Insurance tips for managing an unoccupied property

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Going away for a while? If you think your home insurance covers your property for damage and loss no matter how long it’s unoccupied, think again.preventing burglaries

The charity Empty Homes recently estimated that there are 700,000 empty residential properties in England, and many of the owners don’t realise that if the property is empty for more than 30 consecutive days their home cover might become invalid.

Don’t assume you’re covered

The owners may have holiday homes they live in for several months at a time, or the house is being sold, or perhaps looked after as part of a deceased person’s estate.

Whatever the reason, if you overlook the potential financial pitfalls of leaving it empty, you could be in for a shock.

If your home is going to be empty, here are a number of tips for how to manage the property:

    –  Some insurers will cover an empty property for more than 30 days, often up to 3 months, but they will need contacting so that your policy can be changed.
    –  If the home is going to be empty for a prolonged period you might need to seek out specialist cover as there are only a few insurers who will offer insurance for more than 3 months.
    –  Try and inspect and visit the property regularly; after a certain period of time most home insurers withdraw policy elements which cover you for water or malicious damage, for example. If you can’t visit, ask a neighbour or family member, or consider paying someone to do so, it could be well worth it.
    – Ensure the property is kept in good order: service the boiler and central heating, check the electrics, watch out for rusting locks or broken windows, cracks and fractured pipes and guttering. Have any necessary repairs carried out quickly.
    – Try and make the property look ‘lived-in’. Think about installing a short-term tenant (there are organisations which can arrange this for you), keep the garden in order, fit light-timers, always tidy up post, having a cleaner once a month.
    –  For security, remove all valuables (it goes without saying!), consider sealing up letter boxes to prevent vandalism, having high security locks fitted to windows and doors, installing a burglar alarm and motion-sensitive security lights for external areas.
    –  ‘Winterize’ the property for the coldest months: check the pipes, water tank and boiler are all properly insulated, keep the heating on a ‘frost alert’ setting, or similar. You might want think about turning off the water supply and draining the system.
    –  If you’re not living in the property because of extensive building work being carried out, double check those carrying out the work are fully insured as it’s very unlikely your own insurance will cover you for any damage they cause.
    –  Always discuss issues such as leaving your property empty with your insurer in plenty of time. Leaving it to chance could cost you dear.

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The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.