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As we enter the worst part of winter here in the Northeast, I’m seeing many of my neighbors take ski trips or escape to warmer weather. However, as a homeowners insurance broker, I always try to warn my friends and clients of some considerations that need to be made when leaving the house for any extended period of time—whether for a weekend or for longer.
While the advice that follows is not necessarily directly related to insurance, I like to help my friends and clients understand that preventing insurance claims should be their goal. Insurance carriers do not like to see small, nuisance claims that could be more costly than the actual check they send to you.
Unplug your appliances
Unplug appliances like space heaters, coffee makers, and hairdryers. These small appliances could short out and cause a fire while you’re gone. Also, if you can, unplug any larger appliances that don’t need to stay running (like your television or, if you’ll be gone for a long period of time, your fridge).
Finish your chores before you leave
Don’t try to cut corners and multitask when it comes to household chores. You may not even realize you’re leaving yourself open to potential damage when you start up the dishwasher or washing machine just before you leave the house. If there’s a malfunction or a leak while you’re not there, you could be looking at some pretty extensive damage while no one is at home to do the clean up.
Manage your thermostat to avoid frozen pipes
Don’t turn off your thermostat when you leave for vacation or for an extended period of time. If you want to conserve energy, lower it to a reasonable temperature—around 55—to avoid freezing pipes. Frozen pipes can burst, and while flooding and water damage from a burst pipe are covered perils on your homeowners policy, they also are still claims on your permanent record. Many claims like this can lead to increased premiums or even dropped coverage.
Stop your mail and newspaper delivery
One of the oldest and most common suggestions for those heading out of town is to discontinue your newspaper delivery and have the post office hold your mail. Having papers and mail piling up outside your front door tells thieves that no one is home, making your property an easy target. Aside from the financial drain of replacing stolen items, burglary is emotionally scarring. No insurance policy can help alleviate the anxiety of being a victim of theft.
Special considerations for an investment property
If you have an investment property, don’t trust that it will remain in pristine condition while you’re away from it. Visit occasionally, or hire a property manager to check up on the property’s condition. When I had a rental property in Atlanta, I learned this lesson the hard way. I hadn’t checked up on the place for several months, and when I tried to sell it I found nearly three feet of water in the basement that the tenants never told me about. Bottom line: Be vested in your investment property.
In all cases, be smart about how you want to involve your insurance company. There is no reason you can’t take a vacation and enjoy yourself, but be smart. Protect your home from the perils that happen without warning.
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