How to prepare your home for vacancy while you're away

How to prepare your home for vacancy while you're away

‘Tis the season for traveling, family time, and holidays—and a season when many homes sit vacant for extended periods of time.  

Homes require constant maintenance and attention, so what do you do when you know you’ll be gone for more than a day, week, or month? We’ve got you covered. 

Here are the steps you should take when you leave your home to ensure it’s safe and sound while you’re away:

Secure your home

This is the most important and most obvious: lock all exterior doors and windows and install a security system if you can. There are lots of security system options with cameras and lighting that you can control from your phone. If you don’t already have a security system, do your research to find one that best fits your needs.

If an alarm system isn’t in the budget, try one of the oldest tricks in the book: hang up faux security system signs in your window.

Enlist the help of a trusted “watchdog”

You don’t want to announce that you’ll be gone to your entire neighborhood, but if you have a neighbor you trust, or a friend or family member nearby, ask them to keep an eye on your house. Have them check for mail or packages periodically and give them a spare key in case they need access to the inside of your home. Do not hide keys around your home.

If there’s a storm or a power outage, they can check the exterior and interior of your home for damage, and make sure power is restored and your utilities are back up and running.

If your watchdog lives close enough, ask them to park in your driveway a few times to make your house appear occupied.

It’s a good idea to do a quick walkthrough of your home with them before you leave, that way they’ll know if anything is out of place. And it doesn’t hurt to invite them over for dinner before and after they watch your home as a thank you.

If you don’t have any connections nearby but prefer that your house is occupied, consider hiring a house sitter.

Adjust your lighting

Install and activate outdoor motion lights around the exterior of your home. Not only will they help you find your way in the dark when you are home, but they’ll also potentially scare off unwanted visitors when you’re away.

A home that sits with an all-dark interior for too many days can draw the wrong attention. Putting your lamps on programmable timers can help your home appear occupied. Test your timers out a few days before your trip so you know they’re working properly. 

If you don’t have timers, try leaving on a light that is visible from the road but won’t allow anyone to see into your home—perhaps a laundry room, hall, or soft under-cabinet light.

Set blinds to their default position

You may think closing your blinds when you leave is a no-brainer, but many insurance agents will tell you it’s better to leave them exactly as they usually are to avoid suspicion. Be sure to hide valuables from plain sight in case anyone looks through your windows. Even better, stash jewelry and smaller valuable items in your bank’s safety deposit box while you’re away.

Stop or hold mail and deliveries

Stop your mail and deliveries online with USPS. They can hold your mail for up to thirty days or forward it for up to one year. If you still receive a daily newspaper, be sure to stop those deliveries as well.

Again, ask a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member to stop by periodically to take care of any unexpected deliveries and check on your house.

Maintain your yard

If you’re traveling for the holidays, you may need to hire a neighbor kid to shovel your sidewalk or rake leaves. You may need to hire someone to mow your grass and water your plants in the summer months.  

Be careful what you post

It may be tempting to share your travels online, but it’s best to wait until you’re home to post about it. Many of us have extended our social media connections to people we don’t fully know or trust, so don’t advertise that your house is empty.

Prepare your home utilities

Set your thermostat

There’s no need to keep your home at a comfortable temperature if you’re not home. But, you don’t want your home so cold that your pipes freeze or so hot your fridge is working overtime just to keep up.

Set your thermostat to 55 degrees or higher in colder weather. Your heater should easily be able to keep up and your pipes won’t be frozen and bursting—which is a catastrophe you want to avoid at all costs.

In warmer climates, you may need to leave your air conditioner and humidistat on to prevent mold and mildew. It is recommended that you set your thermostat no higher than 85 degrees and put your humidistat (if you have one) on 35 percent in colder weather.  

If you’re still working with a dated thermostat, think about investing in a smart thermostat that you can control from your phone. They give you convenient access to your thermostat and peace of mind while you’re away—and can help you save money on your energy bill. They’re great for unpredictable months that are hot one day and freezing the next; you’ll be able to simply check your weather app and adjust accordingly while you’re away.

Shut off water

Depending on how long you’ll be gone, it’s smart to shut off the main water line to your home to avoid leaks and other issues. Water damage is one of the leading—and most expensive—types of homeowners insurance claims. Small leaks can cause extreme damage if they aren’t caught right away, so if you’re leaving for longer than a few days, it’s smart to eliminate the risk altogether.

If you shut off your main water line, turn on your faucets until they run dry and flush your toilets until they’re empty to avoid mildew buildup.

As an extra safety measure, install a water flow sensor to your main water supply line, a sump pump alarm, or a regular water sensor near your pipes and pump.

Extra tips

Of course, you’ll also want to do smaller home maintenance tasks such as washing all of your dishes, running your garbage disposal one last time, checking your washer and dryer for clothing, and taking out the trash before you leave.  

Extra tips for longer vacations

If you’re planning to be gone for more than a couple of weeks, here are some items you may want to add to your list:

  • Shut off the water heater
  • Empty your refrigerator
  • Wrap toilets in saran wrap to avoid sewage smells in your home
  • Unplug almost everything
  • Close your fireplace flue.

If you’re planning to travel for more than a month, add these items to your list:

  • Put cable and internet on hold
  • Check all smoke detectors
  • Prepare any cars you’re leaving behind

The bottom line

Whether you’re leaving your home for a weekend or a few months, it can be stressful to think about all of the things that may go wrong while you’re away. Make a checklist and reinforce your relationship with your chosen watchdog(s) before you go. Then, you’ll be free to enjoy family time or whatever adventure you’re headed off to.