Unoccupied house insurance guide

If your property is empty for a period of time, here’s what you need to know about house insurance
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  • A property empty for longer than the time period stated on your home insurance policy needs home insurance with the best deals and coverage for unoccupied house insurance cover.

    This specialist type of insurance policy is also known as ‘empty property insurance’ or ‘vacant property insurance’. Unlike standard home insurance policies, specialist unoccupied home insurance will cover a vacant or unoccupied property for three, six, nine or 12 months. There is often the option to extend a policy beyond a year if necessary too.

    ‘Empty properties are sadly more vulnerable to break-ins and the threat of potential theft or damage to items within the building can result in heartbreaking consequences,’ says Chelsea Shakespeare, household underwriting manager at insurance broker Adrian Flux. ‘Water leaks remain another upsetting and expensive risk that can cause lots of damage – especially during the winter months – as can bad weather which often impacts houses that are left more vulnerable as a result of renovations taking place.’

    Follow this extensive Q&A report that explains why you need it, the costs and what it covers.

    Why do you need unoccupied house insurance?

    Standard home insurance policies won’t offer adequate cover if a property will be vacant for a long time. If your home, or a property you own, is going to be unoccupied for a prolonged period, it’s important to understand the insurance implications.

    Empty bedroom with ensuite

    Image credit: Future PLC

    There are a number of reasons why a homeowner might leave a property unoccupied or empty. Common reasons include:

    • Working overseas
    • Extended holidays
    • Void periods between tenants
    • Sale-related delays
    • Probate-related delays
    • Away from home health care

    ‘A property is also often not lived in while renovation works are being undertaken,’ says Chelsea Shakespeare. ‘These may range from minor upkeep and redecoration to full and large-scale refurbishments and both need to be covered accordingly.’

    How much does unoccupied house insurance cost?

    Unoccupied property insurance tends to be more expensive than standard home insurance. This is because vacant properties are considered a higher risk by insurers.

    Unoccupied properties are more likely to be damaged by:

    • Vandalism
    • Fire
    • Flooding

    For example, a burst pipe at an unoccupied property could go unnoticed for longer periods which would make the water damage worse. This would probably increase the cost of the subsequent insurance claim.

    The cost of unoccupied home insurance will vary between providers. Cover and costs depend on a number of factors such as where the property is located, its value, any previous home insurance claims and the level of cover required.

    If the property has contents, you’ll need to let your insurer know the total value of your possessions for these to be covered too. It is wise not to leave valuables in an unoccupied property.

    cottage house exterior brick wall in front garden

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Polly Eltes

    Do you need unoccupied home insurance when someone has died?

    A common scenario where you might need unoccupied home insurance is if someone has died. The property will be unoccupied while probate is granted and the family decides on the best option moving forward. That might be a family member moving into the property, the home being placed on the market or it being rented out.

    ‘Each unoccupied property comes with its own unique circumstances as to why it may be vacant’ says Chelsea Shakespeare. ‘One of the most common is when a loved one has passed away. When someone dies, the role of the executor of their will, who acts in the administration of their estate, is to collect the deceased’s assets, settle their liabilities and then distribute what remains in accordance with the terms of the deceased’s will.’

    Alex Milton, at law firm Moore Barlow, says: ‘Executors are personally liable for any mistakes they make whilst administering an estate and any consequential loss that may arise. ‘Executors should protect and preserve the estate.’

    ‘This includes making sure that insurance is maintained on estate property. If, for example, there is a fire in an estate property and the executor has failed to maintain valid house insurance, then the executor could be made to pay for the repairs from his or her own pocket.’

    Jane Sutherland, partner and solicitor specialising in wills and probate at Nelsons Law, adds: ‘We would usually advise the executor to initially continue with any insurance policy taken out by the deceased that was already in place if possible. However, it is important that the insurers are notified as soon as possible of the deceased’s death and any change in circumstances regarding the property, for example, it is now unoccupied.’

    Some insurers will continue cover until the next renewal of the policy or probate being granted. However, there may be conditions attached – normally that the property is internally inspected at least once a week. Alternative arrangements might also be needed to pay on-going premiums as the deceased’s bank account will be frozen once the bank is aware of their death.

    white painted kitchen cabinets with black handles

    Image credit: Nick Richards

    What does unoccupied home insurance cover?

    Policies vary regarding the level of cover offered. Be sure you read the policy and understand what you’re covered for – and what isn’t covered.

    Unoccupied home insurance will always include buildings cover. Buildings insurance covers the structure and fittings of a property including:

    • Walls
    • Roof
    • Pipes
    • Fitted kitchens
    • Carpets
    • Flooring

    A good policy needs to protect you against risks including:

    • Storms
    • Floods
    • Fire
    • Water leaks
    • Theft or attempted theft,
    • Vandalism or malicious damage

    A more comprehensive policy will also include legal expenses. For example, you might need legal assistance to remove squatters.

