Why Do Vacant Homes Cost More to Insure?


Why Do Vacant Homes Cost More To Insure?


Insurance is a game of risk. Vacant houses carry more risk, making them less attractive for insurers. But when is a house unoccupied and when is it vacant? Knowing the difference can save you $1000's. Not knowing can leave you paying for damages on your own.  

Vacant vs Unoccupied

Vacant and unoccupied are not the same thing to homeowners insurance companies. It’s crucial to understand the differences as the costs for insuring each can vary drastically. 

  • Vacant - no intention for anyone to stay or live there. This means that the house is typically without furniture and basic utilities. This is common when homes are up for sale, going through a renovation, or an investment property not being used for living.
  • Unoccupied - fully furnished and typically have utilities running, but no one is currently living there.

How much “stuff” is necessary for a house to be considered occupied? There isn’t a clear minimum other than there needs to be enough belongings in the home for it to be considered habitable.

Homeowners Insurance Liability with Vacant Homes

Knowing the classification of your home is imperative to ensure you have the right coverage to remain protected. Most owners of vacant homes use a DP-1 policy to insure the dwellings of their property. Usually, this is sufficient. However, if the house goes vacant for 60 days, the house can be classified as vacant. 

Once that happens, your normal home insurance policy will no longer provide coverage. Insurance protecting against vacancy would need to be purchased. The DP-1 covers the structure against:

  • Fire, Smoke
  • Wind
  • Hail
  • Lightning
  • Explosion
  • Aircraft, Vehicles (hitting the house)
  • Volcanoes
  • Vandalism (can be added on)

And that's it! No coverage for water damage, freezing pipes, weight of snow, theft, or anything else. 

How Common Are Vacant Homes?

There are over 1.1 million vacant homes in the US or about 1.6 percent of the 85 million homes across the nation. However, it isn’t the lingering result of the housing market’s collapse in 2008. Instead, roughly 3 out of 4 vacant properties are investment properties

Why Do Houses Become Vacant?

Outside of being an investment property, there are a few other reasons people vacate their homes. Owners can be in the middle of a move between houses. There can be a prolonged vacancy due to a lack of tenants in a rental property. And sometimes renovations or pending sales take longer than anticipated.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Vacant Home?

home alone shotgun GIF

While you don’t need to go to Home Alone levels of security, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your property stays safe while it’s vacant.

  1. Notify Your Insurance Agent/Carrier: Before you do anything, you need to let your provider know so they can tell you the options you have available for coverage. Be as detailed as possible to make sure your policy gets adjusted for the change in living conditions.
  2. Check Alarms: Adding home security for burglary and fully charged smoke detectors will help lessen the damages should anything happen. Some insurance carriers will not cover a vacant home without a burglar alarm. 
  3. Check Up On It: Whether you enlist friends, neighbors, or stop by on your own, keeping the property maintained and looked after while vacant can help lower the chance of damages.

How Much More Expensive Is It to Insure a Vacant Property?

Because of the added risk and greater damages of a vacant home, the cost of insuring these properties is significantly higher. On average, expect to pay >50% more than the average premium of homeowners insurance.

Why Risk Matters When It Comes to Vacant Homes

As terrifying as it is to wake up to the smell of fire, the reality is that the damage done to occupied homes is often less than unoccupied. You may stumble into the basement to discover a burst pipe on a Saturday morning, but that’s much better than returning to your house after two months and finding that your basement has become a swimming pool. 

Occupied houses generally have much faster response times when facing catastrophes and therefore typically lower cost of damages. Occupied houses also tend to deter both theft and vandalism. Vacant houses could potentially remain empty and unchecked for long periods of time making them far riskier and the potential damages far larger.

In the end, it’s all about risk, and insurers are more willing to take risk on houses with people in them than empty ones. Hope that helps!

At your service,
Young Alfred