Best practices for managing an unoccupied home


If you are an institutional owner, a trustee, or represent clients with inherited homes or vacant real estate to sell, it is important to properly manage these assets, especially as we enter the winter season. Without an owner present, the house and its contents are at a greater risk of damage by fire and water as well as disasters related to power outages and extreme weather.


Here are the top 6 ways to mitigate the risks associated with unoccupied homes

1) Secure the property

Protect against unauthorized entry, vandalism or theft by changing the garage codes, changing the locks, and installing a security system. A central alarm that is live monitored with audio, video and temperature sensors can reduce your chances of having a major loss from break-ins, fires, smoke damage, and even water damage from frozen pipes.

2)  Insure the real estate and contents

 It is important to know the extent of your policy terms and to maintain insurance coverage. Did you know that most homeowner insurance policies are not effective once the property is unoccupied for more than 30-60 days? If the policy is not updated, and a claim is filed, it may not be paid because vacancy could void the policy. A major loss — even one covered by insurance — could dramatically decrease the property value and potentially delay a sale by months. Be certain to secure a separate policy to cover personal property including home furnishings, snow mobiles, boats, operable or inoperable automobiles.

3) Assess the condition and make repairs.

end a representative to inspect the property and obtain documentation of the property’s condition, especially any damage, defect, active leak, infestation or issue. Hire a licensed contractor to correct the condition so a small issue does not escalate into an expensive one that damages the property or encumbers a sale.

4) Winterize

In autumn, make sure the sprinkler system is blown out by a qualified contractor and in cold temperatures, take steps to prevent water damage by either setting the heat to an appropriate temperature or turning off the water and draining pipes.

5) Maintain the property

Keep the grass cut, the shrubs trimmed, beds weeded and the property clean. In the winter, engage a snow removal service to plow the driveway and shovel the sidewalks. Perform recommended service and maintenance; inspect regularly.

6) Strategic caretaking

An unoccupied house can quickly show signs that it is empty.


Here are the top 10 ways to ward off uninvited interference

1. Arrange for mail to be held at the post office

2. Pick up hand-delivered flyers, newspapers, and packages

3. Ask a neighbor to park their car in your driveway

4. Sweep front walkway and porch and keep clear of debris and cobwebs; stage front porch with an attractive doormat & maintain a tidy appearance

5. Set up one or more lights on timers, so the house is not 100% dark

6. Test all smoke detectors to make sure they are functioning

7. Keep the exterior maintained by cleaning the yard and gutters, trimming trees, checking for leaks, shoveling the sidewalks and driveway and winterizing as necessary

8. Check basement and grounds after rain, severe storms or extreme weather

9. Hire someone to check on your home regularly

10. Stage interior with furniture to create a “lived-in” look

Most property management companies do not have vacant home programs, so enlist the help of a neighbor, or hire a qualified professional who will diligently manage the real estate asset until the real estate closing.


Tracy Wick, SRES, MUP is a seniors real estate specialist in Michigan with more than 25 years of experience as a real estate consultant and client advocate. Tracy is an associate broker with Keller Williams who specializes in elder transition and estate settlement. Visit to download a free Inherited Home Guide or contact her directly at 248-912-7407 or