According to a 2009 USA Today report, 1 out of 9 homes are vacant. Although, more so in recent times, “foreclosure” may come to mind when you hear “vacant home;” however, there are other reasons why a home may be vacant, which may include: the home owner bought their new home prior to selling; seasonal travelers head to warmer climates during the winter; job relocation; divorce; or an unsettled estate. Regardless of the reason for leaving your home vacant, making preparations prior to leaving may make your return more welcoming.
Even if your home is listed with a Realtor®, don’t assume that the home will be looked after; take care of your asset and ensure that your vacant home is cared for. Consider having a trusted person in charge of checking the vacant home regularly. Besides collecting un-forwarded mail, this person can take care of issues that may arise while you’re away.
As we are headed into winter, consider winterizing the home. “Winterizing” is jargon that describes the draining of water and pressure from the plumbing system. Experts recommend winterizing your home if you plan leaving your home vacant during the winter months. Winterizing your home may reduce the risk of bursting pipes as well as possibly reducing damage to plumbing fixtures. When winterizing and de-winterizing your home, consider hiring a licensed plumber because you may encounter unexpected high pressure, and the winterizing process may cause increased stress on the plumbing system.
Check the drainage around your home to ensure that water is removed away from the home as intended. Test the sump pump (if you have one) to ensure it is in working order. Blockages from leaves and other debris can build up on the roof and gutters as well as around basement stairwell drains (which are notorious for clogging and may cause a flooded basement). Clogged gutters and drains may cause roof and basement leaks even when a home is lived in; certainly if unattended to, can wreak havoc on your vacant home.
Cold weather is also a time when pests are seeking a warm shelter; you don’t want to return to the surprise of a home that has been infested with mice, raccoons, or other pests. A licensed pest control expert may be able to assist you in preventing an infestation by searching for and sealing pest related access points.
Theft and vandalism is often a primary concern for vacant home owners. Besides being the target of thieves, vacant homes often become the focus of vandals. Besides ensuring that valuables are safe, make certain that all doors and windows are secure.
Finally, consult with your insurance agent about your home owners’ policy. Don’t assume that you’re covered just because you have insurance. Besides describing what the insurance company deems as “vacant,” many home owners’ policies have coverage limitations when the home is considered vacant. Your insurance agent can assist you in determining if you need additional coverage while you’re away from your home.
Taking care of a vacant home is not only for lenders taking possession of foreclosed homes. Whatever your reason for leaving your home behind this winter, think ahead and take care of your asset. Consider taking preventative measures to keep your home safe and intact as well as arranging for someone to take charge of the home while you’re away.
by Dan Krell
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