Autumn 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 to prepare for potential hurricanes. 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 diminish vacant property risks as the year winds down?
Fixer Upper Properties
When flipping a home, you have to be extra cautious of vacant property risks. Large dumpsters, construction vehicles, and more all make it very obvious that the home is empty and vulnerable and the cold weather brings even more risks.
Your General Contractor needs 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.
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 restart the rehab process 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.
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 narcotic businesses.
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 break in to vandalize, which can be just as costly as stolen goods.
Hurricane Prone 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 people have lived through a hurricane before, the magnitude of these storms has made it challenging to be totally prepared for all the after-effects – damage that displaces tenants and causes a multitude of occupied homes to go vacant.
In times of great distress, like after a hurricane, some 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. This could be items like stoves and fridges or even items your renters own.
Many homeowners 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 when a tenant moves out.
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.
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 out.
How to Secure Vacant Properties
The following tips should help investors deter unwanted visitors while the property is vacant.
Vacant Property Signs You Should Avoid
- Unkempt yard
- Overflowing mail
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. 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.
How to Protect a Vacant Property
- The first line of defense: Deterrence – Make sure your property isn’t the easiest target on the block.
- Locks & Door Reinforcement – Doors & windows should be locked with sturdy hardware and long screws.
- Neighbors – Good relationships with neighbors allow you to have “eyes and ears” around your property.
- Inspections – Drive by the property regularly to make sure the house is still secure.
- Yard Maintenance – Overgrown shrubbery can give thieves and vandals a place to hide, so keep it nice and neat!
- Lighting – Place motion-detector lights at a height where it’s not easy to disable them.
- Board-up – If your property will be vacant for an extended period, consider boarding it up.*
- 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
*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 handyperson 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 find 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.