    Another inclusion or add-on is property owner liability. This will protect you against compensation claims raised by third parties who have been injured as a result of the property not being maintained.

    Some policies will also offer add-ons covering damage due to fallen trees, fly-tipping, and broken windows.

    How can I get cheaper unoccupied property insurance?

    Adding some additional security features, such as burglar alarms and decent door and window locks, could help to decrease the cost of your unoccupied home insurance.

    Installing smart cameras and smart devices will make it easier for you to monitor the property yourself via your mobile phone. By doing this you can react quickly to any incidents, and lessen the likelihood of needing to make a claim. For example, smart leak sensors can alert you if there is a leak in the property.

    Keeping the property well-maintained and looking lived-in can reduce the probability of a break-in or squatters moving in. This will mean you are less likely to make an insurance claim.

    Increasing the excess payable on your insurance policy will usually make the premium cheaper. The excess is the amount the policyholder has to pay towards any claim – so make sure you don’t increase it to an unaffordable amount.

    When you insure any property, it’s important to give the insurer an accurate ‘rebuild value’ – this is the cost of completely rebuilding the property from scratch. Unless you own a listed building, the rebuild value is usually less than the market or sale value – so make sure you don’t over-insure your property.

    Some unoccupied home insurance policies will require you to take certain steps to reduce the risk of a burst pipe. For example, heating the property to a certain temperature in winter or turning off the water supply.

    Empty living room painted white

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Rory Mulvey

    Who offers unoccupied property insurance?

    Firstly, assess whether you need unoccupied home insurance. Check the policy wording of any existing home insurance.  Most insurers will cover an empty property for up to 30 or 90 days. If the property will be empty for longer than the limit stated on the policy, call your insurer to see if it can offer additional cover.

    If you need unoccupied home insurance, you should shop around for the right policy at the right price. With standard home insurance, you can compare quotes using price comparison websites, but it’s not as easy to do this for unoccupied home insurance. Instead, you’ll need to contact individual insurers to ask for a quote.

    Most insurers want to know the condition of the property before they offer you cover. It can be more difficult to find insurance if a property is in a poor state of repair. For example, it might have boarded up entrances or roof damage.

    Different insurers will take differing approaches to the checks you need to make on a vacant property. Some will require you to leave the heating on using a timer in winter to stop pipes from freezing and bursting. Others might expect you to regularly visit the property.

    Specialist Unoccupied home insurers include:

    • GuardCover
    • Endsleigh
    • Towergate
    • Adrian Flux
    • Home Protect

    Once you’ve chosen your policy, you can either pay the full cost upfront or pay for it in monthly instalments.

    What are ‘unoccupied building conditions’?

    Some insurers insist on certain terms and conditions are stuck to for unoccupied home insurance to be valid: these are called ‘unoccupied building conditions’.

    Unoccupied building conditions can be things such as:

    • Draining down water systems
    • Switching off utilities
    • Weekly documented visits

    Failure to comply with their unoccupied property insurance guide and conditions could lead to any claim you make being turned down. Some insurers will let you choose which conditions you want to include – these will affect your premium.

    What are unoccupied home insurance exclusions?

    Every insurance policy comes with ‘exclusions’ which are events not covered by the insurance policy.

    Unoccupied home insurance exclusions might include theft by unforced entry such as an unlocked door or open window or damage caused by contractors or builders.

    classic victorian hallway with wood flooring

    Image credit: David Barbour

    How to make an unoccupied home insurance claim

    If  you need to make a claim on your home insurance, these are the steps to follow:

    • Call the police if relevant – If your property is broken into, burgled or vandalised, you should call the police. They will hopefully investigate the crime, and also issue you with a crime reference number that you will need to give to your insurer to progress your claim.
    • Call your insurer straight away – Although you can usually make claims up to six months after an insured event, it’s best to get the ball rolling straight away. Contact your insurer – it will tell you the next steps you should take. Most insurers operate claims helplines 24 hours a day.
    • Retain insurance evidence – If you’ve had a fire or flood, don’t throw damaged belongings away immediately – wait until you’ve had the go-ahead from your insurance company. In some circumstances, they will send a ‘loss assessor’ to assess what has been damaged, destroyed or lost.
    • Take photos – The more evidence you have to support your insurance claim, the better. Photos of damage to your property or destroyed possessions can make your claim easier. Especially if the insurer disputes the amount you are claiming for or what happened.
    • Keep receipts – If you need to make urgent repairs to your property – for example, fixing broken locks – keep your receipts as you’ll need them for your insurance claim.
    • Claim approved – When your claim is approved, your insurer will either organise the necessary repairs or send you a cheque for the amount you’ve claimed so you can arrange the work yourself.

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