If you have the options of selling a home vacant or occupied, it only makes sense to consider which would be more advantageous. The sales process is always stressful. If you can do something to make it easier, why not?

But if you are expecting to sell a home vacant to be easier than selling one occupied, you may be surprised to discover that an occupied home is often better for selling – unless the occupant makes it excessively difficult.

Selling a home vacant vs. occupied has some pros and cons. Selling homes are easy with Pattern Realty whether they are empty or occupied. There can be advantages and disadvantages to both.

Some of the more common reasons a home is vacant include the following:

  • The home was a rental property and is now going to be sold.
  • The owner has been relocated by their company.
  • The seller has bought another home, and it was more convenient to move before selling.
  • There was a death in the family, and it is now an estate sale.
  • The home is new construction.

The Differences of Selling Vacant vs. Occupied

Pros of Selling a Vacant Home

1. The home is easier to show.

Without occupants, there is no need to schedule a time to show the home. The agent can just head over and use the lock box to access the home whenever it needs to be shown. Real Estate agents love showing vacant properties. As an agent, you can have a full plate of homes you need to show. A vacant home can easily be plugged into the schedule whenever it’s convenient.

You don’t have to worry about showing up late or early. The fact that a home is vacant might even increase the number of showings you get. Why? Sometimes a real estate agent will suggest a home for a buyer to look at and they say no for any number of reasons. A real estate agent just has to say the magic words “it’s vacant” and quite often the buyer will change their mind.

2. You don’t have to keep the home spotless.

One of the most challenging parts of living in a home that you are showing regularly is keeping it clean. You are living your day to day life, which let’s face it – life is always a little messy. From spilled drinks to tracked in dirt, dirty bathrooms to sinks full of dishes, there are so many cleaning tasks to keep up with when you are showing.

There are quite a few annoying things about selling a home. Many of these things can be avoided when you are not around to deal with them.

3. You don’t get interrupted to show the home.

No matter how dedicated you are to close a sale, it can still be annoying to have to interrupt your day to open your home for buyers to look at. When you don’t live there, you don’t have to constantly adjust your schedule.

4. Some buyers have an easier time seeing a clean slate.

While not the case for everyone, there are a percentage of buyers that have a much easier time picturing their own things in a vacant home. Homes that are cluttered tend to turn off these kinds of folks very easily. They can’t see beyond what’s there. There are always going to be a percentage of buyers that have a lack of vision.

Cons of Selling a Vacant Home

1. Vacant homes feel vacant.

Part of the appeal of a home is its warmth and coziness. But when no one is living there, a home will tend to look hollow and empty. You can always hire someone to stage the home using props, but that is an extra cost that you may not want to incur. Surprisingly, vacant homes tend to feel smaller.

While I mentioned some buyers enjoy seeing a clean slate, there are also those who prefer the exact opposite. Some buyers want to look at how furniture should be placed in a room. There can be an emotional connection with how a home is presented.

When homes are vacant buyers tend to see far more of the blemishes as well. It could be simple things such as nicks and dents on floors and walls. What this translates to is buyers figuring on more updates which can translate into lower offers.

2. Vacant homes attract crime.

Vacant homes are appealing to vandals and criminals because there is no one watching over them. Your vacant home may be vandalized, broken into, or even become the site of a squatter camp if left alone for too long. You might be thinking what would someone want to steal if the house is vacant.

One word: Copper! With an unoccupied home, criminals will look to remove all the plumbing pipes in your home and sell the copper.

3. Vacant houses can signal urgency.

When a home is vacant, quite often it is assumed by home buyers that there is a level of urgency on the sellers’ part. A significant percentage of the time the assumption is correct. On many occasions the owner may have already purchased another home and is carrying two mortgages. The owner of course might be paying taxes, insurance and maintenance on multiple properties as well.

4. Vacant homes might require special insurance.

There are many insurance companies that do not treat occupied homes and vacant homes in the same fashion. Often, a vacant home will be far more expensive to insure. Here is an excellent resource that talks about insuring a vacant home. Find out what you need to know.

