Category Archives: Home for Sale

Squatters in Vacant Homes

You may have recently heard the story of the family in Idaho who had a renter move into their home they were selling and wasn’t renting from them.  The renter saw an ad for the house, signed a lease and paid some guy to rent it. But it doesn’t belong to that guy, they never authorized a renter and now the owners can’t evict her.

Apparently this has been happening to other homeowners around the country, too. They’ve moved and left their home vacant waiting for a buyer or waiting for the closing date on a pending contract.  Each state has laws pertaining to squatter’s rights and acquiring ownership of property through a process called “adverse possession” which all homeowners should know about. Be sure to read about these.

Image result for house creative commons
Creative Commons image

Not to scare you, but sellers…you need to be aware of this. FSBO sellers usually don’t have anyone watching their house when they leave and move into their new home.  There are several houses, that I know of, which are FBSO homes and they are vacant.  I hear crazy stories of how they let people in to view it, hoping these are qualified buyers.  Maybe the FSBO has neighbors watching, maybe not.  Not all neighbors will take on the “watchdog” role for liability reasons.  They don’t want to be liable for not reporting a problem.  But please be aware that your vacant house needs to be watched or you could get a squatter.

Having a real estate agent for your vacant home doesn’t necessarily mean your house is protected from squatters, vandals or bursting pipes either. However, a house on the MLS is more likely to have regular showings. If you have to move away and leave your house vacant, list it with an agent arrange with him or her to make regular trips to the house to keep an eye on it.

A squatter could let themselves in. Watching the vacant house regularly and finding there is little-to-no activity there, a would-be squatter could pose as a qualified buyer to see the house with an agent and unlock a window to get back in. Land owners could be the victim of property taken over by hunters, claiming rights because the land was vacated.

The other issue with vacant homes is insurance.  A vacant house is a liability. Most insurance companies will charge homeowners a vacant-house premium after 30 or 60 days. If you have a contract on the house and move before closing, most insurance companies won’t bother with this premium because the house will soon be occupied.  However, a long-term vacancy means the house is unwatched. Vandals, fires, storm damage, water leaks left unchecked can happen more often when a property is not occupied.

Just because your house is vacant doesn’t mean you can’t make it look occupied. Utilities should be left on for showings. So, leave your blinds closed and use programmable light bulbs or light switches in various rooms to go on both in the evenings and on cloudy days. Install a doorbell that notifies you on your cellphone when someone rings it. Make sure your real estate agent goes by regularly, and not at a regular time, to rid both the driveway of newspapers and your door of marketing door hangers.

These incidents of squatters is unfortunate but real.  Take precautions to make sure you don’t become a victim.

Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of or have a relationship with any types of products mentioned in this article. I am a REALTOR which means I am a member of the National Association of REALTORS.

Eileen Saunders, REALTOR with Tommy Morgan Realtors, 2092 Old Taylor Road, Oxford MS 38655 662-404-0816/662-234-5344. Equal Housing.

Bedroom or Bonus Room?

When listing your home for sale, what actually constitutes a bedroom?

Does it need a closet? Does it need a window? Does it need an easily accessible bathroom?

Oxford MS has adopted the International Residential Code (IRC) which does not require a bedroom to have a closet or its own bathroom.  But it does require the following:

  • An entrance from inside the house
  • An escape to the outside of the house (the HUD handbook specifies size, height and location details of this escape route)
  • A latchable door
  • At least 50% of the ceiling height is 7 ft. or more
  • The area of the room must be at least 70 sq ft and not less than 7 ft in any horizontal direction
  • It cannot open to the garage
  • Must have functional utility; direct access to a common area
  • Must be above grade

If there are other requirements in Oxford MS or any other town, they are because of local ordinances.  However, when determining whether a room in your house is a bedroom, consider common sense.  If the room meets these requirements, would you still definitely use the room in question as a full-time bedroom for a family member?  Is it more likely a room set off from the main living quarters that you can put a bed into for Grandma to use when she comes to visit?  Is it actually the den near the front door with double-glassed windows that you’ve furnished as a sleeping quarters?

