The Vacant Expert

The Basics of Vacant Property Insurance

Properties left unoccupied or vacant for an extended period of time are typically not covered by homeowners insurance. This puts you and your investment at risk. Luckily, some companies offer specialty insurance policies that will help put your mind at ease. Here's what you need to know about vacant property insurance. 

How do I know if my property is "vacant"?

When homeowners leave a property alone for an extended period of time, the risk of something happening without you knowing goes up. In fact, some homeowners policies do not apply if your property is unoccupied for more than 30 days at a time. Be sure to look at your insurance because every policy is unique! 

What does vacant property insurance cover?

Vacant property insurance can cover all kinds of properties with specific coverages varying among providers. Maybe you just bought a new house but won't move in for another few weeks. Maybe you own a vacation home but only have time to visit once a year. Or maybe your job keeps you on the road for long periods of time. Specialty property insurance provides coverage for cases like this, and more!

Why you need specialty property insurance

Fire, vandalism, and general liability are all bigger risks for vacant properties than occupied homes. As a result, it is extremely important you consider replacing your homeowners policy with specialty insurance. No matter what, take steps today to ensure your property is fully covered!

Where can I find the insurance I need?

While many insurance providers offer vacant property policies, you need to make sure you find a company that suits your needs. For example, some insurers offer discounts if you take certain steps to protect your vacant property. Installing an alarm is one such option, though make sure you discuss this with your insurer beforehand. 

Plan To Tax Vacant Properties

In cities across North America, local politicians are considering imposing a tax on unoccupied or vacant properties. The main stated reasons behind such policies are usually the implied effect of increasing the housing supply as owners of vacant properties choose to sell their assets and the ability to raise additional tax revenue for reinvestment in other efforts. 

Nevertheless, critics say that such policies will have a relatively minimal impact on the overall housing supply and are not worth the trouble. Instead, they suggest that cities consider addressing some of the issues causing properties to remain vacant. 

Do vacant property taxes work?

Because the taxes created on vacant properties have been, by and large, recently implemented, there is a lack of data as to whether it achieves the stated goals that caused them to be considered in the first place. However, evidence from Vancouver, Canada, suggests that it did reduce the number of vacant properties and increase the overall housing supply, though not by too much. 

The main issue with vacant property taxes is the uncertainty regarding how many properties qualify and the challenges of gathering this data. As a result, many property owners are left wondering whether their secondary homes will be the target of such policies. This is leading many to begin creating lobby groups and research efforts to divert the attention of politicians.

What alternatives could we consider? 

Many suggest that governments of all levels should instead be considering efforts to increase the housing supply by creating construction and development incentives for affordable properties. Additionally, there is reason to suggest that vacant property taxes disproportionately target specific groups – like individuals with secondary, part-year vacation homes – rather than addressing the root causes of housing inaccessibility. 

Indeed, to address the former most cities have adjusted their proposed legislation to make exemptions for owners who legitimately care for their vacant properties and, thus, are not the proper targets for taxation. For example, proposed taxes could be linked to the presence (or absence) of a specialized vacant dwelling insurance policy, with credits for property owners who protect their assets appropriately. 

Vacant Properties In Baltimore 2022

At the end of January 2022, Baltimore mayor Brandon M. Scott compelled all City agencies to conduct a comprehensive, internal review of how they handle vacant properties. The announcement came after a vacant house collapsed during a fire, resulting in the tragic deaths of three firefighters with another severely injured. It marked the acceleration of ongoing efforts by the mayor to address the issue.

About one-third of vacant buildings in Baltimore are currently being transformed, whether due to private owner-funded renovations or as part of a larger redevelopment plan. Additionally, the Department of Housing and Community Development has made efforts to acquire vacant properties for conversion or demolition. Nevertheless, vacant properties remain a big problem due to their tendency to attract crime and stifle housing values in the area. 

In early March, Mayor Scott announced plans to use $100 million of Baltimore’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds on a housing initiative that includes a strategy to deal with vacant housing. It is the largest allocation of the ARP money so far, which speaks to the mayor’s emphasis on this issue. As he mentioned, the plan “builds on [their] efforts to increase housing stability by focusing on protecting Baltimore homeowners and renters, preserving housing gains and preventing blight, and supporting projects that are primed to create pathways to equity and neighborhood transformation.” 

While the plan has been relatively well-received, some skeptics point to past failures to address the vacant property problem in Baltimore. For starters, new buildings are abandoned at a pace that matches or exceeds the rate at which vacant properties are transformed. Furthermore, while Mayor Scott promises that the efforts will be “holistic” and address the root causes of building abandonment, there are concerns as to whether it is sufficiently nuanced.

Other mayors will be closely monitoring the success of Baltimore’s program, so if you own a property that is currently vacant, you should do the same. Whether the building is unused due to renovation, for sale or rent, or any other reason, it is a good idea to check with your city regarding local regulations. Additionally, make sure you have a vacant property insurance package to cover your building, as generally, homeowner insurance rarely covers such assets. 

States With The Highest Vacancy Rates In 2022

Vacant properties are ones that have no tenants or contents. In the real estate and insurance industries, these are considered “void.” It is important to note that this does not mean these are all abandoned locations, they’re just not currently in use. Property can be vacant because it is being sold, rented, in negotiations, or even just as a vacation home that hasn’t been developed. Understanding how your state compares to others in its vacancy rate is important when considering investments, as housing prices are related to the number of vacant properties in a region.

Top 5 States with the Highest Vacancy Rates:

  1. Vermont – 22.86%
  2. Maine – 22.68%
  3. Alaska – 20.51%
  4. West Virginia – 18.12%
  5. Alabama – 17.69%

Top 5 States with the Lowest Vacancy Rates:

  1. Oregon – 7.76%
  2. Washington – 7.87%
  3. Connecticut – 8.09%
  4. New Jersey – 8.45%
  5. California – 8.68%

Because there are many reasons why a house or apartment is left vacant, it is hard to find broad patterns that drive vacancy rates. Typically, states with high vacancy rates have lower average property prices. However, it is important to note that this is not always the case – for example, Alaska has high vacancy rates and above-average median home values. 

If you have a property that is not currently in use, it is important to have a conversation with your insurance agent as soon as possible. Generally, homeowners insurance rarely covers real estate that is vacant for 30 to 60 days or more, and you may need a specialty insurance policy to make sure you are fully protected.