Most insurance companies will not insure an unoccupied home. Insurers know a vacant house can be a target for thieves, vandals and vagrants who could damage the property and create liability issues. Homes that are unoccupied also are at increased risk for fire, plumbing leaks and damaging pests, such as termites and rodents.
But what if you have to move because of a job or you just bought a new home and haven’t had the chance to sell your current house or find renters? Maybe you just inherited a house you don’t plan to live in, but need time to fix up to sell. Even if you are just going on an extended vacation or business trip and need to leave the house empty for a while, your insurance company may still classify your home as “vacant.”
Whatever the reason for owning an unoccupied home, insuring it is not easy and may be impossible. Your insurance company may give you a window of 30 or 60 days to find an occupant for your vacant house or they will cancel your homeowners insurance. If you do not inform your home insurance provider of your absence, you could be committing insurance fraud.
So what is a homeowner to do? If you have a home that will or could be vacant for more than the time allotted by your insurer, consider these options:
First, notify your home insurer immediately about your situation. They may be willing to work with you under certain circumstances. For example, if you bought a new home close to the old location, you can assure them that you or someone else will be taking care of the old one and visiting it frequently.
If you are away from the area and can’t check on the house regularly, get someone you know to stay in the home or hire a house sitter until it is sold or rented. Many areas have professional house-sitting services available for a negotiable fee.
If you can’t or don’t want to find someone to temporarily live in the house, you may want to look into what options you might have through your state’s Fair Access to Insurance Requirements plans, established by the federal government in the 1960s to provide coverage to high-risk property owners.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, FAIR plans usually cost more and offer less coverage than private plans, but can be used as a last resort. Your insurance agent may be able to help you determine if you are eligible for a FAIR plan.
Whether your unoccupied house is insured or not, it is important that you make sure the house doesn’t look vacant. Pick up the mail, keep the lawn tidy, turn on lights, leave furniture inside and park a car in the driveway, if possible, so it will maintain a lived-in look and be less attractive to vandals and vagrants.
For more information about insuring your property, visit the Insurance Information Institute at www.iii.org.