With the housing crisis still rippling through the country, many homeowners may find themselves living in more of a graveyard instead of a neighborhood. Homes are becoming (and remaining) vacant at an alarming rate, and while these vacancies bring down property values and become eyesores, remaining homeowners need to take into account extra safety measures to protect their own homes.
A great deal of vacant homes are just abandoned by their owners, and a certain amount of time has to elapse before the bank can seize it and either resell it, or in some cases, destroy it. So many of these homes sit in disrepair and decay without proper care, which depending on the season can result in frozen pipes flooding, wooden siding rotting, windows cracking, driveways and porches crumbling, and litter amounting. And as the house sits empty, local critters of nearly every variety will come looking for shelter from the elements, some becoming very territorial of their new homes.
In areas hardest hit by economic struggles, vacant homes often become the targets of various sorts of crime. People will break in and rip metal fixtures and plumbing from the structure to sell for scrap metal. Squatters can enter and create large messes in homes without proper water or sewage capacities. Often further damage will be done to the home with vandalism and arson. And vacant homes can quickly become the sites of illegal dealings with no one to report the activity. Each of these events lessens the likelihood of resale of the home and greater depresses the area surrounding the vacant home.
So what can you do if you find yourself living next to a vacant home?
Here are a few pointers:
Know your neighbors If you knew who lived there before, you’ll know who didn’t. If you see people you don’t recognize milling about a vacant home, introduce yourself as the neighbor. Being seen and acknowledged will often deter future criminals from committing a crime in that area. And if the strangers are bank officials, you might be able to voice concerns about the vacancy or learn how long they intend to let it stay that way.
Keep an eye out for suspicious activity. See a lot of cars suddenly in and around the property, but still no occupants? Keep records of what kind of vehicles and times they arrive and depart. Turn the list in to your local police department after a couple of weeks with your concerns about the activity.
Report, report, report. Smell something funky coming from next door? Call your city waste management department. Yard growing out of control? Call the city maintenance crew. Endless piles of junk mail falling out of the mailbox and blowing about your street? Call the local post office and report the house as vacant. See abandoned house pets? Call your local animal shelter or look if your area offers special services for abandoned pets. See other critters moving in? Report it as a health hazard to the city health department.
There are plenty of government and non-profit groups that exist to take care of these issues. And if all else fails, contact the bank that owns the property and file complaints with threat of legal action. No bank wants to be responsible for the destruction of a neighborhood.
Build up security and value at your own home. Install exterior motion-sensor flood lights. Display “No Trespassing” and security system yard signs. Keep your windows and doors locked, and install light-blocking or black-out curtains to keep peeping eyes from seeing in your home. Test your home security system monthly, or think seriously about getting one. Keep an eye on children and pets when let outside. Continue to keep your yard clean of debris and well-maintained. Make sure those little outdoor projects are addressed quickly to make it clear your house is not only occupied, but well cared-for.
Don’t be afraid to call the police. Law enforcement exists for this very purpose! If you see anything suspicious, or even just want to report vandalism, call your local police department’s non-emergency number. Being vigilant and consistent will eventually decrease the appeal of your neighboring vacant home as a center for illegal/destructive activity.
Hopefully as the market turns around more houses will be bought and repaired and occupied. But in the meantime the best defense you have as a homeowner to protect your home and your property value is to get involved in your neighborhood and not be afraid to report anything that looks amiss.