What you need will depend on a number of factors that aren't clear from the question. This coverage is simply called "Vacant home insurance", but not all companies are willing to offer this coverage. Unfortunately, in New York, insurers can also legally drop your standard homeowners' coverage if they become aware that your property has become vacant for 30 days or more.
The Insurer's Concerns
Typically, a "standard" homeowners policy will have an exclusion clause for vacant homes. The insurance company's concern is that without someone in the home, they will be at risk for break-ins, squatters and vandalism. If you've ever seen "Flip Men" on Spike, you'll know this is a serious concern (great show, by the way). They will use a risk model to calculate an estimated risk for the property (this is why a seasonal vacation home in a sparsely-populated area is often less of a concern than a family home in an urban area). If they estimate the risk to be low, some insurance companies will allow to you buy back that exclusion so that vacant properties are covered. In your case, they have probably decided that either:
- They think the risk of damage that would result in a claim is too high, or
- They already have too much exposure to vacant homes, or
- They don't have the expertise to properly assess the risk, or
- They aren't in a financial position to cover the extra risk
First, you need to find a company that is comfortable with taking on the extra risk of a vacant home. This will vary quite a bit by location, but the main ones are Farmer's (they use the Foremost brand name in New York) and Castle Rock. There are lots of insurance agencies that also advertise these products, but most of them are middlemen and use one of these two companies to actually write the coverage.
Additionally, since this is a specialty policy, make sure you understand all of the details of the policy, and how they vary from a regular policy including:
- State-specific eligibility requirements for what is legally consided "vacant"
- Return of Premium - if you sell the house before your coverage ends, will they refund any portion of the premium for the months on which you don't need coverage?
- Policy duration - some companies may only be willing to write short-term policies
- Variations in covered Perils - some companies don't cover certain risks you may consider essential (such as vandalism). Make sure you can afford to cover a worst-case scenario before you agree to take on any excluded perils.
- Cash versus Replacement Value - make sure you know what your reimbursement would be under both scenarios
- Higher Cost - according to Castle Rock's website, coverage for vacant properties can be 150% to 300% of the cost of a standard homeowners' policy. Ultimately, you will need to make a decision on how to balance all the costs of maintaining a vacant home versus how much you'd lose if you were to sell the property quickly but below it's true market value.
How to Reduce your Premium costs
These are general tips from the Murray Group's website (an independent broker in NY) on how to lower the additional cost of vacant coverage:
- Make sure you have a centralized security system including fire alarms installed such that authorities will be notified in the event of a fire or break-in
- Have deadbolts on every entry point
- Winterize the house, especially the water pipes to avoid bursts
- Board up the windows to avoid glass breakage and unauthorized entry
- Hire a monitoring service to check up on the house and inspect regularly
This may sound expensive, but these steps will all reduce the risk of something really bad happening when you're not there.
Additionally, do you know anyone you completely trust (relative, unemployed friend) that might want to live in your old house rent-free for a while? This could work out for you if they are willing to keep the place 100% clean around the clock so that you can show the house at any time.
If you have additional/specific questions, you should be able to find an independent insurance broker in your area that would be willing to advise you on your specific situation for a flat fee.
Best of luck with getting the home covered and sold quickly!