I see many homes listed for sale that I simply scratch my head about in wonderment over the extra bedroom. But this may be a matter of my opinion, experience and common sense.

If the room is far removed from the nearest bathroom, would you call it a bedroom?  If the only two full-size bathrooms are a master bathroom and a jack-and-jill bathroom, but there is a half bath, does that room have real bathroom access?

Under the IRC, closets are not a requirement, however, homebuyers expect them in modern homes.  That older Victorian will not have closets unless they were added but that is expected of a vintage house. If you don’t have closets in your modern-era home, you’ll have to use furniture to house your clothes and to many buyers that is a turnoff.

Another issue I see is with the “bedroom” over the garage. The stairway from that room can come into the house at any point: hallway, living space, kitchen, and laundry room to name a few, as long as it comes into the house separated by a latchable door and does not go through the garage, patio or other outside area first. Let’s say there are no closets and no easy bathroom access. You currently use it as an office or a playroom.  Why?  Because to you it is not really a bedroom. It is an extra room that you wanted in the house.  So to list it as a bedroom would be an exaggeration, wouldn’t it?  Should this room simply be listed on the MLS or any FSBO listing platform as an extra, or bonus, room? Now let’s throw in a “guest bed” for when Grandma or an occasional friend comes to town.  Is it now a bedroom?  If there is no easy bathroom access and Grandma has to navigate stairs in the middle of the night, would you actually put her up there? Is it still a bedroom or guest bedroom?

100_1546

I have a wonderful room over my garage, however, it is accessible through the garage only. Under IRC, HUD and Oxford MS municipal rules, this room does not qualify as a bedroom.  It is a bonus room, an office, or whatever we’d like to make it.  If we put a bathroom up there and add a closet, under the rules it is still not legally a bedroom.  While it has 2 access areas (door and window), latchable door, ceiling height and square footage requirements, it goes through the garage so it cannot be a bedroom.

Let’s say a client/family asked me to find for them a 4 bedroom house because they have 3 children that want their own rooms. If I showed them a house listed with 4 bedrooms but it was actually one with 3 bedrooms downstairs and a single room upstairs without a closet or bathroom, I’d be wasting their time.  Experience tells me that regardless of the child’s age, this set-up is less than desirable.  Sure a teen might think it’s pretty cool to be upstairs by themselves but the reality of no bathroom or no closet will soon become a bummer.  Having to run downstairs in the middle of the night to use the bathroom might be dangerous for a sleepy person or a sick child.

So, when you decide to list your house for sale, either with a professional real estate agent or as a FSBO, remember these guidelines and ask yourself if it is really, truly and without a doubt a bedroom.

*Sources for this article:  Oxford MS Municode, International Code Council, Sacramento Appraisal Blog, National Appraiser Roster 

Eileen Saunders, REALTOR (r) ~Tommy Morgan REALTORS (r) ~2092 Old Taylor Road, Oxford, MS 38655~662-234-5344 or 662-404-0816~Equal Housing

342 Winners Circle, Oxford, MS 38655 Steeplechase

THIS HOUSE HAS BEEN SOLD 10/15
342 Winners Circle update flier 6 13 15-page-001

This property enjoys an amazing view from the front  yard and the home office,  a great back yard for entertaining and a place for the kids to play. Room for a pool. Private, surrounded by trees. Media room upstairs and the house appears to be wired for surround-sound. 3-car garage. Laundry/mud room.  Walk-in attic space. Dream kitchen, a must see!

Country solitude yet convenient to the interstate and minutes to Oxford, shopping, Ole Miss football and both the Tri-Lakes Medical Center and Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Make this your next home. Call for an appointment to view. MLS#133852.

Eileen Saunders, Realtor~Tommy Morgan, Inc., Realtors, 2092 Old Taylor Rd., Oxford, MS 38655~662-404-0816, 662-234-5344