Preparing An Empty House For Sale

When we buy a new property, usually we have a rough idea of when we’re going to move into our new investments. But for some, there may be a delay in this process, and properties may be left unoccupied for a period.

House renovation shows such as Homes Under The Hammer have helped to show that there are those who will invest time and money into bringing properties up to scratch, either to live in themselves or to sell on for a profit.

Why Leave Your Property Empty?

Properties might also be left unoccupied for some other reasons, including after death, when the property would be in the process of probate and the estate is in the process of being divided among family members.

Homes may also be going through renovation work; this can be particularly common with those who have bought older properties with the intention of bringing them back to a habitable state.

Or the homeowner may just be using the property as either a second home or as a holiday home, particularly if they are located in a coastal resort or near popular tourist attractions.

Whichever reason you have for leaving a property unattended, you still have to be aware of the risks involved with doing so, especially for properties which may be left unattended for long periods of time.

So what should we be wary of when leaving properties empty?

Keeping The Place Clean

Depending on the state of the property, to begin with, a thorough deep clean is usually advised before you can start the process of making it habitable for the next tenants. This includes emptying the cupboards of food and wardrobes of clothes to stop them from getting old and growing mould which may present a health risk.

Bear in mind that you may need to hire additional extras such as skips and steam cleaners in order to help prepare the property for the next occupant.

Keeping the property well ventilated is also important for this will help reduce the risk of damp and allow air to flow freely through the property, lowering the chances of a stale smell wafting through the place.

Uninvited Guests

Uninhabited and unprotected properties can be prime targets for vandals and squatters, who can degrade properties in such a way that extra cleaning work will be required to bring the property up to scratch.

And it’s not just humans if the house has been left in a particularly filthy way, birds and rodents may make your property their home. Calling out a pest controller will only add to your overall costs, so keeping the place clean in your absence is essential.

Keeping Warm

Ensuring that the property remains warm can help reduce the risk of damp and rot, which can be expensive to rectify should they take hold of the structure of the building.

With regards to your pipes, make sure that your water supply has been turned off to help reduce the risk of burst pipes during the winter months.

By making use of a time-controlled heating system while the property is unoccupied, you can help keep the place toasty and warm, which during cold months will help stop your water pipes freezing up and rupturing, causing more costly repairs.

With a variety of heating systems that allow you to control them remotely using a smartphone app, it’s now even easier to ensure that your property remains in a comfortable condition when you’re not there.

Make Friends With Your Neighbours

Striking up a good rapport with your neighbours can be beneficial to you while the property is unoccupied. Arrange for someone to nip in of a morning and night to open and close the curtains, flick the heating on and ensure the house is kept comfortable, even arrange for them to contact you should they spot anything untoward at the property while you’re away.

Protect Your Property

While you’re not at the property, you’ll want to make sure that no-one else has access as well, and there are some ways that you can ensure that your property is kept safe and free of damage while you take care of repairs and renovation.

Changing the locks on the doors, windows and even the garden shed when you first purchase the property can help to deter thieves, especially if you use more robust locking mechanisms which may be more up-to-date than what you had inherited before.

Make use of timers on plug sockets to light lamps and turn on radios at certain times of the day to deter thieves with the illusion of the property being occupied.

Alternatively, you could invest in a home CCTV system to help you keep a close watch on your property while you’re not there. Many systems can be remotely accessed using a smartphone app, allowing you to keep watch on your property as well as receive notifications via e-mail when motion is detected.

What About Insurance?

Even though there might be nobody currently living in the property, you’ll still need to make sure you insure it against unexpected circumstances, including weather-related forces such as floods or storm damage.

An unoccupied home insurance policy will help to cover the property in the short-term while you prepare it for sale or are making crucial repairs. Many policies will be valid for no more than 30 days, although depending on your broker, longer periods may be negotiated. This can be particularly useful if you rent out your home to holidaymakers during certain times of the year.

By making an effort to secure the property further while it’s unoccupied – either while repairs are carried out or in between periods of occupancy in the case of holiday homes – you can help to reduce the cost of your unoccupied home insurance premium.

