There are about 700,000 empty properties in the UK, and they are unoccupied for a variety of reasons. Often, the property is awaiting sale or probate. Or maybe the owners have moved out while the house is extended or refurbished. Some people are also forced to leave their homes empty while they go into hospital, or even into long term care.
Importance of unoccupied home insurance
Whatever the reason, it's important to insure an empty property in case something goes wrong. For example, could you afford to pay for damage caused by a flood or fire? What would happen if the house was targeted by thieves or vandals?
The 30-day rule
You might already have home insurance in place, but your existing policy is unlikely to be adequate. Most insurers will not cover a property if it is left unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days. So, if you were to make a claim on your standard insurance it would most likely not pay out.
Seek specialist help
Your existing home insurance provider might agree to insure your property while it is empty, but it would almost certainly restrict the cover. So it's probably wise to seek specialist buildings and contents insurance if you are planning to leave a property unoccupied for any length of time. This is where unoccupied home insurance comes in handy.
Range of risks
Most unoccupied property insurance policies insure a range of risks including storm, flood, fire and theft. Your liability as the property owner would also be covered in case, for example, a slate blew off the roof and damaged your neighbour's conservatory. But it's always worth checking any exclusions. Some home insurance firms are reluctant to insure an empty property against malicious damage. There might also be restrictions on theft of contents and any damage caused by an escape of water.
Short term cover
You don't have to insure an empty house for the usual 12 months required by a normal policy. Most firms allow you to arrange cover for three, six, nine or 12 months, with the option to extend if necessary. So, you might take out a three-month policy to cover your property while it is up for sale. But if the sale takes longer than expected, you could simply extend the policy as required.
If your home is a listed building, has a thatched roof or any other less common features, you may need specialist insurance to protect your home while it's unoccupied. Click here to visit our non-standard insurance page.
Whatever the reason, it's important to insure an empty property in case something goes wrong
Thieves and vandals
Unoccupied property insurance can be more expensive than normal cover because unoccupied homes pose more of a risk. They are, for example, more likely to be targeted by thieves, vandals and squatters. Problems arising from fire or water can also prove costly if the home is empty as there is no one around to limit the damage.
Cost of cover
The actual cost of cover will depend on a number of factors including the value of the property, the location, the term of the insurance, security at the property and the reason why the home is unoccupied. If there are contractors working on the site, for example, it could affect the premium. The insurer might also exclude any damage caused by the builders.
Secure the empty property
An empty home must usually be in a good state of repair: you probably won't get cover if the house is boarded up or dilapidated. It must also be secure, with approved locks on the doors and windows and preferably a burglar alarm. The insurer will also typically insist that you remove all valuables, drain the water system, set the heating to the frost setting during the winter months to avoid burst pipes, switch off the utilities and regularly inspect the property.
It's also a good idea to make the place look lived in, perhaps by installing timer switches for the lights and asking a neighbour to park their car in the drive.