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Do I need vacant home insurance?

Home Insurance

By Joanne Lemna | July 11, 2016

There are many reasons a home can be left empty including:

  • You purchase a new home and didn’t sell your current one
  • You’ve moved elsewhere for work but didn’t want to or couldn’t sell it
  • Renters have moved out and you haven’t found new ones yet
  • You’re on an extended vacation
  • You’re holding onto the property but not living in it

But did you know that a vacant home can void your home insurance – even if you keep paying your premiums? In this article we’ll explain why you need vacant home insurance for a home that will be left empty for longer than 30 days.

Why does a vacant home need special insurance?

There are a few reasons why an empty home needs special insurance:

  • Vacant homes are more appealing to vandals thieves and squatters
  • An empty house can have  more liability issues
  • A vacant home may be more likely to incur damage if it’s not properly cared for
  • Damage may go unnoticed for longer

Essentially vacant homes are riskier to insure.

For example let’s say you leave your home vacant over the winter while you snowbird somewhere warmer. You forgot to turn off the water and there was a heating issue. A pipe freezes and bursts flooding your home. But no one catches the damage quickly – so there is far more damage by the time it is discovered. This is a very expensive loss and one that could’ve been easily prevented had someone noticed the initial burst pipe.

What is considered a vacant home?

The definition of a vacant home is usually 30  or 60 days of no one living in the home . However this can vary by the insurance company so it’s a good idea to check with your insurance broker. Make sure you understand your coverage.

It’s also important to note that many home insurance companies l imit coverage after only 48 hours if a home is empty. If you’re going away – even for a weekend – you should have someone trusted check on your home.

Always inform your insurance company if you’re going to be leaving your home empty !

What are the consequences of not having vacant home insurance?

The biggest consequence of not having vacant home insurance is that you may not be covered if something happens. Your insurance company may limit your coverage or void your home insurance if they were not informed your home was left empty.

How can you insure an empty home?

Homeowners looking to insure a vacant home typically have three options:

  • Buy add-on coverage (known as an endorsement) that adjusts their coverage to reflect that the home is empty.
  • Purchase a vacant home insurance policy to replace their existing home insurance.
  • Set up routine checks from reliable friends and family (or hire a housesitter).
  • If you’re leaving your home vacant for a short period of time you may simply need to pay a small additional cost to add vacant home coverage. Keep in mind that your home’s protection may still be limited. Talk to your broker to ensure you understand what’s covered and what isn’t.

    If you’re leaving your home empty for a longer period of time you may need specialty vacant home insurance. This will replace your existing home insurance policy. Generally this coverage is more limited than traditional home insurance – but it may be more expensive. As always exactly what’s covered will depend on the insurance company individual policy and your choices. Your broker can help you find the right protection.

    You may also be able to keep your regular home insurance if you arrange for someone to check on your home every 48 hours. They should check the interior and exterior of the home for damage or problems. Keepin g a log book is a good idea if you choose this option.

    What can you do to protect yourself and your empty home?

    There are many things you can do to minimize the chance of damage happening to an empty home. Aside from properly insuring it here are a few things you can do to protect yourself and the empty home:

    • Turn off the water and drain the water lines
    • Program your thermostat (if the home is empty over winter keep the home at least 15C)
    • Check for any cracks or damage and repair them
    • Store any outdoor furniture inside
    • Remove any valuables from the home or securely store them
    • Ensure basic home maintenance is still done on the property such as:
      • Shovelling
      • Clearing out gutters
      • Regular visual checks on the exterior
    • Secure and lock all windows and doors (make sure you have good locks too)
    • Install motion detector lights and/or a monitored alarm system (and put a sign in the front window)
    • Consider installing a water alarm
    • Arrange for mail to get picked up
    • Do NOT leave a spare key “hidden” anywhere on your property – give a key to a trusted friend family member or neighbour instead
    • Offer free parking for someone to park in your driveway or garage (a home that looks occupied is less likely to be a target)
    • Ask a trusted friend family member or neighbour to check on the home periodically if you can’t do so yourself

    Talk to your insurance broker about your vacant home insurance options. They’ll also have advice on how to secure your home while it’s empty.

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