Ask the expert - Your property questions answered

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Deirdre McCarthy of answers your pressing property questions in this week's Irish Independent property review with Sinead Ryan.

Q. My mother has recently moved in with me and her house is vacant while we decide what to do with it. She may need nursing-home care and I don't want to sell it until we know this. I rang the insurance company to tell them, thinking I'd get a discount on the premium but, to my shock, they told me they were only prepared to cover it for fire and cancelled the policy. All my mum's things are there, although we have removed the valuables and now it's uninsured. What can I do?

A. I expect most people think, like you, if you remove the 'risk' items from the property, it should be cheaper to insure. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case, as you've found out. It actually increases the risk of leaking pipes not being found, a fire not being controlled or vandalism if a house is left vacant.

Deirdre McCarthy of explains: "If a property is unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days, the only cover a standard insurer will offer is fire. You can take out an unoccupied policy from specialised insurers to cover fire only, liability and fire brigade charges, and you can add contents cover for an additional premium, but only for fire damage. One option, if you want cover for additional perils such as theft and water damage, is to arrange for a family member to live in the house until you decide whether it will be sold.

"You would need to disclose to your insurers that it's a family member living in the house and not the owner, but this way you can get cover other than fire only."

Another more permanent option, is to let it out. This will come with some costs, as you'll need to get it ready for occupation and your mum would need to be in agreement. Have a chat with a good letting agent who offers 'full service' for a couple of months' rent. They'll get it ready for you from top to bottom, and vet tenants. Tax will be payable on the rental income, however, and you will need to register with the Residential Tenancies Board (see for responsibilities).

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