When we reach retirement, we often decide to spread our wings a little. During our working lives, we spend all day at work before arriving home to look after our families or slump, exhausted, on the sofa. There’s precious little time for an extended holiday – even our annual two-week summer holiday seems to flash by at the speed of light!
Eventually, we get the chance to step out of the rat race for good. Once we’ve retired and our children have flown the nest, we’re free to do whatever takes our fancy. If we’ve put some savings aside, we start to think about ticking items off our bucket lists. Special experiences and travel are the most popular choices for many people. Often, what takes our fancy is a substantial trip with the luxury of no time limit. Perhaps it’s a cruise around the world or an extended stay with children and grandchildren in a far-flung country.
The one thing we do need to plan for, though, is what to do about our unoccupied house while we’re away. We can’t just double lock the front door and wander off into the sunset hoping everything will stay as it was when we return.
The fact is, if you go away for more than 30 consecutive days and don’t take out specialist unoccupied home insurance
cover, your property won’t be covered. Consequently, if your home is burgled or broken into, you won’t be able to claim. Empty homes pose a higher risk for losses and damages than occupied homes, so coverage for these kinds of properties is often more expensive than standard home insurance.
You might have some questions about the arrangements you need to make when you leave your property empty for a long period of time. Talk to our team today who can give you more information about unoccupied home insurance that suits your needs.
What does ‘unoccupied’ mean for home insurance? Is there a difference between ‘unoccupied’ and ‘vacant’?
For a lot of household insurance policies
, the term ‘unoccupied’ refers to a specific period of time, normally 30 or 60 days. This window of time, though it may seem reasonable, could leave you liable and exposed to certain ‘insured perils’ (usually attempted theft, theft, escape of water and malicious damage) that you’d normally be covered for when you are at home.
As for the distinction between ‘unoccupied’ and ‘vacant,’ an unoccupied home is one that is already a residence – i.e. it has furniture and utilities are functioning. A vacant house is normally completely empty with no personal property in it. In fact, vacant properties represent a greater comparative risk to insurance providers, as unoccupied home claims are normally reported sooner than those for vacant properties.
Therefore, any damage, such as flooding, is probably less severe and the resulting claim doesn’t cost the insurance company as much money. Whether your house is vacant or unoccupied can have a significant impact on your premium. For the purposes of this article, we are largely focusing on unoccupied homes, given that the owner’s intention is always to return to their property as a principal dwelling.
Does home insurance cover unoccupied homes?
In general, ‘normal’ house insurance policies don’t provide coverage if you leave your home empty for a long time. Some policies suspend coverage after more than 30 days, while others allow for 60 days. The clear message here is that you need to understand the extent of coverage on your insurance policy and read the small print regarding how long you can leave your home unattended.
How long can I leave my home unoccupied?
Of course, you can leave your home unoccupied for as long as you like. Just be aware of how this affects your home insurance policy if you do.
People usually leave their primary residence unoccupied for various legitimate reasons, some of which may well not be their choice. Possible scenarios include:
- Spending significant periods of a given year at a holiday residence, for example an apartment in Spain.
- Needing extensive medical treatment requiring them to spend weeks or months in hospital.
- Extensive renovation of the property, meaning it’s not liveable for months while the work is in progress.
- Renting out the property and, in a sluggish market, experiencing significant ‘vacancy’ periods between tenancies.
Insurance providers normally request that you contact them and ask for an endorsement or permit if your home will be unoccupied for 30 to 60 consecutive days. This time limit should be specified in the vacancy clause on your policy document. In some situations, you may need to pay a fee for this kind of permit. You’ll find that specialist unoccupied home insurance coverage is altogether much less pricey than vacant home coverage.
What can I do to minimise the risk if I leave my house unoccupied for a long time?
Common risks include:
- Break-ins and the associated damage and/or theft.
- Vandalism, either outside or inside the property (after a break-in).
- Out-of-the-ordinary incidents due to lack of routine maintenance, for instance broken or leaky pipes, or gas leaks. These can escalate quickly and result in costly repair work or even irreparable damage.
- Property liability, which means having to meet any costs or damages awarded to a third party if they injure themselves after an accident on or in your property.
There are certain things you can do to lessen the risk while you’re away from the property. These include:
This advisory blog
- Finding someone to act as a house-sitter (although not all insurers categorise them as ‘the property owner’ in the event of a claim).
- Removing any small valuable items such as jewellery, or ornaments with precious stones or metals, and leaving them with family or friends.
- Looking into sub-letting so you have someone there to look after your home although this may have implications for your mortgage.
- Making sure your letterbox isn’t stuffed with mail.
