If you're a homeowner, your real estate is likely to be your most valuable asset. If you live alone or with someone who will be moving out while you're on deployment, you may be worried about what will happen to your home while you're away. A vacant home is at risk for vandalism, break-ins and maintenance problems, such as burst pipes. If you rent out your home to a tenant or arrange for a house sitter to live there rent free during your deployment, you'll enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that your property will be protected and maintained until you return.
Allowing someone to live in your home
There are a number of reasons you may want someone to live in your home while you're deployed, including:
- Avoiding the loss of insurance coverage. Your homeowner's policy may have a vacancy clause stating that if your home is unoccupied for longer than a certain time period (usually 60 days) your insurance company will not pay claims. Be sure to review your homeowner's policy carefully. Some policies will not permit subletting of homes.
- Deterring break-ins. A home that appears empty may attract vandals or thieves.
- Providing routine maintenance. This includes dealing with minor repairs, cutting the lawn and watering your plants.
- Caring for your pets, if you have them. If you include pet care in the rental or house-sitting agreement, you won't have to find new homes for your animals while you're away.
Deciding whether to charge rent
Choosing between a tenant or a house sitter will depend on many factors, including how long you'll be away, whether you expect the person living in your home to do chores on your behalf and how well you know one another.
- How long will you be away? You may find it easier to rent out your home if you will be deployed for six months or longer.
- Do you need the rental income to offset your own housing costs? If so, keep in mind that you will have to declare the rental income when you file your state and local taxes.
- How flexible is the person who may be living in your home? If your deployment is extended, will your tenant be able to stay on in your home? Is he or she willing to rent it on a month-to-month basis? If not, are you comfortable leaving your home vacant until you return?
- Will you expect your tenant to take care of your property or pets? If so, you may want to charge reduced rent or none at all in exchange for routine maintenance and pet care.
- How will you protect against emergencies? Are you willing to hire a property management company (typically at 10 percent of the rent you charge)? Can you ask a trusted friend, family member or neighbor to call a contractor for emergency repairs?
- Is the tenant a good friend or close relative? If so, you may not feel comfortable charging rent. However, it is reasonable to ask the person living in your home to pay the utility bills while you are on deployment.
Finding a tenant or house sitter
You have several options to help you find someone to live in your home while you're away.
- Contact your installation housing office. Your housing office can include your property in its rental listings. If you plan to rent out your home, check to see how much rent is charged for similar properties in your area.
- Tap into your network of friends and family. Ask if they know anyone who needs a place to live or is willing to move out of their own place to stay temporarily at yours.
- Work with a realtor. If you decide to rent your home, call around to realtors in your area to find one willing to list your property as a short-term rental.
- Advertise in your local or base newspaper or online.
Before you settle on a tenant or house sitter, do the following:
- Ask for references and check them out. Call the people on the list to get a feel for whether the person you are considering is responsible and trustworthy.
- Run a credit check. Even if you're not charging rent, you want to make sure the person living in your home will pay utility bills while you're away, especially if you keep the utilities in your name. If you do rent out your home, arrange for the rent to be deposited directly into your account.
Preparing your home before you leave
You'll want to have everything in order before you leave your home in the care of another person. Be sure to:
- Visit your installation's Legal Assistance Office. Staff there will explain your rights and responsibilities as a landlord and can help you write a lease. Access Military Installations to locate your installation's Legal Services/JAG.
- Schedule routine maintenance. Set up appointments for routine servicing of home equipment, such as the furnace or air conditioner. You may have to preschedule appointments and arrange for your home's occupant to let the repair company in. Make arrangements for yard care, if necessary.
- Clean out your refrigerator and cabinets. Remove any food that could spoil or attract household pests.
- Put valuables out of sight. Move expensive items away from windows, and put your jewelry in a safe deposit box.
- Bring in outdoor items. Put away bicycles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills and other things that might be stolen.
- Talk to your neighbors. Let them know who will be living in your home.
- Make arrangements with the post office to forward your mail.
Handing over your property to a tenant or house sitter
On the day your tenant or house sitter moves in, you'll need to conduct a "walk through" of the property, if possible. Avoid later disputes by having the person verify and sign off on the condition of the property, including any existing damages. If you can't be present on move-in day, ask a trusted friend or your property management company to act on your behalf. At this time, you'll want to give the tenant or sitter everything he or she will need, including:
- Extra keys to the house.
- Your contact information. Include your email address since this may be the easiest way to reach you at times.
- Emergency contact information. This includes numbers for the person the tenant should contact in case of an emergency and numbers to local fire and police in case there is a break-in or other emergency.
- Important phone numbers. This includes phone numbers for your vet, plumber, electrician and security service, if you use one.
- Written instructions. Leave instructions for how to use alarms, the gas or electricity, and other household equipment. In addition, leave instructions for caring for your plants, lawn and pets, if you have them.
- Demonstrations. Demonstrate how to use appliances and electronic equipment (TV, computer, etc.).
As a homeowner, you may have a mortgage question that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can answer. Visit "Ask CFPB" to access answers to common questions about purchasing and owning a home. Home ownership as a military service member involves deciding what to do with your home when you receive PCS orders: will you sell or rent? Listen to the podcast Preparing to PCS to learn how one Marine couple decided to handle home ownership and moving. If you have fallen behind on your mortgage payments, beware of scammers who target people when they are most vulnerable. Be sure to listen to Foreclosure Rescue Scams and Foreclosure Rescue Scams: Red Flags and Real Help to protect your investment.