RELATED: Home Insurance for Unoccupied Properties

What’s Involved In Renting A Property?

Renting a room in a flat or a house can be a big step for some, and you need to make sure that the right things are in place when you agree on a rental to ensure that your stay doesn’t become an unpleasant one.

Landlords must provide you with certain information before, during, and at the conclusion of your tenancy, so before you sign on the dotted line, ask yourself the following questions:

What Is My Current Situation?

Think about where you are right now, how much you can afford, and the area where you want to live. Whether you want to relocate for work, or are looking for a bigger place for you and your family, work out the sums and figure out how much you can set aside each month for rent.

Before you commit to a rental, you should ensure that you can budget accordingly and be able to live within your means, as this can cause problems further down the line if you’re not careful.

If you are on benefits of any sort, you may be able to get support to help you successfully budget. If you’re struggling to afford payments or to live within your means, it can be worth seeking advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, who can guide you from financial problems to resolving issues with landlords.

What Sort Of Property Do I Want To Live In?

People move house for different reasons – either for work, to relocate a family or just for a change of scenery – and with a wide range of property types available for rental, you have a lot of choices depending on where you want to live.

Research is key when deciding your next destination, so spend some time looking into the local area and the properties in the vicinity of your proposed new home. Most property websites will offer this sort of information, but it can be worth checking out the area yourself just to be sure.

After you’ve viewed the property and are happy with your selection, there are a few things you should check before you sign your contract or tenancy agreement.

What Should I Show My Landlord?

You must ensure that you have your documents to hand before you sign your tenancy agreement, these can include:

Other documents that can qualify include:

  • Birth certificate
  • Driving licence
  • Evidence of a release from custody from HM Prison Service
  • Evidence of previous or current service in HM Armed Forces
  • HMRC paperwork that shows that you are currently receiving benefits or Jobseekers’ Allowance

There are some other documents which may be required, so it’s vital to ask your landlord or letting agent what is required as this can vary from company to company.

What Should My Landlord Be Able To Show Me?

Before you sign anything, check that your landlord can provide the following information about the property:

  • Gas safety certificate
  • Confirmation of your deposit – which should be protected through a government-approved scheme
  • Energy Performance Certificate
  • Records of electrical inspections

Ensure the property is safe before you move in. If you’re unsure as to when something has been repaired, or have reservations about the condition of something within the property, flag this up and don’t be afraid to ask the landlord or agent about the state of it. Look out for the following things:

  • Does it have smoke and carbon monoxide alarms?
  • Are the fixtures and fittings in a good condition?
  • Are you allowed children or pets on the property?
  • Is the property smoke-free?
  • Who is responsible for paying the bills – yourself or the landlord?

If you’re renting through a letting agency, it’s vital to check that they give you a full breakdown of the fees involved in renting a property from them, these should be marked both at their office and on their company website.

Check as well that your landlord or letting agent is registered and accredited in your local area and also through professional bodies such as the National Landlords Association (NLA) and SAFEagent.

Your landlord or letting agent should also have a landlord insurance policy in place, and they must by law be able to produce this, should you request them to do so.

What Should Be On My Tenancy Agreement?

Your tenancy agreement should essentially be an agreement between you and the landlord that you will keep to specific terms and conditions during your stay, including the cost of rent per month and a breakdown of what is included in your rent.

It should also state who covers maintenance costs, is responsible in certain situations and what procedures are in place in case of natural disasters such as flooding, as well as an agreement to allow the landlord access to carry out routine checks on the property.

Get that the contact details of your landlord, including the telephone number, so that they can be contacted in case of an emergency.

Know your rights and responsibilities when you’re a tenant by visiting this site.

What Should My Landlord Do?

