by CRES Insurance Services

You might need to sell a vacant home for any number of reasons—perhaps it’s a newly built home, the seller has already relocated, or maybe it’s a rental and the tenants have just moved out. Selling a vacant home can bring with it a greater level of risk for an agent or property owner. Here are a few tips to stay safe.

Encourage sellers to leave the power on

So often a homeowner or tenant moves out and utilities are cut off immediately, making it very difficult to show the home in its best light. This can be a special challenge in homes without natural lighting. Also, if the home you’re selling is in a very hot or cold area, showing it can be rather uncomfortable.

But the issues here go beyond a property’s attractiveness. Poor lighting means you may not see potential hazards in the home. The last thing you want is someone tripping up the stairs or bumping into door handles accidentally, which can have legal ramifications. To avoid potential danger, encourage property owners to leave the power on. This helps to ensure a safer process. Plus, if you enter into a TREC residential contract, the sellers at their own expense have to keep the utilities on during the time the contract is in effect.

Keep an eye on maintenance issues

Too often, owners of vacant homes on the market neglect regular maintenance. Especially in the case of foreclosures, a bank may want to sell the homes quickly. Regardless of who owns the home, maintenance issues usually escalate without someone living there.

Water damage is a common maintenance issue for vacant homes. One small leak can escalate into mold or even flooding. This puts you at a serious health risk. You also risk the health of your prospects, which can become a legal issue if you’re not careful.

Electrical fires and gas leaks are much more common in vacant homes than you may think. Smoke detectors are only effective if someone is around to hear them. A small spark can quickly expand into thousands of dollars worth of damage.

In 2012, a gas leak in a vacant home turned into a fatal explosion, killing an unsuspecting real estate agent who was preparing to show the home to a family with young children. Had the family arrived just a few minutes earlier, the leak may have claimed even more lives.

Consider your personal security and that of prospective buyers

Without someone living in the home, unlocked windows and doors or security system failure can become hazards for you and your prospects and huge problems for the seller. Squatters, theft, or vandalism may not be your fault, but you may still be blamed. Consider suggesting the property owner hire a vacant-home monitoring company or asking a neighbor or relative to visit the property on a regular basis.

A smart move

Point out to your clients the many advantages of vacant-property maintenance. You may also want to take it upon yourself to check on the state of the property ahead of inspectors and prospects.

Turning up at the same time as the prospective buyer and being surprised by a raft of maintenance issues and hazards is a waste of everyone’s time, including yours. It may also potentially damage your reputation and possibly your pocketbook if a lawsuit ensues.

This article is reprinted with permission from CRES Insurance Services, an errors and omissions risk-reduction partner of the association. Copyright held by CRES Insurance Services.