- If you have a large property, advising the police that it will be empty during a stated period.
- Getting internal security locks fitted on all external doors. It may not stop intruders attempting to enter, but it will certainly make it more difficult for them and will provide evidence of your due diligence regarding security should you need to make a claim.
- Installing external motion-activated security lights, which will alert neighbours to suspicious activity around your property.
- Letting people know that you are not living there certainly helps. Encourage neighbours, in particular, to be more alert about activity around your property than under normal circumstances.
from a regional police force offers some useful tips for house owners from the perspective of law enforcers. Trawl through the search engines (beyond the first pages!) and you’ll find similar articles from all regional police forces in the UK.
Can I insure an unoccupied house?First things first:
you cannot rely on standard home insurance if you leave your property unoccupied. These policies are not designed to protect properties that go unoccupied for multiple months or longer. However, there is a special category of policy that is designed to provide cover for your home if you are away for an extended period of time.
Planning for someone to stay in your property two or three nights a month to avoid paying an increased premium for unoccupied house insurance? Most UK insurance providers only accept circumstances where a person or people are living
in the house day-to-day if you are away for more than a few weeks.
Insurance on an empty house in the UK for seven months to a year is available but you need to search for 'unoccupied property insurance.'
Dividing your time between your main residence and a holiday home
If you split your time on a regular basis between your main dwelling and a holiday home, insurance packages are available which cover both of your properties. It’s advisable to read your current policy closely to understand how it defines an unoccupied or vacant property, and find out how much time your policy allows you to stay elsewhere.
Vacant home insurance often covers between three months to a year, and it’s worth asking your provider whether they will refund any premium payments if you return to live in your home before the policy ends, because you might want this degree of flexibility according to your circumstances.
How often should your house be checked when on holiday?
The obvious answer is ‘as often as possible’. Daily is ideal. If you have a neighbour who is willing to do so, perhaps you should reward them for their support with a nice present when you eventually arrive home!
It may not be feasible to have someone checking up daily. You may live in a secluded area, or the neighbours themselves may not be willing to take on the responsibility. A weekly inspection by a trusted person is the minimum you should be thinking about. The main thing is avoiding visible signs that the property has been left unoccupied for a long time. The four most common ones over which you have control are: Warning sign 1
: An overgrown and untended garden.Possible solution:
Contract a gardener to come and mow the lawn and do a general tidy up every couple of weeks. Warning sign 2
: A vehicle on the drive gathering dust.Possible solution:
Either find somewhere else to leave the vehicle or get it cleaned every so often. Warning sign 3
: Mail either left wedged in the letterbox or in a pile at your front door.Possible solution
: This is a difficult one. You can request a ‘no junk mail’ service from the Post Office, but the inevitable local junk mail will arrive at random moments. If at all possible, ask your nominated ‘watchperson’ to check your letterbox as often as possible. Warning sign 4
: A darkened house at all times with half or fully-closed curtains.Possible solution
: Avoid drawing curtains too far across and buy a widely available and cheap plug timer, which can be set for a lamp to come on at different times during the day and night.
Of course, these measures won’t actively prevent or deter intruders from entering, but they do provide ‘faux’ evidence of occupancy, which may well plant the seed of caution in the mind of a potential intruder.
The overall message is to act in partnership with your insurance provider, doing your bit to take all possible security measures and minimise the risk of breaking and entering while you’re away.
There are other precautions you can (and should) take to avoid naturally occurring incidents that are beyond your control. In fact, if you don’t take these precautions, you shouldn’t be surprised if your provider refuses to pay out.
- Turning off electricity, gas and water Having said that, if you are away in the cold months of winter, there’s a question of whether it’s more prudent to turn off heating and water to avoid leaks or to leave it on a timer to avoid frozen and burst pipework. This can depend on where your home is located. In any event, it’s best to discuss this decision with your insurance provider.
Will your insurer cover you if you use Airbnb to rent out your home while you’re away?
The arrangements you need to make if you let your house using Airbnb (or similar platforms) aren’t standardised as yet. This article
has a few useful insights into this recent but increasingly common option for those leaving their house unoccupied, but it’s still a very complicated issue.
Increasingly, insurance providers insist on an endorsement to your policy, added to the existing terms and conditions to cover such a temporary rental. Airbnb itself has an information page
regarding its own optional insurance coverage – it’s better to use a specialist, but their information still provides some useful pointers.
Don’t let worry ruin your holiday
There is certainly a lot to think about when it comes to making sure your dwelling is as secure and well protected as possible before you set off on your adventures. Just take sensible precautions and get the best possible advice from insurance specialists
about the most suitable unoccupied home insurance policy for your property.