News Room

A home alone is a target for troubles

Columbia, S.C. – June 30, 2010 – Is your home alone? If you leave your house for a long trip, or move out while the house is on the market, your insurance coverage needs swift attention.

That’s because homeowners’ insurance companies have rules about how long a home can be unoccupied before a new type of policy may be required.

“If a pipe bursts, more damage can occur if no one is available to turn off the water or call a plumber,” said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service. “Vandalism and theft are more likely when no one is checking on the house.”

About 13 percent of U.S. homes were reported vacant in figures released in March by the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes vacation homes as well as those for sale or simply unoccupied at the moment.

Many insurers will extend coverage for 30 days, or sometimes as many as 60 days, while a home is unoccupied. After that, there can be a question of insurability, said Bryan Wheeler of State Farm. For example, the company’s policies restrict coverage of damage from vandalism after a home has been vacant for 30 days, he said.

If you are going to be away from your home for an extended time, or you are moving out to sell the house, you should check the particulars of your homeowners’ policy. Whenever your plans or status regarding the house change, you need to talk to your insurance company or agent, Wheeler said.

Here are some suggestions to help protect your house whenever it is unoccupied:

• Get someone to check on the house regularly, going inside to make sure nothing is out of order.
• Shut off the water supply either to the entire house, or to vulnerable areas such as the toilets, washing machine or icemaker.
• Set the water heater on vacation mode.
• Put lights on a variable timer, so that they go on and off as if someone is at home.
• Use outdoor lighting that comes on automatically at dusk.
• Maintain temperature inside the house, especially during extremely hot or cold months.
• Consider getting a relative to live in the home – in which case it may no longer be considered unoccupied.
• Look into hiring a house sitter, but check with your insurance company about how this is viewed.
• Use your central security system, deadbolt locks and smoke detectors to protect your home and possibly qualify for premium discounts.

Make sure to let your insurance agent or company know the status of your home. If your house is going to be unoccupied for a longer term, you may need to purchase an endorsement or a different kind of insurance policy. Your current homeowners company may try to work with you, said Wheeler, to provide a policy for a set period until you sell or rent the property.

Otherwise, you might need to talk to a company that specializes in covering vacant dwellings. Robert Sanders Jr. of Preferred Specialty in Columbia said that his company finds many vacant homes and buildings needing coverage because of the downturn in the economy.

“We write short-term policies such as three, six or 12 month terms or until the property is sold or replaced with another policy,” Sanders said.

The company offers insurance agents vacant property and package insurance policies that are written through domestic and international insurance companies such as Lloyds of London. The package policies can include property with premises liability, he said.

For 35 years, the South Carolina Insurance News Service, a nonprofit organization, has been providing free insurance information to consumers and the media about property and casualty insurance issues. The News Service is funded by insurance companies doing business in South Carolina.

For more information, contact the South Carolina Insurance News Service at 803-252-3455 or use our contact form.