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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Mid-Atlantic
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    18

    Default Tips on prepping a house that will be vacant for 10 years or more

    Yes, I know what you are going to say: “don’t do it!” or “rent it!” or “sell it!” I’ve already heard this from all of my friends and family. Now, I want to hear how it is possible to keep a house vacant for a long period of time…

    You see, we’ve spent the last 11 years lovingly restoring an old Victorian townhouse in the city. We just didn’t do a quick “home depot” job. We took our time researching the history and architect of the house and “listening” to our house on what it wants us to do (paint color analysis, reading an old diagram, on the wall drawn by the original builders from 100+ years ago on how a particular moulding was assembled, etc.) We spent our weekends dumpster diving to get period hinges, claw foot tubs, and mouldings. We scoured architectural salvage yards in three states just to get the perfect hook to go into our closet which was an old trunk room.

    As a result of our work, the house includes 17 custom made wood windows which cost an arm and a leg; two period bathrooms that took months to build out (with very expensive fixtures and Ann Sacks tiles); a custom kitchen with very high-end appliances, hand-made cabinets that match a 100 year old china cabinet we had, and delicate marble countertops; 12 original doors that were dipped and refinished (each door costing $1,500 including antique hardware); antique light fixtures we personally imported from Europe; antique delft tiles in the foyer; new(old) floors that are composed of old growth heart pine salvaged from the bottom of some river; numerous silk Persian carpets; rooms with walls we had plastered by a plaster artisan (I had to sell my other leg to pay for this); several high-end built-ins we commissioned, and marble fire place surrounds salvaged from local mansions. In addition, we stripped 10 layers of paint from all of the window mouldings and an entire stairway, stained and sealed them. As you can see, the house is a result of 11 years’ of our blood sweat and tears and we can’t help but be attached to it, so selling is not an option – we want to keep it as long as possible. After all that work, we just can’t see ourselves renting the place either (honestly, could you rent a place like this?). I know that there are good renters out there – I was one of them – but even I didn’t take care of the place as well as I would if I owned the place.

    After 11 years of renovation, I was finally relaxing and enjoying the fruits of our labor when BAM! My spouse decides to become a Foreign Service officer and before we know it, we are being assigned to a country far, far away (it takes over 24 hours to fly to this country). Ugh! Our first assignment is for 2 years and then we move to a different country. This could go on for the next 10+ years.

    We are doing the best we can to plan for the vacancy. We hired a property manager who will come into the house to make sure things are working ok. He will turn on the air conditioner and heat in the summer/winter (our winters are mild). I have a very dependable sibling who will spend at least one night during alternating weeks. We will install several cameras that will alert us via web/smart phone if it senses movement. We also have a good alarm system. We hired a gardener to do upkeep of the yard and shovel snow in the winter. I also have a really good neighbor who will keep an eye out on the place. Also, we will be home for several weeks every six month or so for R&R and vacation.

    What else should we be doing? Should we do more? Should I install a dehumidifier that drains directly into a drain pipe? I read other posts about mothballing the house, but it’s for short term. I’m talking years here. Any suggestions would be appreciated, but please try not to tell us to rent the place. It’s really not feasible at this time. The house is not up to code as a rental property and we are not willing to alter the historical integrity of the house just to accommodate a renter. Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    6,963

    Default Re: Tips on prepping a house that will be vacant for 10 years or more

    Homes do not do well when left to sit, aside from the real damage that internal and external environmental factors throw at it, you've got the added problem of vagrants and hooligans breaking in and ransacking the place for anything of value (copper pipes, electrical wiring, appliances, etc. ). Because you have lovingly and painstakingly brought life back to this house, DO NOT rent it out to just anyone, make sure it is a trusted family or friend who will take care of it as if it were their own.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    1,977

    Default Re: Tips on prepping a house that will be vacant for 10 years or more

    Sometimes one dream has to be given up to achieve another one. Though it would be hard to do, knowing all you've put into it, I would have to consider selling it- at least find out what it would bring on the market- then consider where the career opportunity will go in comparison. I have but one relative and no friends who I would trust with renting a house like this if it were mine, otherwise I would not even consider it.

