How to Sell a Vacant House



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If a homeowner moves to a new home prior to selling their old one, inherits a property from someone who has passed away, or loses the tenants they previously rented to, they may need to sell a vacant property. The process of selling an unoccupied house differs in some ways from a typical home sale, and these are the risks and considerations to keep in mind.

How can you protect a vacant home from safety risks?

The most important thing to consider when selling a vacant home is the safety of your property. If the wrong person knows that a house is unoccupied, they may try to break in and steal whatever is inside.

Even in a relatively safe neighborhood, a visibly vacant home can attract criminals, so taking plenty of preventive measures is crucial. Here are some tips you can follow to keep your home safe:

  • Ask people you can trust—neighbors, family members, or your real estate agent to keep an eye on your property. For extra security, you can inform the local police that you have a vacant house for sale and request that they perform occasional “drive-bys” to check on the home and deter criminal activity.
  • Locking all your doors and windows is a good start, but it's not always enough. Extra preventative measures like deadbolts and chains make it more difficult for a criminal to enter a home, and if someone attempts to break in, they're more likely to be noticed.
  • If you can afford it, invest in a home security system. If not, pretend that you have one. Place a sticker or sign on your property indicating that you have a security system installed. Sometimes this bluff is enough for burglars to decide your home isn't worth the risk.
  • Set up timers to make some of your home's lights turn on in the evenings. This will create the impression that someone is living on the property.
  • When taking photos of your home's interior, stage each room – either with real furniture or via virtual staging – to look lived in. In addition to making the house look more appealing to buyers, this can help scare off criminals, who often check online listings to mark empty-looking homes as potential targets.
  • Consider not hosting any open houses. It's easy for someone with bad intentions to pose as a buyer and use an open house as a chance to “stake out” the property. In an age when homes for sale can easily be shown online, you'll likely have no difficulty finding a buyer, even without mass in-person tours.

How can you keep squatters out of a vacant property?

Vacant homes don't just attract burglars and vandals — they can also be popular targets for squatters. Fortunately, the best methods for preventing squatting are essentially the same as those used to ward off criminals.

Squatters won't be interested in a house that someone already lives in, so making your home appear occupied is an effective way to deter them. To the best of your ability, take care of your home's interior and exterior the same way you did when it was lived in. This will decrease the odds of any unwanted guests moving onto the property.

How does a home being vacant affect homeowners insurance?

Because vacant homes come with unique risks, most homeowners insurance policies will not cover these properties. Leaving a home unoccupied will usually require upgrading to a vacant home insurance policy.

Many homeowners expect vacant home insurance to be less expensive than regular homeowners insurance, since vacant homes don't have furniture or other valuable items in need of protection. However, the truth is just the opposite: you can typically expect your insurance payments to rise by about 50–60% after switching to a vacant home policy.

The reasoning behind this price increase is that if disaster strikes, a vacant home will usually suffer more extensive damage than an occupied home. If an occupied home catches fire or has one of its pipes burst, its residents will likely report / handle the problem immediately. However, if such a problem occurs on a vacant property, the issue may go unnoticed for days, giving any damage more time to build up. This means that vacant homes pose a much greater risk for insurance companies.

How long can a house be vacant for insurance?

While most insurance providers won't require homeowners to switch to vacant home policies immediately after moving out, there is usually a time limit for how long a home can be left unoccupied and still qualify for coverage. This time limit may vary from one policy to another, but as a general rule, a home will usually not be covered if it has been empty for more than 30 days.

Before you relocate, check the terms and conditions of your insurance policy to avoid any surprise changes in your coverage.

How often should you check an empty house?

Regularly checking on a vacant home is one of the most crucial steps you can take to protect it from harm. If your new home is within a reasonable driving distance of your old one, it's best to carry out these inspections yourself. Otherwise, ask a friend, a family member, or your realtor to visit on your behalf.

Regardless of who checks on your home, they should do it frequently. If possible, someone should stop by the house every 48–72 hours.

Is it more difficult to sell an empty house?

In some ways, selling a vacant home can be more challenging than selling an occupied one. In other ways, it can be easier.

Some pros of selling an empty house include:

  • It's easier to keep the home clean—and therefore more appealing to buyers when no one is living in it.
  • Showings, inspections, and appraisals are easier to schedule when no one lives on the property.
  • Some buyers prefer to look at a blank slate rather than a house full of furniture, as it makes it easier for them to visualize themselves living there.

Some cons include:

  • Protecting a vacant home from damage and crime can be expensive and a hassle.
  • An empty house doesn't exactly look like a home. This may make it difficult for buyers to envision it as a comfortable living space.
  • A vacant house can indicate that the seller has found a new home and currently has two mortgages. Keeping this in mind, buyers may assume you are desperate to sell as quickly as possible and attempt to give a lowball offer.

Should you stage a vacant house for sale?

While staging an unoccupied house may be necessary for some sellers, others may find that it isn't worth the expense. When deciding whether or not to stage your home before selling, consider the housing market in your area.

If you're in a seller's market, there will likely be enough interest in your home that you can sell it for a reasonable price without staging it. If you're in a buyer's market, you'll probably need to put in extra work to make the home more appealing, and staging can provide a significant return on investment.

Of course, it's always best to ask your agent for their expert opinion before deciding whether or not staging your home is worth the money.

Do the utilities need to stay on when an empty house is for sale?

While it may seem counterintuitive to pay bills for a property nobody lives on, you'll need to keep your home's utilities up and running to maximize your profit.

If a home's gas, electricity, and water are turned off, an inspector won't be able to carry out their duties properly, and parts of the property will remain uninspected. In these cases, buyers will often request a discount since a home that isn't fully inspected is a riskier purchase.

However, some monthly payments can be canceled immediately after leaving a property. There's no need to pay internet, cable, or phone bills for a vacant home.

Consider selling your vacant home to a cash buyer.

Looking to sell an empty house fast? Selling to a cash buyer can save you time and protect you from some of the usual downsides of selling a vacant home.

The less time it takes to sell your home, the less time the property is left unattended and open to potential risks. Selling within a short window can also eliminate the need for vacant home insurance. The best way to sell quickly and enjoy these benefits is to sell to a cash buyer like AMI.

If you have a vacant home that you're looking to sell hassle-free, contact AMI today for a no-obligation cash offer.

Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman is the owner of AMI House Buyers and a seasoned real estate investor with a heavy focus on the Houston & Katy, Texas areas. She has done numerous flips, has owned multiple rental properties, and is also a licensed real estate agent in the state of Texas. She is heavily experienced in the areas of foreclosures, water damaged properties, burnouts, and inherited properties, and works with distressed homeowners in all types of situations to help them understand their options and find potential solutions.


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