Leaving your house empty for over 3 months? There are certain things you must do in order to property protect you and your family, and minimize risk while you are away
First, check your insurance coverage by calling the insurance company or talking to your insurance agent. Are you sure you still have coverage if you are taking the family to California for 3 months, or you are single and leaving your town home unoccupied while you work for your employer in Russia for 6 months? Don’t assume your regular coverage will remain in effect.
If your agent says everything will be fine, ask him to give this to you in writing. Agents make mistakes all the time in this area. Even if you have known your agent for a long time, no good agent will ever be offended if you ask to get this in writing, thus protecting your largest investment from financial catastrophe.
Once you are absolutely sure you have the correct insurance protection whether you put in a vacant home insurance policy or are working with your existing insurance company, you can move on to other items that are also important.
Whether you are leaving in the winter or the summer, it’s a good idea to shut off the water. A washer hose break and leaky water is a common claim when the owners are away, and a small claim very quickly turns into a large loss. It’s too easy in most houses just to shut off the water to not do this.
Inspect the property for safety and potential liability issues. A common liability claim occurs when a child wanders on a vacant property and is injured. The homeowners will almost always lose these cases in a court of law. Woodland owners who harvest timber over thousands of acres are actually buying this insurance today because of the litigious society in which we live. Are there any holes in the ground someone could step in? Do you have a pool or hot tub? Who will remove snow and ice from your property while you are away? If you want to lose a lawsuit in under 3 minutes, have snow and ice accumulate on your property while you are away and have a girl scout slip and get injured!
Work with a neighbor and family member to come by and inspect the property every so often while you are away. However, don’t think this will overcome our most important issue above, the need to contact your insurance company or agent, and the need to secure vacant homeowners insurance. A regular visit by the neighbor does not mean you should assume you have coverage through your existing insurer and you do not need a vacant homeowners insurance policy.
Lock the garage door, something almost no one does when they are living in the home, and make sure all windows are locked. If leaving in the winter, make sure the home stays heated at about 58 degrees or so depending on your region, so there is no chance any pipes could freeze.
Make sure the grass is cut and the property is maintained. Nothing will attract vandalism and theft like long uncut grass, and a pile of newspapers collecting in the driveway.
From a security standpoint, consider an alarm system. Some vacant homeowner’s insurance policies require them, or will give a discount if an alarm system is maintained. It’s a very important piece of mind while you are away. Most security companies will waive the installation fee and if you sign a one year contract, the monthly fee will be about $40 in most situations.
Finally, pest-proof the house. Make sure there is no open food anywhere in the house that could attract bugs or rodents. There is a product called Ortho Home Defense that claims to create a barrier that bugs can’t cross, so spraying it under each doorway and under the garage door is probably a good idea. You do not want to come home to an insect infestation, and of course, this damage is not covered by homeowners insurance.