    I know of another couple who were in a similar dilemma. Several years short of their retirement, they bought a beautiful large old home here with the intention of retiring in it. It's 3 floors had already been divided up by creating 2 tiny loft apartments in what was once attic space (with separate access from stairs in the back). They did a basic renovation to the whole thing, but the back stairplan for the loft renters also had a landing on the second floor, so they had us divide the second floor in two in it's hallway, keeping half as their own apartment when they were out here which was accessible from the back stair. Then they rented the remaining 1 1/2 floors with it's internal stair underneath out. So they always had a private place to stay while here, there was always someone living in and watching the house, and someone else was paying the mortgage and monthly bills while this happened. Many moons later they retired and moved in. They removed the partition we'd built in the second floor hallway so they now have all of the first 2 floors (the best part of the house) to themselves. They kept the loft apartments above intact to augment their retirement income, and that rent now pays for most of the remaining monthly bills. Man, this is one of the smartest things I've ever seen done!

    Maybe you can partition off part of this house and do something similar. All a living quarters requires is a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom(s), and a living room (or something to use as one). Doing this would give you peace of mind while away with someone always living there and watching the house for you, and you still have the rest of the house for your R+R visits. And it will all be there in good shape for you when you are done with jet-setting around the world. It might take some reworking to make this do-able, but that can be undone when you're back for good.

    A compromise versus the best, but it might allow both dreams to coexist well when no other way seems feasible!

    Phil
    Last edited by Mastercarpentry; 12-02-2013 at 08:13 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    6,376

    Default Re: Tips on prepping a house that will be vacant for 10 years or more

    I know homes. I mean I know what happens to homes over time. Sadly, depreciation is accelerated in vacant homes. Vacant homes are subject to vandalism.

    I would have to say: sell it. Don't even consider renting it, based on your story. I know, all those years of hard work, all the attention to details, all the TLC, all the materials and hard labor and sweat - I know, you want to keep it, but...

    The home will never be as good as it's today. If you sold it right now, it will fetch you a nice capital gain, but if you don't - it will be all downhill from here, with or without a property manager, a sibling who will sleep there one night a week, a gardener to pick up the leaves...

    Beside the financial burden, it will be a mental burden to keep the home. I would sell it.

    I own homes, and the number one rule in owning homes is: be close to them.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    10

    Default Re: Tips on prepping a house that will be vacant for 10 years or more

    Quote Originally Posted by dj1 View Post
    I know homes. I mean I know what happens to homes over time. Sadly, depreciation is accelerated in vacant homes. Vacant homes are subject to vandalism.

    I would have to say: sell it. Don't even consider renting it, based on your story. I know, all those years of hard work, all the attention to details, all the TLC, all the materials and hard labor and sweat - I know, you want to keep it, but...

    The home will never be as good as it's today. If you sold it right now, it will fetch you a nice capital gain, but if you don't - it will be all downhill from here, with or without a property manager, a sibling who will sleep there one night a week, a gardener to pick up the leaves...

    Beside the financial burden, it will be a mental burden to keep the home. I would sell it.

    I own homes, and the number one rule in owning homes is: be close to them.
    I think you should sell it doe it's not what you want to

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Mid-Atlantic
    Posts
    18

    Default Re: Tips on prepping a house that will be vacant for 10 years or more

    Thank you all for your replies!

    Unfortunately, selling and/or renting is impossible at this point. We just have to do the best we can to keep it from falling apart. I was looking for some general tips on what I should do when leaving a house unoccupied (pouring antifreeze in drains? shut off water vs. keeping it turned on?). Are there reading materials out there that you can suggest?

    Thanks again!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    6,963

    Default Re: Tips on prepping a house that will be vacant for 10 years or more

    After rereading your initial post, it sounds like you've got the security angle covered pretty well. That level of activity from family neighbors, and hired help, should deter anyone but those who would be casing the place (not overly likely ).

    Since you'll have a sibling in there weekly, have them run the water at all fixtures to refill drain traps. Toilets only need to be flushed if the water is less than half the normal level. There is no need to put antifreeze in anything with this level of use, especially if the heat is left on low in the winter. It would be a good idea to turn off the water main when nobody is there.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

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