10 Safeguards for Selling a Vacant Property

Selling your home can be stressful and even more-so when selling a vacant property. Truth is, even though most people are law abiding citizens, there are always some people however, who are not.  When selling a vacant home, the probability of a home being vandalized, damaged, or broken into does increase.

Here are 10 safeguards and tips to keep your vacant home from harm:

1. Stage To Reflect An Occupied Home
Staging a home when selling is a must-do nowadays, but if you don’t plan to, have your real estate agent take photos while you’re still in the home.  Believe it or not, criminals will look online at photos of listings to see if they are empty and may see your property as an easy target.  

2. Maintain A Reasonable Temperature
There are many reasons why you should NOT turn off utilities in a vacant home.  First and foremost, if you live in a climate where temperatures fall below freezing, you need to ensure your pipes do not freeze!  Keep your vacant home at a reasonable temperature, which can vary between 50-60 degrees.  This will ensure the pipes do not freeze and your energy bills aren’t through the roof.

Another reason to keep your vacant home at a reasonable temperature is for private showings. You’ll want buyers to take their time when viewing and to feel at home.  If a REALTOR® is showing your property during the warmest day of the summer and it’s 30 degrees, a potential buyer may be so uncomfortable that they can’t focus on actually looking at your home and rush through the viewing.  Same goes for a buyer who is viewing during winter months!

3. Keep Lights On
Interior: Another essential and easy precaution when selling your vacant home is having lights on.  You can portray that someone is living there and currently inside by leaving a couple of lamps on timers in various rooms to turn on during early evening hours and shut off at different times throughout late evening. You can purchase inexpensive timers at your local hardware store.

Exterior:  Nothing screams “vacant home” more than a poorly lit exterior of a home. Invest in motion activated light fixtures so criminals don’t have the luxury of time to enter your property unseen. 

4. Maintain Curb Appeal
Not maintaining your yard is the same as having a poorly lit home, they scream “vacant home.” Have the grass cut, driveway snow-plowed, or flowers watered.  A home with well-maintained curb appeal makes it appear the home is occupied or at least visited often.  If the yard has overgrown grass, weed filled flower beds or three feet of snow on the driveway, this can portray nobody is around to care for the home, making it an easy target for potential break-ins.

Also keep in mind, curb appeal is important to the sale of any property.  Potential buyers often drive by homes and through neighbourhoods before calling to view the interior.  If your vacant home does not have a well maintained exterior, it can have potential buyers steering clear of it.

5. Alert Local Law Enforcement
Simply put, you pay property taxes for services and what better time than when selling a vacant property. Ask assistance of the local police to keep an eye on your property.  Many local law enforcement agencies will make note of your vacant home and may make additional “drive-by’s” in your neighborhood.  A quick phone call to the police department can help reduce any possibility of a problem and give you added peace of mind.

6. Contact Your Neighbours
Here’s where it’s going to pay off being a good neighbour. If you haven’t been, tell them they’ll get better neighbours if the house is in good condition and ask for their help. It’s a great idea to alert your neighbours if you plan to sell your home while it’s vacant.  Ask them to keep an eye on your home, as you may not be able to do so.  Also contact your neighbourhood watch group if you have one and ask your real estate agent if they can periodically check on your home.

7. Secure Possible Entrances
Okay, this may seem obvious but some sellers have left a first floor window or a sliding glass door open. Making sure your vacant home is secured is critical. Add deadbolt locks to all doors, chains to doors and install wooden or metal sticks in sliding door/window tracks.  The more time it takes a criminal to gain access to a vacant home, the greater the chance someone will see this unwanted “guest” accessing your vacant home.

8. Install A Security System
This too may seem like an obvious tip for selling a vacant home.  Check out the cost of installing a monitored security system if you don’t already have one. Potential buyers will appreciate it in the sale and you can use it until your house is sold.

If you are unable or don’t want to pay for this service, go to your local hardware store and buy security system signs or stickers for all your accessible windows and doors.  You may know there is no security system installed, but criminals may not and this could potentially deter them from entering your home.

9. Retrieve Mail and Newspapers Regularly
If you have an overflowing mailbox or a stack of newspapers on your front step of your vacant property, you may as well put a “this home is vacant” sign on the lawn.  If you are unable to retrieve your mail and newspapers, ask a neighbour, friend or relative to stop by a few times a week to empty your mailbox.

Inform the local post-office and newspaper company to forward everything to your new address and eliminate the chance of an overflowing mailbox or stack of newspapers on your front step.  Forwarding mail can be done in a few minutes through the Canada Post website.

10. Decide if Open Houses Are Worth the Risk
To have or not have open houses, it’s up to you but what’s best? There are drawbacks to holding open houses when selling your home and even greater for vacant properties.  One very important one to note is that criminals have used open houses as an opportunity to “stake” out their next target.  If your home is vacant and completely empty, a “prospective buyer” could be using this time to figure out the easiest and quickest way to enter your residence. They may also unlock an accessible window in the hopes it doesn’t get locked after the open house.


Certainly when selling a home that is vacant, you hope for a quick and seamless sale.  The majority of vacant home sales go smoothly and have no issues with criminal activity; however, that is not always the case.  By following the above tips when selling your vacant property, you greatly reduce the chance of there being an issue.

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