Inspecting Vacant Properties

Properties Found to be Vacant

PHOTO REQUIREMENT: (12 to 15 minimum.)

  • Front
  • Address Verification
  • Street Sign
  • Street Scene / Neighborhood View
  • Left Side of House
  • Right Side of House
  • Rear Of House
  • Roof (if weathered, damaged, or tarped)
  • Detached Garage
  • A/C Unit [Always]
  • Supporting (Through the Window shots to prove vacant)
  • Volt Stick (Non-Contact type)
  • Electric Meter (if digital)
  • Water Spigot (showing the water running or off)
  • Gas Meter (if on site)
  • All Damages
  • FTV/Vacancy Posting (Client Based)
  • Vacancy Certification Form
  • Outbuildings
  • Swimming Pools and Gates to Swimming Pools
  • Violation Notices From the City

Depending on the source or purpose, the word “vacant” could have several definitions. Some of them are:

  • Abandoned
  • Unoccupied
  • Vacant Possession
  • Under Renovation

Some industries like the insurance industry will make the determination that a property if vacant or occupied depending on if it has a couch, a bed, cooking utensils etc.

For the Mortgage Field Services industry however, our definition for the use of the term “vacant” has a different meaning.  For our purposes a home is vacant if no one lives there.  There is often confusion about whether to call it occupied or vacant based on the contents of the property.

For our purposes the definition of a vacant property can be summed up with this statement:
People occupy properties, not their things.

A household full of furniture does not mean the property is occupied if no one is living there.  An example would be if the homeowner passed away.  The house is full of furniture, but it’s vacant.

On the other hand, you may be inspecting a property that is seasonally occupied.  An example of that would be a Snowbird in which the owners live part of the year up north and when the snow hits during the winter they’ll move down to their second property where it’s warmer.  Many times the only way to make the determination if a property is vacant or occupied is to ask the neighbors.

We are not provided with selectable choices for Abandoned, Unoccupied etc.  For us it is either occupied or vacant.  Sometimes you will see the term “Partial Vacant”. This does not mean that some of their stuff is still there or that they are in the process of moving out.  Partial Vacant refers to multi-family units like a duplex.  If one side of the duplex is vacant and the other side is occupied, then this means that we would select “Partial Vacant” for the occupancy.

Vacant properties require us to do a complete walk around the premises of the property, looking for damages and security of the building.  We are required to take photos of the rear, sides, detached garages, sheds that are on foundations, and outbuildings. Outbuildings include barns, workshops, mother in-law quarters etc. We also check the security of these structures and report our findings on the inspection form as well as taking photos of padlocks in place.

If we cannot enter the backyard of a property because of a locked gate, take a photo of the locked gate.

important-stamp-1cf9iubAll vacant properties with swimming pools require photos of the pool as well as all gates leading to the pool to help show that they are locked or that they are a critical liability hazard if unlocked.

We need a close up of all violation postings from the city that indicate the grass needs cut or debris removal, etc. Include the date, phone numbers and point of contact on your report.

The first time any property is found vacant, we have to prove it is vacant by taking photos through the window and by confirming the property is vacant by talking to a neighbor. We enter the neighbors address for verification. This general rule also applies in reverse, if a property had previously been reported vacant, we have to find out who is now living there.

very important*ALL vacant properties require a First Time Vacant (FTV) / Vacancy paper or sticker attached to the front door or window and requires a photo of it. Which FTV/Vacancy posting to be posted to the property is determined by the client or the mortgage company providing us with the work order.  

*If the property has been reported vacant previously but the FTV/Vacancy form is missing, we must post another one and take a photo of it.


Every vacant property MUST have an FTV/Vacancy form posted. Failure to do so will result in a Follow-Up which will require you to go back to the property and post one.

Always maintain an adequate supply of FTV/Vacancy postings for each client we service.  These FTV/Vacancy postings can be found under the Resources tab on InspectorADE. Download the most commonly used FTV/Vacancy forms.  If we hire you we will show you how to do all of this.

The best practice is to print off several copies of each FTV/Vacancy Postings and take them with you out in the field. Manila folders labeled with the FTV/Vacancy type will save you a lot of time and trouble.


When posting an FTV/Vacancy sheet, it is imperative that you do not tape the posting to painted surfaces that might damage the door once the tape is removed. Windows are the best place to tape the FTV/Vacancy forms.

Vacancy Certifications [Required] are needed with every vacant property.
Why do we have to fill out vacancy certifications?  (If you really want to know the reason behind it.)



If your work order has a work code of Bankruptcy, No-Contact, FIB or FINC, DO NOT PLACE an FTV/Vacancy sheet on the property!    Even if the property is vacant, we are not to step foot on the property, not even to post the FTV/Vacancy sheet. That means the photo requirement changes to just a few photos, front, address verification, street sign, and the street scene / neighborhood shot.  Plus anything that you can take a photo of that will help the mortgage company see that it is vacant.

images (1)How can you tell that the property is the first time vacant?  If there are previous FTV/Vacancy forms affixed to the property then you know you are not the first person to discover it vacant.

Under no circumstances are we authorized to enter a vacant property unless the work order tells us to.

If you discover a property is vacant, and find that it is unsecured, do your best to reach around the door and lock it if you can.  If you find unsecured windows, take a photo of it and report the property to be unsecured (open).  We do not enter the property to secure windows unless explicitly told to do so.

