Mansion Squatting Takes Root in Vacant Homes for Sale

Showhomes Home staging helps solve squatter problem for vacant homes

A woman is arrested for illegally squatting in a home for sale

As the number of vacant homes for sale in the U.S. spirals higher, so-called “mansion squatting” is on the rise, too, especially in large metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Consider these recent incidents: A woman was arrested in Seattle for living in  $3.3 million home that wasn’t hers. A squatter in Chicago moved his furniture and big screen TV into a vacant $700,000 home and introduced himself to the neighbors as the new owner. His scheme worked for several months before the police closed in.  Actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi, got busted for squatting inside a $1 million property they previously owned in Southern California.

Matt Kelton, COO for Showhomes, a nationally franchised network of home stagers, says a home owner who allows a home to sit vacant is “playing with a grenade.”  That’s because most insurance companies refuse to insure vacant homes, leaving homeowners with few options for coverage. Damage and vandalism done by a squatter is often not covered by home owner’s insurance if the home is vacant.

“Major carriers cancel policies on vacant homes after 30 or 60 days, often without warning, leaving the home uninsured,” Kelton said. “Some companies underwrite vacant home policies which don’t offer full coverage and cost up to 400 percent more than a traditional home owner’s policy.”

Showhomes has a tidy solution to this messy problem. The national franchise uses live-in home managers who help stage the home, keep it prepped for Realtor showings and act as on-site caretakers. Because the home is occupied, owners qualify for steeply reduced insurance rates with far better coverage than vacant home policies provide. The live-in home managers also help homes sell faster and for higher prices and best of all, keep squatters from moving in.

Vacant homes remain a stubborn problem in the struggling housing market and increased to 19 million in the first quarter 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and record numbers of homes for sale are now vacant. Left untended, many of these homes are going to continue to be targets for squatters — unless Showhomes gets to them first.

For information on a Showhomes Home Staging franchise, visit www.showhomesfranchise.com

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