Thirteen percent of U.S. homes are vacant, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released in March 2017.
But just because your house is empty doesn’t mean you can skip home insurance. Any extended time away when your home is unoccupied can give your insurer a reason to cancel your homeowner’s insurance policy, leaving your house without vital protection.
Maybe you’ve bought a new home and haven’t been able to sell your old one. Perhaps you’ve moved out temporarily while your house is undergoing renovations. Maybe you had a tenant leave the house a mess and just haven’t gotten around to making it livable for the next one.
So you may want to look at buying vacant-home insurance, which can cost 50 percent to 60 percent more than traditional home coverage. Because vacant homes can be targets for vandals, thieves and squatters, home insurance companies consider them high risks and don’t want to provide traditional coverage for them.
Also to keep in mind in cold weather states the winter can be a dangerous time for vacant homes. Heaters go out, than the pipes freeze and no one is there to realize the problem. Squatters needing to get out of the cold choose your place as the shelter.
“That’s because problems like theft, vandalism, fire and flood are far more likely to happen in vacant houses than in occupied ones,” says Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California. “And the ensuing damage could be worse because no one is home to report or fix the problem.”
Here are four things you should know about insurance if you have a vacant house:
1. Many homeowner’s insurance policies include a clause that voids coverage on vacant homes, giving you a timeframe for how long your house can stand empty before an insurer cancels coverage. Most discontinue coverage if a house is unoccupied for more than 30 days; others allow up to 60 days.
2. If you’re leaving your house for any reason, ask your insurance agent company — before you move out — how to guarantee coverage while no one’s there. If you have someone house-sitting for you while you’re away, the house is considered occupied.
3. Don’t assume you can get away with leaving your house empty without the insurance company noticing. If you file a claim, the insurer can tell by looking whether it’s been unoccupied at least 30 days by examining utility bills or interviewing neighbors.
4.Some insurers will work with you if have a special situation and you’re taking good care of the vacant house, such as hiring a gardener or caretaker. They’ll often grant you a vacancy permit, but it’s different from a standard homeowner’s policy, as it may not cover the same threats. Most permits will cover fire and wind, but not theft, vandalism or water damage.
State Farm, the country’s No. 1 home insurer, lets owners of vacant homes buy an endorsement to an existing policy. Spokesman Dick Luedke says an exclusion for vandalism and glass breakage kicks in on a standard policy after a house has been vacant for 30 days. But a policyholder who buys an endorsement can “buy back” that exclusion so the house is covered against those threats. The cost is $35 to $45 for a one-year policy period.
Is it time for vacant-home coverage?
However, not every insurer offers these endorsements. In that case, it’s time to consider buying a vacant-home insurance policy, which covers empty homes for an extended period of time and covers the threats that traditional policies won’t. But not many major insurance companies offer these policies; this type of coverage usually is sold by smaller companies that sell other specialty insurance policies.