5 Property Value Risks to Leaving a House Vacant for Too Long
You probably think of homes as solid, unchanging structures that will last for decades with or without your interference, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Why do you think abandoned buildings seem to decay so much more quickly? Homes need residents, but not for any sentimental reason. All the little details that go into a modern house to keep the residents safe and comfortable are also configured to be tended by those residents. The roof, plumbing, weather stripping, and even the walls and foundation do their job well but aren’t meant to serve an empty house. Without people, there’s no one to regulate the internal temperature to keep the home warm in the winter and cool in the summer or lower the moisture level when it gets humid. This ‘natural’ state promotes plant and insect life, decay, and allows many little minor damages build up into serious long-term problems. While there are dozens of things that can go wrong with a home left empty for even a few months, here are the top five nasty surprises homeowners can face when returning to a vacant house.
1) Storm Damaged Roof
Roof tiles are incredibly sturdy and when layered and nailed down by professionals, they’re excellent at keeping the sun, wind, and rain out of your home. However, they are not invulnerable. Storms and falling tree branches can peel, bend, and break tiles or knock off the protective granules. Sometimes the damage is severe or cumulative enough to allow rain to leak in. A single rainstorm after this point can let in enough water to do extensive water damage coming in through the attic.
3) Burst Pipes and Water Damage
In fact, water damage is the number one risk to an unattended home. This is because it weakens the integrity of almost anything a home is made out of. If your vacant home is located somewhere where it’s common to see below freezing temperatures in the winter, bursting pipes with no one there to notice or fix them can escalate an inconvenient mess to extensive water damage, not to mention the broken pipe. Even pipes that have been insulated can burst if the insulation has decayed, damaged, or was removed without your knowledge for a previous repair.
3) Moisture, Rot, and Mold
There are half a dozen ways water can leak, spray, or seep into your home and even more ways it can cause harm. Most homes are made primarily of wood and drywall with metal components and accented by things like paint and wallpaper. Even if you had a leak repaired, if the moisture remains because the house is closed up, it can cause subtle, long-term damage. Moisture in your walls and ceiling will soften and decay wood and drywall. Soft places and even holes can form or a leak might rust through your pipes. Mildew may start to grow, often followed by more dangerous molds whose spores could harm the next occupants. If the boards actually begin to rot, the integrity of the house could be compromised and extensive repairs required.
4) Pest Infestation
Water isn’t the only thing that can compromise the integrity of your home. There’s nothing an insect or mouse likes more than a safe, warm place to live, preferably with a leaky faucet nearby as a water source. Ants, cockroaches, mice, and silverfish are common house pests that are harder to drive out the longer they stay. However, your big enemies are termites and carpenter ants who will eat the wood of your home and build it into theirs, compromising your structure. If pests get into a vacant home, sometimes it takes a lot more than an exterminator to fix.
5) Cracking Foundation
One unique and absolutely devastating problem with unoccupied homes is the possibility of foundation damage. While no one can damage a foundation on purpose (without a jack hammer), clay-rich soil during an especially dry spell will pull apart and collapse under a house, possibly in different directions. This can cause the foundation to crack and then settle unevenly when the ground moistens again. Why does being occupied prevent this? The cure is lightly watering the lawn during droughts, but vacant houses usually aren’t tended.
If you own a home that is currently standing empty, it’s not just waiting for you to make a decision to sell or rent again, it could be taking damage and losing property value. Houses and their occupants work together symbiotically, each benefiting the other and the best way to protect your investment is to have someone living in and taking care of the property as a new resident or owner soon.
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