car in the driveway, you’ll be adding an extra layer of protection for your vacant home. If you’re no longer in the area, ask a friend or neighbor if they would be willing to park one of their vehicles in the driveway.

Give a trusted neighbor or friend an extra key

    If you are in another city or state, you should leave an extra key with a trusted neighbor, friend or family member who lives nearby. This way, if you need to let someone inside the house, such as a handyman or police officer, you’ll be able to do so.  If it is not convenient for you to visit the home on a regular basis, then ask someone like a friend, relative or neighbor to do so for you. If need be, pay someone to perform the service. There are companies that specialize in taking care of vacant homes by performing interior and exterior checks and making sure yard maintenance is performed regularly.

    Use both interior and exterior lighting

    Install variable light timers in a few rooms of the house to increase the appearance the home is regularly occupied, and ensure the lights do not turn on and off at the same time every day.

    Fortify your home against intruders by improving your home’s exterior lighting. A combination of lights on timers and motion activated lights will deter burglars. Be sure that the entrances of your home are well lit, and don’t neglect the sides of your home where intruders are less likely to be noticed. Sheds and detached garages should also be outfitted with exterior lights.

    Perform regular maintenance

    Whether you personally perform regular work at the property or hire a service, it’s crucial to ensure maintenance is performed regularly. Not only should the consistent presence of someone at the property serve as a deterrent to criminal activity, but will also help to spot issues before they become larger problems (such as pipe leaks, checking faulty fire detection devices, damage caused by weather events, etc.).

    Don’t let the yard get run down. Dead grass, dying plants or fallen tree limbs in the front yard are telltale signs the house is unoccupied. Hire a landscaping company to clean and mow the lawn on a regular basis.

    Clear snow

      Clear snow from driveways, and sidewalks to reduce slip-and-fall liability losses, reduce the potential for the home becoming a target for vandals by appearing to be unoccupied or vacant, and prevent melting snow from leaking into the home and causing damage.  You’ll want to have the driveway plowed after every snowfall and also make sure the walkway/entrance is cleared.  It’s best to hire a snow plowing service to do this.

      Have mail and newspapers forwarded

      Have mail and newspapers forwarded to an appropriate address or picked up on a regular basis. Even if all mail is stopped, the home should be checked at least weekly to ensure unread mail, flyers, leaflets, etc., do not build up and add to the vacant/unoccupied appearance of the property.

      Check the plumbing

      1. Plumbing-floodWater intrusion can be among the most costly forms of damage to a structure. Make sure the plumbing is drained before any long period of vacancy. And should cold weather be expected, ensure the heat remains on to avoid a pipe bursting.
      2. If hot water heating system and/or water pipes will not be drained, have a water flow sensor and low temperature sensor installed and hooked into a centrally monitored alarm system; and keep thermostat at a consistent temperature throughout the winter months.
      3. If water will not be turned off, shut off dishwasher and washing machine hoses to prevent serious water damage losses. Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so the water supply will be less likely to freeze.
      4. If heat is to be turned off when the temperature can fall below freezing, be sure to have a qualified plumber winterize the plumbing.  The plumber will shut off the water, flush the lines, empty the water heater, etc.  He should also disconnect the main shutoff valve to insure an old possibly faulty valve will not continue to bleed water into the lines.

      Check the HVAC

      1. The heating system should be cleaned and inspected by a contractor to help ensure it is working properly, especially through the winter months, to reduce potential damage from fire and freezing.
      2. The home should be checked regularly (at least once a week) to ensure the heating system is operating properly.
      3. Be sure to keep the heat on.  Make sure you keep the heat above 55 degrees.  If not, you run a serious risk of having frozen pipes. 

      Check the electrical system

      1. Be sure the electric power is not shut off since this will shut down the heating system. If electrical service to the home is to remain on, inspect main electrical panel, wiring and outlets; and repair or replace any defective or deficient items. Check the switches to make sure the light works, as well as heat/AC. 
      2. Check to make sure alarms, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors are working.  Replace batteries.
      3. Periodically check the electricity – Check the lights and heat (weekly during winter and monthly during summer) to make sure they are still working.  Be sure to have someone check after any major storms or snow falls.  You don’t want to have a house without heat…or you may get frozen pipes which can be extremely costly.
      4. Test any the sump pump to make sure it is working.   Common flooding occurs with melting snow or spring rains.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.  This will help make sure you don’t have extra problems in the basement.

      Check the roof

      1. Clean off any debris and quickly check the flashing, soffits, and eaves for any visible damage.  You want to make sure that you won’t have a major issue getting through the winter and the blanket of snow.
      2. Clean out the gutters so that the dirt and leaves are flushed out.  Make sure the water is flowing away from the house.
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