Your landlord will have certain obligations within the tenancy agreement, and should be responsible for the following:

  • Regularly review and maintain the structure and exterior of the property, carrying out or arranging for repairs to be carried out – being sure to give you plenty of notice
  • Resolve issues to do with problems with the utilities
  • Arrange safety checks for gas, electricity and ensure the property is fitted with smoke alarms

Landlords must also ensure that they give their tenants plenty of notifications with regards to visiting the property to carry out routine checks. They should also provide notice of concerns about eviction in case they choose to sell the property.

What Happens At The End Of My Tenancy?

When the end of your tenancy is approaching, you’ll need to decide if you’d like to stay on the property or move on. In both cases, you should ensure that you meet the following conditions:

  • Your rent and bills have been paid and are up to date

Your landlord may agree to extend your tenancy, and so a new tenancy agreement will need to be drawn up with updated dates and amounts, and your landlord must give you plenty of notice as to any proposed increases in rent.

Should you choose to leave the property, you must give notice to your landlord – usually, two months prior – and ensure that when you vacate the property, you take all your possessions with you, take meter readings, return the keys to the landlord, and leave the property in a satisfactory state.

Bear in mind that any damage caused to the property, including wear and tear, could be taken from your deposit, so be sure to keep an inventory and a checklist of what should be checked at the beginning and end of the tenancy.

Home Insurance for Unoccupied Properties

When a house is vacated, it can be for one of the following reasons:

  • The property is undergoing refurbishment or renovation.
  • The property is up for sale or is awaiting the arrival of new tenants
  • The current occupier is absent due to being in a hospital, taken into long-term care, is currently travelling or is at a residence in a second home.
  • The property is awaiting probate, usually during the awaiting of decisions on asset division following the death of the owner.

Properties can also be vacated while they are being brought up to scratch, and safe to inhabit again – including repairing properties that have sustained damage as a result of subsidence.

Do I need insurance while no-one is living there?

While properties remain unoccupied, they are at risk of thieves and squatters, who could cause further damage to the property, in many cases decreasing not only the appeal but also the value of the property.

Many insurers may invalidate policies if the property is unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days, any claims made after this time may not pay out due to the increase in risk caused by vacating the property.

In this case, unoccupied home insurance can help to cover damage caused by the elements, flood and fire damage and damage from third parties (including vandalism) while you are not there. Unoccupied home insurance can be handy to have in order to lower the costs involved with owning an unoccupied property.

Policies can last from anything from 30-45 days in the short-term, to anything up to twelve months for longer policies. It’s worth asking your insurer about your options should you need long-term cover, either as a result of refurbishment works or during periods between rentals if you use the property as a holiday home.

Isn’t that just the same as my current home insurance?

Not so, unoccupied home insurance has a few differences between it and a regular home insurance policy, mostly because of the risk factor involved at times when the property is vacant.

Insurers will want to know the following details about your property:

  • How much is the property worth?
  • What condition is the property currently in?
  • Is there any security in place on the property?

These factors can affect the price you pay for a policy, particularly if the property is dilapidated and needs structural repairs to make the property safe.

Unoccupied properties are at a greater risk of damage from vandals if they’re not already damaged beyond repair. Those in a poor state of repair will likely need critical repairs carried out on them, and as such, may also be at risk from damage from negligent workmen, so always be sure that whoever you hire to do the job is reliable and trustworthy.

I can’t be there all the time! How can I protect the house?

Fear not, there are a number of things you can do to lessen the risk of damage to your property while you are not there:

  • Invest in some security – this can consist of a stronger set of locks, both on doors and windows in order to lessen the likelihood of a break-in while you’re not present.
  • Consider installing some sort of burglar alarm system or CCTV system in order to help deter intruders (and maybe bring down the cost of your unoccupied home insurance policy).
  • In times of cold weather, make use of a time-controlled heating system in order to stop the water pipes from freezing up during chilly times, lessening the chance of a costly rupture.
  • With today’s technology, there are now a number of companies which allow you to control your heating using a tap of your smartphone, so it can be worth looking into one of these for keeping the house’s temperature, reducing the risk of damp while the house is vacant.
  • Strike up a good rapport with your neighbours – if you get on well with your neighbours, they are more likely to help keep an eye on your property while you’re not there. Whether it’s to draw the curtains of a night-time or alert you to any untoward activity around your property, it can pay to be a good friend in order to ensure your property’s safety.

