Save me from expensive vacant home insurance.
February 4, 2010 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Homeowner's insurance help needed. My insurance agent says I'll need vacant house insurance, which is triple my current rate. What constitutes "vacant" for these purposes?

We've just bought another house in our great neighborhood and plan to move there shortly after closing. My insurance agent tells me that when we leave our current house, which will be for sale, we'll have to have vacant home insurance that's almost triple our current rate. We had already planned on leaving the alarm system active & regularly checking on the house - we're only a few blocks away and will walk the dogs past almost daily - and we're leaving some furniture in the house to stage it for selling. If it'll save me a couple hundred dollars per month, I'll gladly spend a few nights in the old house to maintain my current rate (I may be doing a bit of that anyway to finish some repainting). But at what level of occupation do insurers consider a home occupied? If anyone has suggestions on what to do in this situation, I'm ready to consider it. Thanks.
posted by pappy to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Best answer: Triple your current rate? That's ridiculous. Get some competitive quotes from other insurance carriers.
posted by amyms at 8:34 PM on February 4, 2010

You say "we", are you married? Could you have one spouse occupy each house?
posted by Justinian at 8:45 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: Yep, married, and willing to spend some nights apart if necessary, but how many? Where is that line drawn?
posted by pappy at 8:47 PM on February 4, 2010

It might be worth asking the insurance company what level of occupancy defines "not vacant" when/if you go shopping around for better rates.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:53 PM on February 4, 2010

Best answer: I know someone who has two houses, one (basically) vacant - he and/or his wife go there for a day or two every month or two or whatever - who was told by his insurance company that he would therefore have to get vacant house insurance for it. As soon as they found out that he was paying for stuff like heating and electricity, they dropped the requirement.

Disclaimers: I don't really know that this guy's experience is in any way "normal". And even if it is, the exact requirements might vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, or perhaps insurance company to insurance company, or both.
posted by Flunkie at 8:55 PM on February 4, 2010

Depending on cost, you might be able to get a nominal property management contract with a company specializing on such. This might be cheaper than the additional insurance cost, and should satisfy any vacancy worries.
posted by yesster at 8:57 PM on February 4, 2010

I just added a vacancy endorsement to a homeowner's policy, and the cost was about 10% of my annual premium.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:20 PM on February 4, 2010

You could let a friend house sit for you. Perhaps a college student age friend of the family still living at home that would love a few months of free rent. You might pay a little extra in utilities but might save money in the end if for some reason you would want to stick with your current insurance carrier.
posted by Yorrick at 9:32 PM on February 4, 2010

Best answer: I work for an insurance company and do a lot of work with property forms.

This isn't as unreasonable as it sounds. Vacancy is an incredible risk to property, as it significantly increases both the frequency and severity of loss. Frequency is increased because there are numerous exposures which are routinely avoided by even semi-attentive occupants, e.g. theft, vandalism, and the like. Severity is increased because things like leaking pipes, wind damage, and broken windows can cause far, far more damage if left unattended for a few days than if they're promptly repaired. My company actually excludes properties which would otherwise be covered if they are vacant for more than 60 days. But even occupied buildings where the occupant has not taken reasonable steps to maintain heat can experience denials of claims.

Two things to keep in mind though:

- First, "vacant" is almost certainly a defined term in your policy. Ask your agent to give you the definition. It's likely that you can take minimal steps to prevent the house from being considered "vacant" under the terms of the policy. In my experience, agents knowledge of their own products isn't actually all that good, so it's entirely possible that your agent is uninformed about the requirements of your policy.

- Second, though charging extra premium for vacant dwellings is entirely appropriate, a 200% increase does sound a bit steep. I'd consider investigating other options if you can't get out of paying extra.
posted by valkyryn at 5:31 AM on February 5, 2010

My homeowner's insurer dropped me like a bad habit when they found out my house was vacant. Didn't matter that I was checking on the house every day or every other day. My rate increase was similar. Good luck.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:04 AM on February 5, 2010

Response by poster: Reminded to post a resolution by memail, after hitting the vacant home insurance wall with one agent, I went to another company and ended up getting the house insured as a second home under conditions that I stay there from time to time.
posted by pappy at 6:58 PM on March 9, 2010

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