Keeping property safe, secure and prepared for sale

A house that has become recently vacant, due to an owner having passed away or being moved out for their own safety, may need a little more attention than normal to protect it and prepare it for sale, especially if the owner has been unable to maintain the property for a period of time.

Whilst property can often be repaired, prevention is always the best approach in managing costs for the estate.

Potential risks

Vandalism – vacant property can be especially vulnerable to vandalism. Individuals become familiar with the unoccupied status of a property and opportunist.

Theft – contents may continue to be held in the property for some time, depending on circumstances (contents might not be permitted from being removed from the property until the estate has been finalised). This could represent a risk. In addition, thieves may also break-in to remove valuable metals; copper piping, lead from roofing, metal fixtures, boilers and telecoms components.

Arson – vacant properties can be vulnerable to arson. Approximately 60% of all fires happen in empty properties.

Maintenance issues – can quickly mount, or already be present in a situation where a property has already fallen into a state of disrepair. In addition, cleaning can be a daunting task for an Executor or Deputy.

Squatters – although now illegal and reduced in the residential setting, squatting does still occur sometimes causing significant damage.

Repeat crime – carried out on the same property can be a problem. Once thieves are aware that a property is unoccupied it can become a target for repeat crime.

Weather damage – cold weather can cause water systems to freeze, causing burst pipes and flooding during a thaw. It can be essential to drain down plumbing and shut off utilities (gas and electricity)

First step – insurance

Ensuring property is protected must be a matter of urgency for any executor and the first step to addressing this will often be to arrange insurance cover.

Typically, property insurance will lapse upon the passing of the property owner, or within 30 days. Arranging vacant property insurance is therefore essential and urgent.

Second step – inspection

It is important to inspect the property at the earliest convenience to ascertain condition, vulnerabilities and whether utilities are still on. For example, are appliances switched off? windows closed? Heating system drained? sheds and garages locked?

Employing the services of an experienced professional well-versed in property security and protection will be essential in maintaining the protection of the property and managing any ongoing costs.

Third step – carrying out essential and preventative works

Once the property has been insured and vulnerabilities and maintenance requirements assessed it is time for the executor to consider the next steps and requirements for the processing of the estate. Requirements can vary depending on priorities but often include:

  • Property clearance
  • Sourcing of documents
  • Valuation and sale of chattels
  • Property cleaning
  • Redecoration
  • Preparation for sale
  • Marketing and sale
  • Garden clearance and maintenance

As well as it being an immediate priority property maintenance is ongoing. Houses that appear empty are more likely to appeal to thieves and vandals so it’s important that it looks like someone is taking care of it, even after any clearance work has taken place.

As said property security and protection remains of the highest priority to make sure the newly vacant property is and remains secure.  The most immediate tasks will involve locating all door and window keys, change of locks (if required), check that appliances are switched off, install security systems (if required), drain down heating & plumping systems and Gas safety certificate.

Essential and preventative works to consider:

Surveys – The minimum needed in order to sell the property is a realistic, compliant valuation and a valid EPC, Energy Performance Certificate. Buyers may also ask for evidence that the building is in good working order so there may be more you need to invest in. Depending on the age of the house you may wish to consider:

  • Valuation Appraisal (Section 160 of Inheritance Tax, IHT, Compliant)
  • Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
  • RICS Valuation Survey
  • RICS Homebuyers Survey
  • Damp & Timber Survey
  • Drain Survey
  • Wall Tie Report
  • Tree Risk Assessment
  • Japanese Knotweed Report
  • Gas safety inspection
  • Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR)

Property Clearance: Whilst much of what we accumulate during our lives has personal value it has little value to others. This means that much of a probate house’s contents are normally disposed of.

This can be a huge undertaking. We can take care of as much or as little of this as is needed for the property to be viewed in the best light for sale.

Searching for, valuing and selling chattels: As said above, many of the possessions we accumulate throughout our life have largely intrinsic value only. That said it is not uncommon for an estate to contain a number of items of monetary value.

Often this includes items well known to the estate which require locating, professional valuation and sale. It can also include items whose open market value exceeds expectation.

Searching for, assessing and managing the sale of is therefore of importance.

Garage Clearance: Garages, out buildings and potting sheds can be easily forgotten when planning property clearance and they can often bring their own unique circumstances.

Vehicles may be roadworthy and ready to sell, or they may need towing away. Electrical items will need specialist disposal as can some substances which can be harmful.

Garden Maintenance: An overgrown or derelict garden can be an eyesore that may not only put off a potential buyer but may also highlight the unoccupied nature of the property thereby putting it at risk.

Restoring the maintenance of a garden is a key part of getting a house ready to sell.

Redecoration works: Any house is easier to sell if the décor is in good condition and fairly neutral. Investing in the property could mean it sells faster and for more.  We’ll be happy to advise if we think it would help.

Utility equipment assessment and replacement; boilers, wiring: Due the nature of the duration of ownership of many probate properties, and the elderly nature of owners, utility equipment such boilers and electrical wiring can often be at the end of its useful life requiring replacement to present value to the market.

Executor Solutions Property Maintenance Services: Our property maintenance services support solicitors in their obligations to an estate as a deputy or executor. We provide experience, cost savings that can be passed onto the estate and audit trails in this niche of area property services for legal professionals.


This article was submitted to be published by Executor Solutions as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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