Category Archives: Home

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.

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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.

Gas Leaks

I was recently at a house that had a gas leak. There was not a “loud” smell of rotten eggs but rather an intermittent soft smell. You could have missed it. But it was a rotten egg smell and was near the gas meter so the gas company was called.

It turned out to be a leak and the technician got to work quickly to replace the faulty parts of the meter.

The meter was on the side of the house not regularly visited which gives me pause for thought: What if this leak continued for several months without notice and became bigger and bigger?  But then I thought, doesn’t the gas meter get read?

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Natural gas is used thought the United States for residential and commercial properties. Over half of all homes have natural gas as either a heating choice or for cooking.  How often do these homeowners really think about their gas connections?

I doubt it is often and most homeowners in their 50’s and older grew up in a time when the meter was read at the meter. If the gas company employee went to the meter and there was a leak, he or she would notice it and take care of the situation.  It is not done that way anymore in most places. Gas meters are read remotely and rarely do meter readers actually go to the meter. Gas meters can be read from a device as the meter reader drives past each house. This information gets uploaded to the billing department and gets passed off to the consumer for payment.

Unfortunately the device does  not pick up smells. As a homeowner, or even a renter, of a house with natural gas you need to be proactive with your gas meter.

Make a note on your calendar to walk the exterior of your house on a monthly basis. Stop by the meter for several minutes, hang out and try to detect a scent.  Sniff several times and if you have any doubt, call the gas company.

The gas meter is good for about 20 years and, I was told, the gas company keeps tabs on checking and replacing older meters.  The regulator can last about 10 years and a bad regulator can cause a small leak.  But, a leak is a leak and needs attention regardless.

If you suspect a leak, call your gas company immediately. They will send an inspector out quickly.

Be proactive. Make sure you add “check the gas meter” to your home maintenance checklist.

When To Sell Your House

According to Zillow.com, mid-March to mid-April is the best time to sell your house. A recent article in CNN Money listed top reasons why you should stop THINKING about selling your house and just DO it. These are:

  1. Nationwide the inventory of homes for sale is small. This means it’s a seller’s market. There’s a better chance of selling your home quicker with little competition. Simple economics tell us that when there is a low supply, prices tend to rise.
  2. Mortgage interest rates are currently low. You never know when they’ll rise so you may want to take advantage of the low rates now, provided you qualify.
  3. Rental costs have risen 15% over the past 5 years across the country. Depending on your market, it may be a lot cheaper to buy.

Source: Why Homeowners Need To Get Moving, http://www.RealtorMag.realtor.org (March 26, 2015) and 4 Reasons to Sell Your Home Now, CNNMoney, (March 25, 2015).

Eileen P. Saunders, Realtor
Tommy Morgan, Inc., Realtors
2092 Old Taylor Rd., Suite 101
Oxford, MS 38655
662-234-5344, 662-404-0816