Costs of Owning a Vacant House

The Vacant House in Green Meadows
So we bought this house, fixed it up and moved in. The house next door was vacant the entire 3 years we lived there.

Are you holding on to an empty vacant house because you might move back in someday? Make sure you run the numbers so you know exactly what it is costing you and your family every month! We recently purchased a vacant house that had been sitting vacant, according to the neighbors, for over 4 years.  And as we drive around the area, there seem to be 3 or 4 more houses vacant.  Do you know what that free and clear, vacant house is costing you in? 

Many people have lived in a home for the majority of their adult lives.  They got married and moved in, had their kids, and raised their family.  They have many years of memories and it’s really hard to let go of the house that is attached to all those memories.

Most of these homes were purchased 30 to 50 years ago and the mortgage has long since been paid off.  And as these people start to age, things start sliding around the house.  The first thing that starts to slide is the meticulously manicured lawn and landscape, as people age, getting out into the yard to trim, rake, and prune just gets harder and harder until you just pay the guy to mow the yard and ignore the rest.  Then small things around the house start needing to be repaired or replaced and, well, that updated dream kitchen from 1972 is perfectly fine still.

We see situations like this every day.  Then one day, Mom or Dad or both have health issues and for many different reasons, the house ends up sitting vacant.  The children who are taking care of Mom and Dad work hard to keep the house, but at what costs?  If your family has been holding on to Mom and Dad’s vacant house or is currently deciding if you should keep it or do something else, we wanted to run you through some numbers that you really should consider as you make your decision to hold that house for a year or deciding if you should sell that house.

Time Costs

We have a house down the street from us that is vacant.  We see the Children come by to check on this house 2 to 3 times a week.  They get in their car, drive to the house, go inside, walk through it, and make sure everything is still ok.  They want to see that no one has broken in, that nothing is broken or leaking, and that everything is as they left it a few days ago.  Sure this is not too much of a burden for a week or a month, but how long can you take a couple of hours, two or three days a week to go check on that vacant house? (The neighbors are going on 7 years)

Our neighbors also take the time to change out a vehicle that they store in the driveway to make it look occupied. Sometimes they come in one vehicle and trade and leave in a different one.  Other times two people arrive and take away all the cars.  They work hard moving cars around to make it look like someone lives there.  It has to get old and they have been doing this for a VERY LONG TIME!

Holding Costs

We buy houses all the time and hold them vacant while we make repairs.  We can fairly well tell you down to the penny what it costs to hold a vacant house.  These costs can get up there.

Taxes:  You can look up last year’s tax bill to see what the annual real estate taxes are on your houses.  For example, let’s say your house has $2,500 a year in real estate taxes. That house is costing you $208 a month, just sitting there.

Insurance:  If your loved one is going to be away for 30 days or less, their regular homeowner’s insurance is fine.  But if the home is going to be vacant for more than 30 days, consider that that normal homeowner policy WILL NOT PAY OUT CLAIMS and is invalid.  Please, double-check with your insurance agent to make sure you have the right coverage.  For us, we purchase a policy that covers a vacant home with a high deductible and for a $250,000 house, it costs us about $1440 a year or $120 a month and we have shopped around a lot to find a lesser cost policy.  I would venture to say that if you can obtain a vacant policy from your current provider it could cost up to $150 a month.

Lawn Maintenance:  This past summer on average we paid a service about $50 a month per yard to mow.  We mowed every 2 weeks.  However, I have watched the vacant house down the street, that wants to look like it’s occupied.  The service at that house is mowing every week, so that’s $200 a month for half the year, in the spring and summer they were mowing grass and for the past couple of months, they were mowing leaves.  All in an effort to make the home look lived in.  Now after 4 inches of snow, they have someone coming to shovel the walk and the drive.  Not sure what that costs. At some point the vacant house down the street got tired of dealing with trimming the bushes, so they had them all removed.  If we take the time to average mowing, snow removal, and some other lawn maintenance we would be at about $150 a month conservatively.

Utilities:  If you have a vacant house, you might be able to spend a bit of money upfront and have the home winterized so that you can shut off the water and the gas.  But if you are trying to make a house look lived in, you will need to keep paying the electricity so you can have lights set up on timers.  And if you are spending several hours a week checking on the house, you just might want water and gas on for your convenience.  So figure another $100 a month just for utilities. (The house next door had ALL UTILITIES ON AND RUNNING – EEK!)

So if we add up holding costs we have $208 in Taxes, $120 in Insurance, $150 in Lawn Maintenance, and at least another $100 in Utilities.  All told I am guessing that the vacant house up the street is paying $570 a month in someone’s cash to keep up a house that no one lives in.

Vandalism Costs

The house we live in, remember I found out that it had been vacant for over 4 years before we bought it?  According to the neighbors, it was broken into several times.  People notice vacant houses.  Some are just people wanting to get out of the weather to get warm.  Others are people looking to find something of value.  There is no real way to put a cost on this as it could mean fixing a broken window or door and whatever might get stolen.  In one area where we lived the neighborhood kids broke into a house while the owners were on vacation to have a party and they caused over $50,000 in damage.  At another house, we were repairing someone broke in and ripped out all the copper pipes costing us not only the pipes but all the water damage caused. We have also come across situations where people moved into a vacant house and changed the locks, in essence stealing the house and the owners had to involve the police to and sometimes evict these squatters. (This is happening a LOT more these days and now, they are forging documents, and actually they are stealing the house) Other times we have seen houses get burned down or otherwise horribly damaged depending on who got in and why.

To help fight vandalism, some check on the house 3 and 4 times a week, move cars, and put lights on timers.  Others install a security system and pay a monthly fee of $50 to $100 a month.  So add that in.

Repair Costs

A house sitting vacant often will have repair costs just grow.  Every month as a house ages, the interior just gets more dated, not really a fix-it kind of a repair but an update-it kind of repair.  So a potential buyer, if and when the home gets sold is going to be calculating how much it will cost to update the kitchen, the bathrooms, the paint, the carpet, the fixtures, the roof, the furnace, the windows, etc.  That house that sat vacant for 4 years – it needed $80,000 PLUS in updates like this.

Plus a house sitting vacant will often have things break just because they are not getting used.

Lost Opportunity Cost

I have to wonder, why it takes some people years to sell a vacant house. We have two within a couple of blocks of each other where one sat vacant for over 4 years and another for 7.  That’s 4 to 7 years of checking on a house regularly, time that could have been better spent traveling, doing things with the grandkids, or just about any other pursuit.  That’s 4 to 7years of paying out $570 a month, or $6,840 a year.  Two years is $13,680 in money spent and in 7 years it’s $47,880.  That’s money that could have paid for a lot of things.  We’ve come across houses that have sat vacant even longer.

When deciding whether to keep that vacant house or sell it, sit down and work out these costs.  They will affect you as the caregiver who is providing your time and will cost someone in real cold hard cash.  It’s important to have a realistic grasp of what everything is going to cost you to hold onto and maintain the house.  We see some solve the problem by moving into the home as their own, some list and sell with a real estate agent and some call us.

It’s important to look at your property and your situation to determine what will be best for you and your family.  We have purchased many homes from families that have decided it’s time to let go.

Selling your house Vacant House can be a fair and simple process! Contact us today to learn more about what we can offer you! 


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