Vacant Property Risks for Fall

By BreAnn Stephenson

Fall is a signal to start wrapping up outdoor rehab work, a time to start “battening down the hatches” for colder weather, or for some who invest in areas with warmer climates, a time for spooky holidays with a different kind of spooky weather. As fall weather rolls in, other non-weather-related threats like theft, vandalism, and fires also tend to increase in frequency. Why is that, and what can you do to protect your vacant property as the year starts to wind down? Let’s talk about it!

Flips Could Become Flops

Your GC is going to have to be prepared for the conditions that colder weather brings. Outdoor work can become more dangerous – you don’t want a roofer working in freezing ice and snow conditions if you can avoid it! Here’s where it becomes really important to hire contractors that are properly licensed and insured. In addition to helping any injured crew member get proper medical care, the company or sole proprietor will also have the proper protection to shield their business from undue financial harm that could put finishing your project in jeopardy.

Related Reading:It’s Not Covered: Contractors’ Injuries & Workmanship

The “classic” frozen pipe burst. If the water is turned on, you may be in danger of frozen pipes and the water damage that follows if one bursts. We’ve seen too many investors have to start up the rehab process again on a just-completed house because they wanted to make sure they could demonstrate a flushing toilet or turn on a faucet for a potential buyer. The best practice is to shut off the water at the street and drain the system whenever a property is vacant. If you must have access to water, you can instead use the house’s main shut-off; also keep the heat to at least 55 degrees and insulate any pipes that are on exterior walls.

Squatters could decide to take shelter in your rehab. If you have paused your work or have purchased a property and don’t intend to start the project until spring, this could happen to you. People need shelter, and it is not uncommon to see a property burn because someone taking refuge there lit a fire to stay warm. We have also seen houses that have been overtaken by “refugees” of the neighborhood who took advantage of the vacancy to start their own narcotics business.

The most common fear – and risk – theft. It’s so commonplace for vacant properties, I hardly feel the need to make you aware of the risk of theft or vandalism. You all know what they are after too: copper, furnaces, fixtures, uninstalled materials, and your contractors’ tools… Some criminals like to come in and just trash the place for fun and not steal a thing, which is just as insulting (maybe more?) and just as costly.

Hurricane Season & Vacant Properties

September is the most active month for hurricanes in the Atlantic. Harvey and Irma have had devastating impacts on the Gulf States, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. While some folks have lived through a hurricane before, the magnitude of these storms have made it difficult to be totally prepared for all the after-effects: damage that displaces tenants and causes a multitude of occupied homes to go vacant. What dangers could you see?

Looting – Will your property be in danger of looting if the area is affected by a hurricane or other disaster? In times of great distress, people may go after basic necessities like toiletries, food and water, while others will still go after anything of value, and we’ve unfortunately seen some of that with these storms.

No more insurance coverage – Many home owners and tenants have been displaced by the recent storms and some carriers are not willing to insure vacant homes. Though there are carriers who are investor-friendly or write coverage specifically for vacant homes, some “standard market” insurers are not as keen on the risk. As such, if you have your property insured with a company that usually specializes in covering owner-occupied locations, you may have to pursue replacement coverage with someone else if/when a tenant moves out for a significant length of time.

In addition, many people are not aware that Named Storm and Flood coverage are not automatically included in the majority of property policies. Coverage is usually obtained separately for an additional cost, so it’s important to become familiar with how these coverages work, especially if you are investing out-of-state. You may also want to check out these two articles in Affinity Loss Prevention Services “It’s Not Covered” series:

Rehabs may take longer after a disaster. Shortages of materials and skilled labor can happen when many people are immediately in need of the same help putting their properties back together. You may just have to get patient or really creative so you can keep your projects from getting too far behind. If you have delays, be sure to take extra security measures to keep unwanted guests (of the human or critter kind!) out. We’ll talk more about how to do this in just a minute.

Securing Vacant Properties

Many of the risks above can be avoided by taking simple, yet calculated, security measures. The following tips should help you deter unwanted visitors while you are away.

3 Vacant Property Signs You Should Avoid

  • Unkempt yard
  • Overflowing mail
  • Darkness

All three of these signal that no one is home and your investment is ripe for the picking. Be sure the yard is mowed and trees and bushes are tamed. If there is still mail being delivered (even if they are junk ads), be sure it is picked up on a regular basis – you may want to enlist a neighbor to help! Also make sure the house is well-lit, especially the entryways. Intruders are less likely to prey on your property if they sense they may get caught in the act of breaking in.

8 Ways to Strengthen Your “Fortress” During Fall

  1. First line of defense: deterrence – make sure your property isn’t the easiest target on the block.
  2. Locks & Door Reinforcement – doors & windows should be locked with sturdy hardware and long screws.
  3. Neighbors – good relationships with them allow you to have “eyes and ears” around your property.
  4. Inspections – drive by regularly to make sure the house is still secure.
  5. Yard Maintenance – overgrown shrubbery can give thieves and vandals a place to hide so keep it nice and neat!
  6. Lighting – place motion-detector lights at a height where it’s not easy to disable them.
  7. Board-up – if your property will be vacant for an extended period, use this tactic. Follow your local codes.
  8. Alarm Systems – some criminals may move along if they see you have one, and you may get an insurance discount!

Read the Full Article:8 Great Ways to Protect Vacant & Renovation Properties

A Quick Note on Board-Ups

When appropriate and required you should make certain to board-up your property. There are several board-up solutions. The easiest fix might be to send over a handyman with plywood and long screws, but there are also heavy duty Plexiglas-types that allow light in the house, and many investors like to use steel board-up methods. We found D.A.W.G.S. to be a good solution for investors who prefer metal to wood or plastic. Make sure you use the best method that is also compliant with local codes. Remember, insurance policies will often require, as a security measure, that vacant houses are boarded-up.

Wrap Up! 6 Critical Fall Precautions for ALL Occupancy Types

No matter what state of occupancy, the below precautions are critical for investment properties this time of year.

  1. Winterizing – minimize the risk of frozen pipes and costly water damage from a burst.

Read HowMinimizing Water Woes This Fall

  1. Tree trimming & cleaning gutters – make sure all trees will be able to weather winter storms and avoid damage to your property or your neighbor’s. Clogged gutters can also cause damage inside your property.

Read HowGood Advice About Bad Trees

  1. Taming pests – don’t let critters creep into your property.

Read HowPest-Test Your Properties

  1. Eliminating liability hazards – avoid lawsuits by eliminating trip, slip and fall hazards.

Read How10 Tips to Help Eliminate Holiday Liabilities

  1. Change your clocks, Change your batteries – Test smoke and CO detectors at Daylight Saving Time. Smoke detectors help residents avoid serious injury or death in a fire. CO detectors “sniff out” colorless, odorless and deadly carbon monoxide.

Read HowChange Your Clocks, Change Your Batteries!

  1. Help your tenants avoid a kitchen fire – #1 day for cooking fires is Thanksgiving, but they can be prevented!

Read How10 Quick Cooking Tips for a Safe Thanksgiving

Bonus!

Here’s an easy way to make sure you are up on the top 10 must-do’s for fall. Use the Fall Maintenance Checklist to keep track of your fall maintenance at each property.

 

About the Author

BreAnn Stephenson is the Assistant Vice President at Affinity Loss Prevention Services (ALPS).  ALPS is your source for finding out how to avoid a loss. For more articles, checklists and access to discounted products go to affinitylps.com.

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