—Buying & Selling

Protecting and Maintaining a Vacant House

It’s hard to track how many vacant houses there are in the United States. The Census Bureau’s definition of a vacant home includes standalone houses, separate apartments within a large building, mobile homes, RVs, and even a railroad car. Taking all this into account, in 2018, the US Census tallied over 17 million vacant homes. Most of these homes are probably not standalone houses, which need a special level of care and maintenance. Whether you’re managing a vacant home for sale or are keeping one in good condition for later use, here are some management tips.

Keeping a vacant house safe

The first safety precaution to take with a vacant home is locking it up. This means all doors and windows. If you want, leave an extra key with a trusted neighbor or put a combination key holder on the front door. Any time someone comes into the home, they should check that everything is still locked. This helps deter anyone who wants to take advantage of an empty home, but it’s not always enough.

Further safety measures like motion detector lights or cameras are beneficial. Place lights above garage doors, front doors, and the sides of your house. If you have a patio door or ground-floor windows, it might be a good idea to add a light there, too. They’ll pop on with any motion. Criminals don’t like to break into a home when there’s a visibility risk, so the lights on their own add a lot of safety. Cameras, especially at your front and back door, further ramp up the protection of your home.

One final safety measure is an alarm system. If the home already has one, just reactivate it. Most monthly monitoring plans cost between $15-30, so this isn’t a large expense for peace of mind. Make sure to put the security system sign out front. Should the alarm go off, the sound itself does a lot to stop theft. The police will also come to the house without anyone having to call 911. Share the alarm code with a trusted neighbor or real estate agent, just in case. 

Maintaining the property

It’s not uncommon for people to associate a vacant home with one in bad condition. The best way to refute this assumption is by maintaining the yard. Dead grass, dying plants, or even an unkempt look can have an effect. Consider having a landscape team come and perform regular yard maintenance.

For the house itself, it’s always good to form a relationship with a local handyman you can trust. Find someone who can tackle small issues like leaky faucets along with larger repairs like loose siding. Even if they can’t do the repair themselves, qualified handymen usually know someone they can refer for the job.

You may also want to do a regular visual inspection of the home to make sure everything remains in good condition. Check things like the roof and gutters on the outside and plumbing on the inside. A walkthrough every couple of weeks, at different times on different days, will help you catch issues before they get out of control. Being unpredictable about when you’ll come can help keep the house safe as well.

Suggesting occupancy in a vacant home

Since vacant homes can be a target for vandalism, it’s helpful to have a plan in place that suggests occupancy. Make it a little less clear whether someone is living in the house or not. Set lights within the home to go off on erratic timers, if there’s electricity, so there’s no pattern. Park a car in the driveway overnight every once in a while. Put the mailbox flag up when you think about it. You can also keep the upstairs blinds open. Make occasional changes that are easy to see, like putting something in a window or adding a lawn ornament. These actions all say someone may or may not live here. It helps protect a vacant home.

Getting insurance

If something unexpected occurs and you find yourself dealing with a costly issue, having vacant home insurance makes a difference. Most insurance plans of this type cover vandalism as well as certain disasters like fire, lighting, wind, and hail. Your current homeowners insurer should be able to help you with getting this specific type of policy.

When it’s time to sell

There are many benefits to selling a home while it’s vacant if you’ve properly cared for the house. An empty home is easier to show since there are no occupants to work around. You don’t have to worry about the house staying clean. It’s also often easier for potential buyers to visualize their own stuff in the house when it’s empty.

It can be tricky selling a vacant house since empty homes make flaws more obvious. They can raise questions about why nobody is living in the home in the first place. Having an experienced real estate agent help navigate the sale of a vacant house is the best way to bring out the positives of the home while assuaging any concerns about why it’s unoccupied. 

The key is to make a good first impression on potential buyers as they approach the home. You don’t want to lose the home’s ‘wow factor’ by not taking good care of it even while nobody is living in it.