Let’s assume that you have agreed to complete a house sale transaction on the Friday but decide to get a head start by moving your items out a few days or so before.
It’s not always something to undertake lightly because things can go wrong right up to the final seconds of legal ‘completion’ – so do discuss matters fully with your solicitor and take their advice. Even so, this is far from unknown and might sometimes make sense for logistical reasons if you and your purchasers have agreed so.
If you do go forward on this basis, there are three REALLY important things to remember though:
- even though you’ve moved out, the property is still legally yours and YOU are responsible for maintaining insurance on it right up until final completion;
- given how attractive unoccupied properties are to thieves, vandals and squatters, you may need to take special precautions to keep it secure until the new owners take possession;
- you may need to close off some utility services.
On the first point, you’ll probably find that your existing buildings insurance will continue to cover your property while it’s unoccupied but only up to a specified number of consecutive days (usually 30-45). That’s fine for a typical holiday and it shouldn’t be a problem in this context of a few days while changing owners but check your policy anyway to be sure.
Be clear also that your policy doesn’t have special conditions relating to ’empty’ (i.e. unfurnished) versus unoccupied but furnished. That can happen sometimes.
As to the second point, burglars prefer unoccupied properties. There’s far less chance of them being discovered and even if you’ve emptied the property, they’ll find something to steal. Vandals will just enter empty property to smash and wreck things because they think it’s ‘fun’ and squatters, though less of a problem these days than previously, can do so just to make what to them is some sort of political point.
Your insurance policy might state certain minimum additional security provisions you’ll be expected to make in situations where you’re emptying out your house. You’ll need to check your policy to be sure of the specifics but expect comments in areas such as:
- using additional bolts and deadlocks;
- making sure that a light or two is left on a timer switch;
- making sure curtains and blinds are not removed from windows.
It’s possible you can find some good empty property security tips online or in some cases, your movers might also be able to offer some advice.
Your policy might also specify that while your property is unoccupied, you must take certain steps such as shutting off water and gas. That’s because (e.g.) a leak you might notice while living there, will go unnoticed if your property’s empty.
Why might insurers stipulate such conditions?
Well, it’s because the unfortunate fact of the matter is that your property is typically at much higher risk of these sorts of troubles when you’re not living there. Insurers know that and might like to see you reducing your risks as much as possible.
It’s worth checking these things and don’t just ignore them. That’s because if a problem arises on your property in between you moving out and the new owners moving in, you might find it becomes ‘tricky’ with a claim unless you’ve fully complied with the policy’s conditions relating to ‘in transit’ cover.