Everyone deserves a break now and again. But it's impossible to really unwind if you're spending your entire vacation worrying about your home and property.
If you're leaving behind an empty home, don't waste your holiday fretting over it. Take these steps to keep it safe and give you the peace of mind you need.
(For more vacation-related advice, see Travel Insurance: Do I Really Have To?)
Keep a Low Profile
It’s natural to get excited when your vacation is just around the corner. You might even want to tell everyone you run into that you're finally about to take some time off. But you should think twice about spreading the word far and wide, especially online. Even if your Facebook and Twitter posts are only visible to friends and family, they might still be seen by someone untrustworthy.
Thieves are on the lookout for opportunities, so don't post photos of your vacation until you return. And make sure you disable the "check in" function on your Facebook account while you're away.
Be careful with the low tech stuff, too. Don't leave a voicemail message stating that you're away for an extended period of time or mentioning the date of your return.
Create the Illusion You’re Home
Don't close up your home like a tomb before leaving. For whatever reason, it feels counter-intuitive to leave blinds and curtains open while you're away, but it's worth doing. Not only will it seem like someone is home, but it will make it easier for neighbors and police to spot unusual activity. Just don't leave any expensive items in plain sight.
Leaving a lamp on might seem like a great way to make it seem like someone's home. But contrary to popular belief, most robberies occur in broad daylight. Burglars like to strike in the early morning and afternoon, when homes are most likely to be empty, and a lamp won't deter anyone at those times of the day. Instead, try connecting your television or radio to a programmable timer or smart device.
Beef Up Your Security
Surveys of NY State inmates reveal that 62 percent of burglars engage in some kind of surveillance prior to committing the crime. They might, for instance, knock on the door and check for an alarm system or security camera. Before they choose a house to target, they want to know how easy it will be to pull off and how big the payoff will be.
One convicted burglar recommends installing security cameras straight forward at a height of about 5’ 8” instead of angling it from up high so the person cannot hide their face. Add a horn or LED lights around the unit to draw attention to your security. Cellular alarm system stickers and a sign on your lawn may also spurn thieves as it shows you use recent technology. Setting up or joining a Neighborhood Watch program is also a proven method to reduce crime by an average of 16%.
Glass-free entrance doors with good locks, a kicker plate, and shutters on windows are huge deterrents. Lock everything, including the garage, and don't stash a spare key outside.
Turn off your garage door so thieves can’t open it with a universal remote. Remove portable GPS systems from vehicles when using long-term parking. Thieves can use it to find your home.
Arrange for Property Visits
Nothing improves home security more than an actual person visiting or staying on the property. Ask a neighbor, friend, or family member to drop in regularly to collect your mail, newspapers, and flyers.
If no one's available, arrange for a temporary hold on these services. The United States Postal Service makes it easy; in many areas, they offer a free service to hold mail for up to 30 days. A house sitter is a good all-in-one solution, and they can tend to your plants and pets too.
Don’t forget the yard. Uncut grass is a sure sign of an empty home.
(For extra tips, check out How Smart Devices Can Protect Your Home and Help You Save on Insurance.)
Preventing Property Damage
Unplug small appliances and electronics, such as your microwave, toaster, coffee maker, and laptop before you leave. Power surges can fry them and start fires. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace the batteries, if necessary.
If you have a programmable thermostat, lower the temperature to around 55°F or greater while you’re away to save on your heating bill without risking frozen pipes. Also switch your water heater to a lower setting to reduce energy consumption. Turn off the main water valve, and drain the pipes if you live in a cold area. Leaks or burst pipes can cause massive damage while you’re away (learn more in 5 Water Damage Home Insurance Scenarios: Are You Covered?).
If you have a monitored alarm system, consider adding a water flow alarm. It alerts the alarm company if your home has a water issue.
Making Sure You're Protected
Review Your Insurance Coverage
Insurers have specific time limits for unoccupied or vacant homes. If you take an extended vacation, make sure it won't mean your house falls under that category. The definition of unoccupied may vary between companies, but it usually means your home must be suitable for immediate occupation on your return with all your personal property inside and utilities on.
If your vacation extends beyond the specified time limit, you’ll need an endorsement and you may need to pay a surcharge. Otherwise, they may cancel your policy, refuse to renew, or deny your claim if something happens while you’re away.
Typically, companies allow leeway for 30 consecutive days away, but policies vary. And don't let the name fool you: some companies will consider your home unoccupied when you have someone other than you staying on the property.
Expensive items may require additional coverage. Policies often limit and sometimes exclude particular items from coverage, including:
- Collectible items
- High-end electronics
(Learn more in An Intro to Insurance Sublimits.)
You're still responsible for what happens on your property, even though you’re nowhere near it. If someone wanders onto your property to jump on your trampoline or swim in your pool and injures themselves, they could sue for medical expenses. Without sufficient coverage, you would bear the burden of these costs.
Flooding is not covered under a standard homeowners’ policy. You need a flood insurance policy to avoid out-of-pocket costs, and they floods can be very costly. And you're not in the clear just because you live away far from the ocean: more than 20 percent of flood claims are outside the high risk flood zone.
Enjoy a Stress-Free Vacation
Taking steps to protect your home is the best way to make sure you don't worry about it while you're away. Review your coverage, secure your property, and enjoy your vacation.