The winter months are a challenge for any homeowner, as the drop in temperatures and increasingly severe gales bring a range of problems which must be tackled to ensure the integrity of your property. But when a property is left unoccupied this is easier said than done, and just a week or so of negligence can end up costing landlords thousands of pounds in repair bills.
The most common problem an unoccupied property is vulnerable to is of course mould. When a building is completely sealed via double glazing, the central heating will eventually cause condensation, and it is this humid atmosphere in which mould will thrive. Some landlords will leave the heating on a timer when a property is unoccupied, so if you do this you must ensure sufficient ventilation has been installed.
Unoccupied properties are also rather prone to cracked and blocked pipework, including the water supply, drainage, and guttering systems. Freezing temperatures will cause any cracks or blocked areas to expand when waterlogged, and this could lead to your pipes bursting entirely. Applying insulation to your pipework prior to the winter can help prevent this. It is also wise to ensure all guttering is cleared of debris before winter begins, as the addition of snow and sleet can cause drooping and the eventual collapse of even the sturdiest gutters.
Of course the best way to avoid many of these problems is to have vigilant tenants occupying the property. The average void period of most properties is around 2.6 weeks, and this is easily enough time for minor problems to become exacerbated, so how can you minimise the amount of time your rental property is left vacant?
Getting someone to do the legwork for you is the most obvious choice. Hiring an agent who will actively seek out tenants during or just before the winter months gives you more of a chance than if you simply wait for tenants to knock on your door. However, make sure you have given your agent some leeway in terms of what kind of tenancy you require. Willingness to accept short term lets ensures your property will at least be filled sporadically, and once the winter period ends you can start applying stricter rental criteria once more if you wish.
You should also try to be realistic with the price you have set, especially if the property has lain dormant for some time. Give your agent some ballpark figures to play with, hand over a set of keys, and let them try to fill your property as best they can. You can help them do this by also maintaining the property and keeping it well heated when prospective tenants arrive. Freezing, vacant, and shabby properties are never an easy sell, so it may be worth spending a little money to alleviate any problems.
At the end of the day your rental property will only benefit you as a long term investment if it is occupied more often than not. Good property management is not something you should only think about come winter, it is an essential part of maintaining a profitable rental strategy. Planning ahead to eliminate the possibility of a winter void is easily done, whether through vigilance, maintenance, or simply ensuring that tenancies extend beyond the winter months. So if you are worried about the possibility of winter void affecting your rental property, the time to act is now.