Pros of Selling an Occupied Home

1. Your home won’t be as attractive to criminals.

People who want to burglarize or vandalize a home are looking for easy targets. When you are living in the home, it is no longer as desirable to criminals. It just doesn’t make sense for them to target your home when they can search around and find another that is unoccupied.

One caveat, however, is holding open houses. Some real estate agents just love to push for open houses. You should understand that open houses are a magnet for crime. Lots of theft around the country takes place as a direct result of open houses.

It makes sense that when you let anyone through the door with a pulse, you’re increasing your odds of something going wrong.

2. Occupied homes show better.

A home tends to show better when it is occupied for a variety of reasons. Buyers do not have to imagine what the home will look like with furniture because your furniture is already in the home. Buyers also like the feel of a home that has people in it.

You can bake cookies, light candles, start a fire in the fireplace and really make the place homey when you are showing, all of which you couldn’t do as easily with a vacant home.

3. You get to meet the buyer.

If you are interested in meeting the buyer, you will have an easier time doing so if you are living in the home. Sometimes sellers want to make sure their beloved home is going to someone that they think will get the most out of it, so being able to meet the buyer allows for such considerations.

Of course, you cannot discriminate between buyers, but you can lean more towards one buyer than the other for your own reasons. Sometimes this is helpful when you home is in a bidding war with multiple offers. You might have met one of the candidates that you just happen to really like.

4. You can handle emergencies.

One of the problems with leaving your home vacant is that you are not aware of when things go wrong – like when a water pipe bursts. But when you are living in the home you can see issues as they arise and address those problems quickly.

You don’t have to worry about coming to find your vacant home ruined from something that could have been prevented. Selling a vacant home can be far more challenging in the winter if you live in a cold weather climate.

For example, if your home is unoccupied, you could have an ice dam and not even know it. Ice dams can turn into much more significant problems if left untouched. Mold can quickly develop if you don’t act soon.

Nobody wants to come home to discover a major catastrophe has occurred!

5. You don’t have to pay utilities at two separate residences.

The home you are selling needs to have its utilities on, even if you are not living there. That means you will have to pay utilities at your current residence and your home for sale if you are not occupying it. By staying in the home, you avoid paying duplicate bills.

Cons of Selling an Occupied Home

1. You must keep it clean.

If you are living in the home, you are selling; it is critical that you keep the home clean and tidy. You want to attract buyers when they come to view the home.

Dirt, messy rooms, strong odors of pets and other similar issues must be dealt with every time you are going to show, which can be hard for some owners.

2. Hoarding and other issues cannot be hidden effectively.

You may be selling the home of a hoarder or someone with hoarding like tendencies, such as the home of a family member or friend. Hoarding on a large scale cannot be hidden from potential buyers, and is going to dive down the price of the home considerably.

If hoarding or other cleanliness issues are significant, it may make more sense to move everything out of the home, have it cleaned and sell it while it is vacant.

3. You will have to leave for showings.

Your real estate agent will ask that you leave for each showing. The more showings, the more often you will need to interrupt your schedule to accommodate potential buyers. For many buyers it is worth the trouble to be able to sell the home for the best possible price – which having a clean, occupied home can help with – but for others it is too much to deal with.

Tips for Selling a Vacant Home

If you decide that selling your home vacant is the way you need to go, take advantage of some of these tips.

  • Alert the local police department that your home is vacant. Hopefully, they will keep a closer eye on your home.
  • Let your neighbors and friends know you are selling and are no longer there. Just another set of eyes to be on the lookout for trouble.
  • Take extra precautions and install good locks preferably with dead bolts.
  • You might also want to consider installing a security system.
  • Another option is to install home monitoring equipment that allows you to view the interior and exterior remotely.
  • It is also a good idea to have some lights on timers to make the home look occupied.
  • Keep up the exterior of your home. You want to make sure your home doesn’t look like you don’t care.
  • Try to keep the home seasonable cool or warm if possible.

Final Thoughts

As you can see there are pros and cons to selling vacant and occupied. Now you just need to decide which way you need to proceed. A skilled real estate broker like Pattern Realty will be able to provide solid guidance on selling your home no matter which route you decide to take.

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.