Empty residence? Don’t miss out on unoccupied property insurance

Posted on 10 November 2023
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Empty residence? Don’t miss out on unoccupied property insurance

‘The lights are on but nobody’s home’ is a popular idiom used to describe a person who’s not using their brain. It could be applied to landlords, property managers and probate professionals who overlook the importance of unoccupied property insurance. 

The idiom is, quite literally, perfect for the topic of empty properties. An unoccupied dwelling presents a major risk (it’s reported that around 60% of burglaries take place when nobody is home), while an empty property can be susceptible to issues that are less frequent in an occupied property. These can include: 

  • Fire 
  • Flooding 
  • Storm damage 
  • Theft or attempted theft 
  • Squatting and/or unauthorised entry 
  • Vandalism 
  • Fly tipping 
  • Illegal activity 
  • Burst pipes, either water or oil 

Properties can become unoccupied for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common: 

  • The end of a tenancy: while the nirvana is to have the outgoing tenant depart one day and a new one arrive the next, it doesn’t always work that way. A rental property can stand empty for months if a new tenant can’t be found, if the landlord is selling with vacant possession or if work is taking place between tenancies. 
  • The property is a second home: from pied-à-terres in the city to holiday cottages on the coast, the nature of a second home is that it’s used for high days and holidays. Unless it’s rented out via a holiday let platform, second homes can lie unoccupied for large parts of the year. 
  • During the probate process: when a sole occupant passes away, it’s highly likely their property will be left empty while probate is granted and the estate settled. If a beneficiary isn’t going to move in, the dwelling may stay unoccupied while it is sold.    
  • When an occupant moves out before a sale completes: while most property sellers will leave their home on the day the sale completes, some have pressing plans elsewhere and vacate before the next owner moves in, leaving the property devoid of people. 
  • During a refurbishment: Rightmove recently found a renovation project was the most in-demand feature among purchasers. A fixer-upper may be popular but it may also be uninhabitable. If major works are needed, such as a new roof, the buyer could be left with no option but to live elsewhere until it is habitable.  

A standard insurance policy won’t cut it 

Standard buildings and contents insurance is designed for homes that are actively occupied. Sadly, many owners and property professionals assume that as long as they’re paying for standard insurance, they’ll be covered.  

Standard insurance policies will cover a property if it’s left empty for a short time – usually for up to 30 days but check the terms for the exact timeframe – but if the property is unoccupied for longer than the terms state, the policy will be invalid.  

Out of sight, out of mind…out of pocket 

What can happen – and has happened in the past – is usually distressing, costly and inconvenient. If a small leak in an unoccupied property is left to drip, it may eventually cause a flood. If a home isn’t visited for months, it can be burgled or vandalised without anyone realising. If someone gains unauthorised access and has an accident as a result of negligence, the owner may have a legal case on their hands. 

If a standard home insurance policy is attached to an unoccupied property, the property owner may not be covered and may have to use their own money to replace stolen items, fund repairs or pay legal fees to evict squatters, for example.  

Don’t fall foul of property fraud – sign up for alerts from Land Registry 

The damage can be far more than financial too. Property fraud is when someone tricks professionals into believing they own a property that they don’t have legal rights to, for their own financial gain. Criminals are known to specifically target empty properties, as there’s usually no one around to disrupt their illegal activities. 

Fraudsters use fake documents, ID theft and careful research (they’ll even scan obituaries to find the names of recently deceased so they can match them with a property through Land Registry) in order to sell or remortgage an empty home.  Stay safer by registering with Land Registry here https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/ – if anyone tries to alter anything , you’ll be alerted. 

Opt for unoccupied property insurance  

Unoccupied property insurance is designed to cover the more specific nature of empty dwellings. Policies are generally available to cover periods of 3, 6, 9 or 12 months, although they tend to be a little more expensive than owner-occupier policies.  

Although unoccupied property insurance is the most sensible option for empty dwellings, it’s worth reading the terms of the policy. Many stipulate that the property is visited on a regular basis for the policy to be valid.  

This could be sending someone in to clear any post that’s hanging out the letter box or piling up in a porch, firing up the heating on the coldest days or performing a basic check of the property – inside and out – looking for any damage.  

Use Viewber for regular visits 

If you’ve found an unoccupied property insurance product that requires regular visits to keep it valid, Viewber can help. Our ‘visit on your behalf’ service is already being used by property managers, landlords, developers and probate specialists. 

Those who benefit from Viewber’s assistance include landlords who live miles from an unoccupied rental, probate and estate administration specialists, lawyers and those who have hectic schedules. With permission, a Viewber can access an unoccupied property and document what they see in the form of a written report – backed up by photos, if required.  

The Viewber can either collect and return keys to an agent or legal firm, or they can become a designated key holder for excellent continuity. Alternatively, Viewber can install a key safe at the property to make access easy for a number of people who may need to visit. 

If you’d like more information about our unoccupied property services, please contact us today. 

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