If you own a home in a planned development, unless you have a live-in caretaker (which is not affordable for most), each time you leave, you face the challenge of making sure things run smoothly while you are away – particularly if it will be a long absence.
Since developments typically have numerous rules and regulations for owners to follow, you must take extra precautions to avoid violating these. This article discusses some ways to prepare to leave a home in a development temporarily vacant.
Know the Rules and Regulations
As an owner of a home in a development, it’s your responsibility to know and abide by all its rules and regulations (found in the development’s governing documents). Before leaving your home vacant, review these to make sure you are in compliance.
If you don’t have a copy of the documents in your files, request one from the development’s homeowners association (HOA). Alternatively, you can obtain a copy from the real estate records in the county where the home is located. Most rules and regulations are found in the development’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, Restrictions and Easements, as well as in any separate rules and regulations adopted by the HOA.
If applicable to your situation, take note of any rules and regulations specific to part-time owners (more commonly found in developments in resort areas). For example, vacating owners might need to designate a proxy to vote at HOA meetings during their absence, or inform the HOA if any person is allowed or expected to enter the home while they’re away.
Notify the HOA Before Leaving Your Home Vacant
The rules might require you to notify the HOA of the dates of your absence. Even if not required, it’s a good idea to do so. The HOA might inform (or require you to inform) the community manager or security personnel (if the development employs security guards) of your vacancy. (If not, again, it’s a good idea to do so yourself.) If the development does retain security staff, find out whether periodic security checks on your home are possible.
Particularly if your neighborhood has many part-time home owners, a neighborhood watch program might be in effect. If so, inform those involved with the program of your upcoming absence.
Keep Up the Home’s Appearance
Piled-up papers in the driveway and overstuffed mailboxes can make your home a target for burglary and mischief. The mess might also be in violation of the development’s rules and regulations. Many developments prohibit trash in yards or around homes.
To avoid such a situation, call any paper you subscribe to and suspend all subscriptions during your absence. Also contact the post office to have your mail forwarded (or put on hold). Enlist the help of a neighbor or property manager to remove unwanted notices or flyers, and to put any unexpected deliveries into the home (or an alternative storage space).
Developments also commonly regulate other areas of exterior maintenance. For example, the regulations might require that lawns be mowed regularly, or that your lawn or garden be irrigated to prevent brown lawns or plants.
Or the requirements might be a bit vaguer, for example, requiring the areas around the home to be kept “properly maintained.” Either way, you might need to hire a maintenance service to mow and water (if you will be away during warm weather), or a snow removal service to plow and shovel (if you will be gone during a snowy season).
To help make the home look occupied, consider asking a neighbor to park a car in the driveway, at least some of the time while you’re away. Before you do this, however, make sure there aren’t any rules or regulations prohibiting unattended vehicles or restricting parking locations in the community. For example, a rule might prohibit overnight parking outside the garage, or prohibit parking a car not in use for an extended period of time.
To help make the home look occupied, use motion sensor lights outside, and set an interior light on a random timer, to give the appearance of activity in the home. Again, however, first check the rules and regulations. Some developments might have rules prohibiting homes left dark for long periods, or regulations specifying the location and brightness of any exterior lighting allowed.
Keep Up With Your Financial Obligations
Your bills must be paid whether you’re in your home or not. Developments require the payment of dues and assessments. Property taxes, of course, are inevitable.
Either prepay such bills before you leave, or have your bills forwarded. You will also be responsible for paying utility bills, although if you turn off most utilities before leaving, these should be minimal. You might have the option to save a little money by suspending services such as recycling or trash pickup. (Find out by calling the service company.)
Make Sure You’re Covered In the Event of Damage
Check to see if your development has any specific regulations relating to damage repair or homeowners insurance. For example, some developments have a requirement that a damaged home must be repaired within a certain time period. Some require homeowners to carry enough insurance to repair or replace the home in the event of a fire or other disaster.
To ensure compliance, and to help alleviate worry while away, review your homeowner’s insurance policy before you leave. Make sure it’s up to date, and that you’re sufficiently covered in the case of any damage. Inform your insurance agent about your absence. Because a vacant home is a more likely target for thieves, many policies set a limit on how long a home can be left vacant. If you violate the terms of the policy, you will not be covered. Discuss the options with your insurance agent to ensure continued coverage while away.
If you live in a townhome or condominium, the HOA might be responsible for any damage to the exterior areas. To be prepared, and to obtain appropriate insurance, you must understand what areas you are responsible for, versus what the HOA will take care of.
What you are responsible to insure, repair, and replace depends on the terms of the development’s governing documents. For example, typically the exterior of a condominium is designated as a “general common area,” which the HOA is responsible to insure, repair, and replace. (For details, see Nolo’s article “HOA Homeowners' Use and Responsibility for Common Areas.”)
Review your insurance for personal property coverage, as well. Make sure it’s sufficient to cover any new items of personal property you’ll leave behind. Make any changes and updates needed before you leave. And, if possible, don’t leave any valuables on site. Hide or lock up any expensive electronics or jewelry.
Lock It Down and Button It Up
No matter where your home is located or how long you’ll be gone, before leaving it vacant, make sure everything is locked tight. Also, attend to the electricity, heating, and plumbing and winterizing (if necessary). If you’re not sure what to turn off, turn down, drain, or protect, hire a professional to help. If you prepare before you leave, hopefully you’ll avoid any nasty notices from your HOA about rule violations, and avoid other unpleasant surprises while you’re gone.