Insurers will not normally pay out on an unoccupied home insurance claim if there is evidence of unforced entry into the property, so it can be worth investing in some good locks to help save on your policy.

Whether you’ve been forced to vacate your property for reasons beyond your control or choose to leave the property vacated as a result of renting it out, make sure you have at least some level of cover as this can help save on costly repairs.

Insuring A Holiday Home Within the UK

If you own a second home within the UK and you want it rented to holidaymakers or make use of it as a second home, you will want to know the importance of making sure your investment is kept safe, even when you’re not there.

A standard home insurance policy will not usually cover a second home if it is left vacant for more than 30 days of the year – especially during periods of slow business or if you need to make repairs to the property.

The question is, if you own an apartment by the sea or a cottage in the sprawling countryside, what sort of insurances should you have in place on your UK holiday home?

Holiday Home Insurance

Holiday home insurance is specially designed for those properties that are left unoccupied for 30 days or more during a year. This is because most home insurance policies will not cover holiday homes under a regular house insurance policy due to the increase in risk.

Because you or anyone else might not be there for long periods of time, insurers will consider the property more at risk.

Empty houses may be more at risk of break-ins and vandalism in the periods between bookings, as well as being more at risk from burst pipes and storm damage, and because you as the owner aren’t based there all the time, you might not be able to remedy these issues quickly.

Buildings Insurance

When it comes to necessities, buildings insurance is a legal requirement if you have a mortgage on a second home. This covers the structure of the house, everything from the walls, ceilings, and to the rafters on the roof, but it can also cover any external buildings and other luxuries such as swimming pools.

Buildings insurance will help cover the property itself in the event of storm damage, flood damage or subsidence as a result of an extremely wet weather.

Contents Insurance

While it is not legally required, having a form of contents insurance for your holiday home is a wise investment, it helps to cover equipment, furniture, and even appliances against damage sustained by third parties – including your guests.

Because you’re not always present at the property, making a checklist of which belongings you leave when you are not there is a good idea – keep a note of any expensive equipment you might leave.

Securing these possessions against a contents insurance or gadget insurance policy can help to keep your mind at ease, knowing that they’ll be covered in the event of theft or become damaged due to the behaviour of one of your guests.

Public Liability Insurance

Because you’ll have guests staying at the property when you are not there, you need to ensure you have some Public Liability (PL) insurance in place. PL insurance helps to cover you as the homeowner in the event one of your guests gets injured or fall ill while staying at your property.

What Should Be Included?

Each insurer will be different in what they offer as part of a holiday home insurance policy, but you should be looking for the following features:

  • Accidental damage cover – helps to protect your property against unintentional damage caused by your guests.
  • Loss of income cover – helps to cover you if you are unable to rent out the property because of repairs in the event of weather-related damage or subsidence, which may have caused damage to the property and render it inhabitable.
  • Home emergency cover – gives you and your guests access to a 24-hour emergency hotline to call in the event of burst pipes or other domestic emergencies, which can then be used to arrange repairs in your absence.
  • Employers’ liability cover – if you employ a member of staff – such as a cleaner or maintenance man – and they get injured on your property, this cover will help cover legal costs if a case is brought against you.
  • Personal possessions cover – helps to cover your own possessions while they are in the home, it can be worth double checking that you don’t have similar cover elsewhere – such as gadget insurance or those offered as part of current accounts or credit cards – to ensure you don’t overinsure.
  • Alternative accommodation cover – helps to relocate your guests to alternative accommodation, such as a hotel, in the event of damage to the property that renders it inhabitable.
  • Emergency travel – if you need to travel home to carry out repairs or sort out a claim, this cover can help you to recoup some of the costs of travel expenses as a result.

As always with any insurance product, it is essential that you read the small print before you sign an agreement, as some insurers may include exclusions which may affect your policy price and level of cover.

Can I Reduce My Premium?

