You’ve been saving your pennies and finally earned that time away. Travel-size shampoo? Check. Phone charger? Check. Leaving your home vulnerable while you’re gone? Not intentionally. With a little thought and attention to detail, you can increase the chances that your home will be in the same condition when you return as it was when you left. Whether you are going away for a night or a week, here are some important tips to consider before taking that well-deserved trip.
One of the most obvious concerns is that your home will be burglarized. That worry is well-founded since the Insurance Information Institute reports that more than 2.15 million burglaries occur each year and more than 65 percent of them are residential break-ins. According to the FBI, July and August are the worst months for home break-ins. Burglars know what to look for, tell-tale signs that no one is home. Common sense says that the most fool-proof way to make sure your house is safe while you are out of town is to have someone living there. If possible, have a trustworthy friend or relative stay over. If not, there are house-sitting services that will temporarily move in and many will also take care of pets, which may be more cost effective than boarding your furry friend.
Certainly, there are ways to make a house look occupied even when it isn’t. While they may not all be feasible (not everyone has access to an extra car, for example), they can help you get into the mindset of a burglar and help you identify potential weak spots that could be exploited.
- Use timers on lamps, radios and televisions. Lights and sounds make it appear that someone is home.
- Make arrangements to keep your lawn mowed.
- Have your mail stopped while away by either filling out a short form at your local US Post Office, or file the form electronically. Mail can be held from three to 30 days.
- Stop paper delivery or have a neighbor collect them.
- Ask your neighbor to put your trash cans out on trash day, or to put their trash in front of your home.
- If you have an extra car available to you, park it outside and have someone move it occasionally.
- Don’t leave garage door openers inside vehicles parked outside.
- Use flood lights and motion detectors.
- Look through your windows, see what valuables are in plain sight and move them.
- Store your valuables in non-traditional places such as the bathroom or attic that burglars are less likely to take the time to go through.
- Keep landscaping around your home trimmed, so burglars don’t have places to hide.
- Lock all doors (especially the one between the garage and the interior) and windows before leaving.
- Put a bar in the track of a sliding glass door to prevent it from being opened.
- Notify the police that you will be away. Many departments will arrange for additional patrolling in your neighborhood.
- If you have a neighborhood watch group in your area, you can ask them to keep an eye on your home.
It’s important to occasionally review your insurance coverage and prior to a vacation is a great time to document all your possessions and update your coverage accordingly. In the event of a burglary, not all valuables will be covered by your homeowners insurance unless you purchased endorsements that add extra protection for valuables such as jewelry, antiques, business property and art. Additionally, having an alarm system is not only a great deterrent to burglars, you may also receive a discount on your insurance rates. Be aware though that some policies will not cover theft if you have an alarm system, but fail to use it.
Some alarm systems also provide valuable warnings of fires and flooding. Preparation against water damage is another major area that should be addressed by all vacationers, especially considering that such damage is the second most common homeowners' insurance claim. Water from a leaking or burst pipe can destroy carpets and furniture, and even compromise the structural integrity of a home’s walls or foundation. Before leaving for more than a few days, check all the pipes under the sinks as well as your water heater for cracks and rust. Check the hoses to major appliances like washing machines, dishwashers and refrigerator ice-makers. Inspect your sump pump (or invest in one) and make sure it’s working properly. Consider recaulking bad seals around windows and clearing debris out of your rain gutters. If you have any doubts or no one to check on your house, turn off the water on the main valve for ultimate peace of mind.
If you want to relax on vacation, make sure your vacation planning involves pre-trip home prep. And although tempting, be careful about the details you share on social media. Being cautious when talking about your trip helps prevent advertising your home is empty. If you do return to find damage to your home and your insurance company denies or undervalues your claim, it’s time to seek legal help. At Stabinski Law, we can communicate with your insurer on your behalf and protect your rights, often without cost to you. Fees and expenses are frequently paid by the insurance company so nothing comes out of your recovery. If there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you.
As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski & Funt, P.A. has been the firm to trust for legal issues involving insurance litigation for decades. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us today by calling (305) 643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form.