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How do I get a vacant home into insurance shape, and what makes a vacant house insurable or uninsurable?

Insuring a vacant home is challenging because risk of fire, insect infestation, water damage, vandalism and theft increase when homes are deserted. No one is there to tend to small problems, which can balloon into catastrophes that cause extensive damage.

Insurance companies often provide a time period in which homes can be vacant--often 30 days. After that period, an insurer may cancel a policy. Some insurers provide what's known as a vacancy permit to continue coverage against some major perils, like fire and wind, but vacancy permits don't cover other perils, such as theft or water damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Home insurance solutions for vacant homes

Call your insurance agent or company to discuss options if you plan to leave your house vacant for more than 30 days. If you can't get coverage through your current company, you might have to seek out an insurer that specializes in covering vacant homes or get coverage through your state's Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plan. These policies, established by the federal government in the 1960s, are operated by the insurance industry in each state to make coverage available to people who can't obtain home insurance in the private market.

Another option is to hire a professional house sitter or ask a friend or family member to stay in the home while it's vacant. This will allow you to keep your home insurance because the house will be considered occupied. Even if you have to pay for the service, it might be cheaper than buying a policy specially geared to vacant homes.

If the house is for sale, you might consider a house sitting service that caters to home sellers. Showhomes, a home staging company based in Nashville, Tenn., provides live-in home managers who take care of vacant homes and keep them in top shape for real estate showings. Because the homes are occupied, owners can keep their standard home insurance coverage.

For more, see vacant homes can be tough to insure and how to save your empty home from mansion squatters.

Last updated: Jun. 16, 2011