15 Things you Must-Know Before Leaving your Home Vacant

portland vacant home steps

Leaving a vacant home is sometimes a necessary life choice, and not one that homeowners ever feel completely comfortable with. That said, if your situation calls for a home to be vacant for few weeks or even months, there are steps you can take to make it a lot less risky. For the saavy Portland homeowner willing to spend some time and money shoring up a vacant house, the reward is peace of mind. 

Top Three Risks for Vacant Homes

Everyone has their own nightmare scenario for their vacant home, but the most common problems are these:

  1. Deferred maintenance. Weeds crop up in the yard. Cobwebs collect in the eaves. Hinges and locks grow creaky from disuse, and the inside air grows stale and musty. Yes, it’s small stuff — but unpleasant to walk into and a signal to those who would take advantage of the fact that nobody’s home. Over long periods of time, small stuff like leaves collecting in gutters can lead to big stuff like a leaky roof. 
  2. Unexpected disasters. Things happen to homes, and when nobody’s there, problems that could easily be detected and taken care of develop into disasters costing thousands to repair. Pipes burst, windows might unexpectedly work their way open, or rodents find a way in and get comfortable. 
  3. Theft and vandalism. Although Portland has a relatively low rate of property crime, and burglaries overall have decreased in the US over the past four decades, homes that are vacant are at a much higher risk of being burglarized or vandalized. 

DIY Steps Before Leaving Home Vacant

The following tips will take care of the most common vacant home problems. You still might want to recruit some outside help to check on your home while you’re gone; we’ll cover that in the next section. 

  1. Tell your insurance company. You may not realize it, but a lot of home insurance policies won’t cover the home if it is left vacant for a certain number of days. There are true horror stories out there of homeowners that left for a couple month long vacation and then came home to find out while they were gone the fridge or dishwasher leaked or a fire happened and the insurance company is refusing to pay for any of it!
  2. Use smart home devices. A smart lock will allow you to give your house-sitter or repair people temporary access to the home without having a spare key floating around. Smart lights and security systems can create the illusion that there’s someone home, and instant notification to your phone if there’s a breach. There are also smart moisture detection devices that can let you know if, say, water has intruded into your basement. 
  3. Adjust your thermostat and hot water heater. It’s a drag to pay electric bills when you’re not living in the house, but keeping the HVAC on at about 55 degrees will regulate moisture in the home and prevent frozen pipes. (Speaking of frozen pipes, be sure to protect outdoor faucets with insulation if your home is going to be vacant during the winter months.) Most hot water heaters have a “vacation” mode; if leaving for more than a few weeks, turning it off might be another option. Check the owners’ manual for instructions. 
  4. Consider shutting off water to the house. It’s the best way to prevent a catastrophic leak. If the water is staying on, be sure you have someone checking for leaks regularly. Turn off the valves to your washing machine to prevent flooding from burst hoses. 
  5. Check the sump pump. Many Portland basements have sump pumps to prevent rainwater buildup. Dump a bucket of water into the sump pit; if the pump doesn’t kick on, call a plumber.
  6. Install timed irrigation. It can be as simple as a drip hose on a timer that keeps your flowerbeds alive through the hot summer months. Many homeowners in Portland let their lawn go brown in the summer, so it’s not necessarily a sign that you’re not home — but dead plants are!
  7. Install motion sensor lights and security signage. Even if you’re not paying for a security company to monitor your home, having the appearing of security will go a long way toward deterring thieves.
  8. Invest in good blinds. Keep them closed on the first floor while you’re gone to prevent peeking. In addition, window blinds prevent sun damage to carpets and furnishings. 

Three Ways to get Vacant Home Help

  1. Hire a house-sitter. This might be trusted neighbor or friend, or someone who does it professionally. The peace of mind will be worth shelling out a few dollars to have someone do a walk-through once a week and keep the place looking lived-in by sweeping the walk, turning off or on different lights, and bringing in the mail. Create a checklist so that they know what to do and what to take note of — leaks, odors, etc. Realtor.com has a good article on how to hire a house-sitter.
  2. Hire a vacant property preservation company. There are out there, there are not a lot of them, but they exist and the fees aren’t bad as some of them include basic yard care in their packages. Here is one in Portland.
  3. Pay for home/landscape maintenance if you can. Keep your home from looking vacant by having a crew come by regularly to leaf blow, mow the grass, trim shrubs, and take care of any branches that come down in winter storms (if there are large trees near the house, it’s not a bad idea to have an arborist evaluate them and remove hazard limbs before you leave for an extended period). 
  4. Ask your real estate agent. If you home is on the market, your real estate agent should be stopping in occasionally to make sure things are in good shape. If you just bought the home but aren’t moving in yet, let your agent know. Most will be happy to stop by if they have listings in the neighborhood. 

Vacant, but listed?

Talk to your real estate agent about how to set up your home so that it is both friendly to potential buyers and safe in your absence. Here are some of the tips we usually give home sellers in this situation:

  • Invest in good entry mats, both inside and outside the front door. You won’t be there to vacuum after every home showing, so this is the best way to minimize tracked-in dirt. You can request that potential buyers and their agents remove their shoes when they come in, but instructions aren’t always followed.
  • Program your thermostat if you can. Setting the temperature a bit warmer during home-showing hours (which may start early in the morning and go into the late evening) is a nice gesture — and it will help buyers feel comfortable in your home. 
  • Consider staging homes that are empty. A few pieces of furniture go a long way toward defining spaces and making the home feel welcoming. If you don’t have extra furniture to spare, area rugs can be helpful. They dampen that “empty house” sound and show where furniture could potentially go. 

Want more vacant home tips? Call our top-rated Portland real estate agents today! We are here to ease your home-transition process. 

January 3, 2020

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. and a top 1% agent in the Portland Metro. Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales in the Portland Metro area. Call him direct: 503-714-1111.

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