It is well-nigh impossible to impossible to be a buy and hold real estate investor for any length of time without owning a house that sits vacant at some point. However, there are some important and very real dangers to letting a house sit vacant that you should be aware of:
Your insurance policy will almost certainly cover your property for a period of vacancy, but only for a short time. Even the best of insurance companies stay profitable by ensuring that they do not pay every claim that is made. Imagine the horror of having your property destroyed by a fire or flood, or having neighborhood kids or homeless people break in, hurt themselves on your property, and sue you- only to have your insurance company refuse coverage because the house had been vacant for longer than the listed period designed to allow for transition between occupants! You can buy vacant house insurance, but it is rarely sold because most folks are not aware of the existence of these policies, and also due to the extremely high cost of this type of insurance.
We’ve all seen an abandoned house overgrown by moss, vines, and sometimes trees, home only to such intrepid animals as may have found their way inside. That may have taken 5-10 years, but every month your property sits vacant, it moves incrementally a percentage closer to that state. Nature will reclaim that which we do not tend well. Houses are designed for occupancy, and some of the many problems of vacant houses include lack of moving air, causing all manner of smells (most of us know what “vacant house” smells like), growth of bacteria and mold, and HVAC problems. Plumbing problems are common, tree roots and plants may even penetrate underground pipes. An insect infestation, be it fleas, ants, or more insidious occupants like carpenter ants, carpenter bees, and termites; can go from a minor problem to a huge problem without motion, circulation, and human care to arrest their growth.
To avoid vacancy issues, check out our guide to tenant retention.
Lou Gimbutis, owner of Property Solutions, LLC, www.SoldCarolina.com and www.123EscapeForeclosure.com, has been buying and selling houses full-time since 2004, first in Michigan, then after moving to NC in 2007. He serves as Director of Education for the Metrolina Real Estate Investor’s Association.