You buy a new house and move across town, putting your former home up for sale. Unfortunately, the market is sluggish, and your old house sits empty for months as you wait for a good offer. You may have had a standard homeowners insurance policy, but now that no one’s living there, you probably need a different type of coverage called vacant home insurance.
What is vacant home insurance?
Vacant home insurance is coverage for houses where no one is living for an extended period of time. This might include a home you inherit after a parent dies or a rental property that’s empty between tenants.
Standard homeowners policies are designed for homes that are occupied on a regular basis. Houses with no residents are more tempting to thieves and vandals and may be at greater risk for other types of damage.
For example, a burst pipe might not cause too much damage if you’re home to catch it and turn off the water supply quickly. But if the same thing happens in an unoccupied home, the flow of water could continue unchecked for weeks.
Due to the higher level of risk, insurers generally won’t cover a vacant home with a standard homeowners policy for longer than a month or two.
When do you need vacant home insurance?
Many insurance companies will limit coverage for homes that aren’t lived in after a certain amount of time — typically 30 or 60 consecutive days. For example, your homeowners policy may not pay for damage from the following scenarios if your house is vacant for an extended period:
Vandalism or malicious mischief.
Burst pipes or other freezing-related problems.
Theft or attempted theft.
Say someone shatters a window to get into your house, which has been empty for three months. If they smash the French doors, scrawl a rude note on a bedroom wall, then set fire to the kitchen on their way out, your home insurer might not pay for any of the damage if you didn’t have vacant home insurance.
Vacant vs. unoccupied homes
The primary difference between vacant and unoccupied homes is the presence of furniture and other personal belongings in the house. A vacant home is completely empty (or close to it), while an unoccupied home has enough furniture that someone could come back and live in it at any time. Similarly, a vacant home may have its utilities turned off, while an unoccupied home still has services connected.
Your homeowners insurance policy may have slightly different definitions of “vacant” and “unoccupied” — or no definitions at all. In some cases, you may be able to keep more comprehensive homeowners insurance coverage if your home is unoccupied rather than vacant.
Either way, you’ll want to let your agent or insurer know if your home will be empty for longer than a month or so. By being proactive, you can avoid a potentially expensive coverage gap.
What does vacant home insurance cover?
Vacant home insurance generally covers the structure of a home for damage from scenarios like fire, lightning, wind, hail and explosions. Policies vary, but you may also be able to get coverage for theft, vandalism and personal liability.
Did you know…
Personal liability insurance can help if someone is injured on your property and you’re found to be at fault. For example, if a worker slips on your steps because no one’s been around to shovel the snow, liability coverage could pay for their injuries.
Some companies will let you add coverage for other structures on your property, such as a detached garage or shed. And even if the house is mostly empty, you may want personal property coverage for belongings such as a lawn mower or tools you use to maintain the home.
An agent can help tailor a policy to include the coverage you need.
How much does vacant home insurance cost?
The cost of vacant home insurance depends on factors such as how much coverage you choose and where your house is located. However, you can generally expect to pay more for vacant home coverage than you would for a standard homeowners policy because the property is a greater risk to insure.
Getting quotes from multiple insurers can help you find the best price for the coverage you need.
How to get vacant home insurance
If you already have insurance on the house, start by calling your current agent or insurance company. Depending on whether the home will be unoccupied or vacant and for how long, you may be able to add an endorsement to your existing policy instead of buying separate insurance.
Did you know…
An endorsement is an addition to your policy that changes the terms, often by adding or altering coverage.
If you don’t have a current insurer or you’re not happy with the vacant home coverage it offers, shop around. Below are a few large insurers that offer insurance options for vacant homes:
Vacant home policies are often sold for three, six- and 12-month increments. If you’re not sure how long your home will sit empty, you may be able to buy a longer-term policy and cancel it, with a prorated refund.
How to keep a vacant or unoccupied home safe
To protect your empty home from damage and crime, consider these steps.
Keep up with yard work. Tall grass, out-of-control weeds and overgrown shrubs can make a house look abandoned. If you can’t do the work yourself, hire someone to mow the lawn and do other basic landscaping. In addition to deterring criminals, keeping up with maintenance tasks such as cleaning gutters and trimming branches near the house can also prevent damage in bad weather.
Beef up security. In addition to strong locks on all windows and doors, consider installing an alarm system.
Use smart-home devices. Water leak sensors, smart smoke alarms and doorbell cameras can send alerts to your phone if something at a vacant home needs attention.
Have someone check on the house. If you don’t live close enough to visit regularly, enlist a neighbor or friend to stop by and let you know of any issues.
Set up lights. Motion sensor lights on the outside of your home can help put off intruders. You can also set up a timer for interior lights to make the house appear to be occupied.
Prevent frozen pipes. Set the thermostat to at least 55 degrees. Shut off the main water supply and drain the lines.
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