Much like with your regular home insurance policy, taking some steps to beef up the security of your holiday home can help bring down your holiday home policy price. Think about the following when it comes to securing your home before you start renting it out:

  • Change your current lock set for a newer, stronger set to decrease the chances of a break-in.
  • Consider putting locks on the windows to deter thieves.
  • Invest in an alarm system for when you’re not there, just remember to leave clear instructions for your guests as to how to turn it on and off again each time they leave the property vacated.
  • Buy a safe and keep it in a secure location, and use it to secure personal possessions such as spare keys and electronic devices.

Owning and maintaining a holiday home can be a long process, but by taking the time to get your insurance, you can help yourself to ease the burden and ensure that not only are your guests safe in the event of an incident but that your home is protected even when you’re not there.

The ‘Actual’ Cost Of Dying Without Making A Will

The term ‘intestacy’ is a word that no one ever wants to hear after a loved one has passed away. Intestacy is when a person dies without leaving a will, or an inadequate will is left which doesn’t deal with all the financial and property aspects.

The word ‘estate’ refers to all the property, land and assets of the deceased person. Combine the two terms, and you come up with ‘intestate’, which is basically a synonym for one of the worst legal nightmares you could possibly imagine.

When this occurs, the law dictates how your property and assets will be split up, and between whom. Those entitled to any share will only get it after all your debts have been paid off.

Problems of Not Making A Will

Many families are dysfunctional, even at the best of times. Throw in the death of a family member and things can only get worse, especially if the deceased didn’t have a legal will. The dysfunction will multiply by leaps and bounds. Grudges that have been long dormant or not mentioned in years can rear their ugly heads and come back into the spotlight.

This can cause great stress on the family, often ending in legal actions against one another or the disintegration of the entire family unit. Estate battles usually involve a lot of money, assets, and property. Who should get what, how much, and when, can all be interpreted differently by various family members.

De facto and same-sex relationships make things that much more complicated.

Choosing not to write a will, people are causing pain and hardship to their loved ones beyond the death itself. When family members are unsure if a will was ever made, they would have to spend time and money looking for one.

They would have to spend time searching through papers and documents, go to the bank for financial records, lawyers, accountants, or even public trustees. If no will is found, they may even have to place an ad in the newspaper asking if there are any debtors to be paid.

This would all have to be done at a time when family members are grieving and distressed.

Once they are sure there is no will out there, a family would have to go through the court system to try and gain control, or power over the estate. Due to the time wasted on trying to find out about the deceased person’s estate affairs, family members may have to pay for funeral expenses out of their own pocket.

It is also possible they may have to pay an inheritance tax before they have even received one penny from the estate.

SEE ALSO: How to Claim a Life Insurance Policy

An inheritance tax is the tax paid on your estate after you die.  In simple terms, it is everything that you own at the time of your death, after you have deducted everything owed. Between this tax and the funeral expenses, loved ones may experience significant financial hardship, especially if they are not well off.

They will go into debt, before even receiving any of your estates. Having a well written will avoid all these scenarios. In some cases, banks and other companies have been known to seize the property and assets, to pay mortgages, taxes, and other debts.

Your family will be forced to hire lawyers themselves, to try and get back what is morally and rightfully theirs.

Benefits of Will Writing

Everyone hates going to see lawyers, but having a well-written will could be the best 10 -15 minutes you ever spent. It means that you can clearly and legally decide who inherits what, and how much. Without making a will, the decision will be left up to the government.

Chances are slim to none that the way they decide how your estate is divided will be the same as the way you wished. With a proper will in place, personal belongings, pets, property, etc. will be dealt out according to your specifications. Making a will helps avoid the unnecessary family fighting and bickering, and saves a lot of money at the same time.

They won’t have to pay for lawyers to get probate, or to sue each other after the estate is divided up unfairly.

Dealing with death is hard enough for those left behind. Dying intestate will only make matters that much harder. For the few dollars it costs, will writing will go a long way for everyone’s peace of mind. The ‘actual’ cost of dying will be far less.