Utility Photos

One of the most important photos you take at a vacant property is the water spigot. If the water is turned off, take a photo of the spigot with your hand on the handle.

Hand on water

Why is it so important?  The photo below saved our company, and our client over $14,000 in a water damage lawsuit.  We reported that the water was on.  Two months after we conducted this inspection the attorney for the mortgage company called us and advised us that we needed to contact our insurance company for a $14,000 water damage claim.  The hard winter had frozen the water pipes and they broke inside the home, flooding the wood flooring and damaged several walls.  The attorney told us that if we had only indicated on our inspection form that the water was on, they could have sent a Property Preservation crew to the home to shut the water off before any damages could occur. What the attorney didn’t know is that we use InspectorADE and have complete records of our inspection results as well as all the photos we submitted.  We sent them a copy of the photo below which proved that we advised our client that the water to this property was indeed on.  Case close, no insurance claim filed against our company.

Water On2

Sometimes when you turn the water spigot on, some remaining water from the lines will make it appear that the water is on.  Just wait a few moments and if the water is really off, it will finish draining out. Then take your photo.

If the gas meter is shut off, the valve or handle will be turned perpendicular (sideways), indicating that the gas has been turned off.  Some gas meters will have two holes that line up so that a padlock can keep the gas locked off.  We need a photo of the position of the valve.  We do NOT need a photo of the dials and the gas meter numbers.


In rural areas the propane tank can be used to help determine if a property is vacant or not. If there is a propane tank, it’s likely that the hot water heater and the kitchen stove run off propane as well as the heat. Also, if you let the tank empty to zero, the propane company charges you a fee to test it for leaks before they will put more propane in. So, even in the months that heat isn’t being used, a completely empty (gauge on zero) propane tank like the one below might be a reasonably good indicator that a property is vacant


images (2)If your work order has a work code of Bankruptcy, No-Contact, FIB or FINC, DO NOT STEP FOOT ON THE PROPERTY, NOT EVEN FOR PHOTOS. That means the photo requirement changes to the front, address verification, street sign, and the street scene or neighborhood shot.

The one photo that sets our company apart from our competition is the photo that proves if the electricity is on or off.

Besides the most obvious photo of the porch light being on or the door bell lit up, is the photo you take of the electric meter or a photo of your volt stick.  Most areas we service now have the new digital electric power meters, sometimes referred to as “Smart Meters”.  What are smart meters

Reading them can be tricky.  The LCD screen will change every 5 to 10 seconds and depending on the brand, provide you with solid evidence that you can snap a photo of.

The most common type of digital electric meters will have words that actually tell you if the power to the property is either on or off.  You just need to know what those words mean.


OPEN or OPN means that the power is shut off to the property.  If it starts with an “O” it’s off.

CLOSED or CLS means that the power to the property is ON!

Other types of digital meters will have the word “Delivered” if the power is on.


Some meters will have an arrow or boxes pointing to the right or flashing from left to right, indicating that the power is on.



Sometimes you will run across a meter with two arrows flashing in opposite directions. This also means that the power is OFF.opposite

Oppisite Arrows

A digital LCD display that is blank means that there is no power to the meter.  If there were power to the meter it is possible that the property would have electricity again.  If the power is fed from overhead lines you might see that the wires are cut by the power company.  The power is then definitely off.  For our purposes it proves that at the time of our inspection, the power was turned off to the property.


Other acceptable photos that prove that the electricity is off are those that show that the meter has been pulled (removed).

blank boxes

we dont care

 Volt Sticks

If a photo of the digital meter cannot be obtained, use a volt stick to prove the status of the electricity at the property.

Volt Sticks (Non-Contact Voltage Detector) are used to determine if the electricity is on or off at vacant properties. A Volt Stick is a fat plastic pen shaped device that will make a sound and light up the tip when it gets close to electrical current.  They are completely safe when used properly.

Where NOT to use Volt Sticks:

  • Live electrical exposed bare wiring
  • At or Inside an electrical meter
  • Inside an uncovered electrical panel


The reason we do not use a volt stick at the electrical meter to determine if power is on or off at the property is because it may give us a false positive.  Even though the meter itself (a large switch) may be turned off, you may still be able to pick up indications of voltage because the live wires are inside the meter base from the power company.  Depending on where the cables are routed within the meter base, you may be picking up the service side of the cables. Not a conclusive way to determine if the electric is on or off.

Correct places to use Volt Sticks:

  • The right side slot of any electrical outlet
  • The wiring leading to an AC condensing unit
  • The main breaker at the electrical panel


images (1)

Sometimes when you test at an exterior electrical outlet the electric may be on but the outlet may be controlled by another ground-fault circuit interrupter type receptacle which may have turned that particular outlet off. Exterior electrical outlets may give you a false positive if the receptacle is fed by a GFCI breaker.  It may be tripped.


One of the best places to test for electricity is on the wiring from the house to the outside AC condensing unit.


What Type of Volt Tester (Volt Stick) to Use

The ONLY voltage tester we are authorized to use in the field is called a “Non-Contact Voltage Tester”, often called Volt Stick for short.  A non-contact voltage tester does not have metal tips, prongs or wires.

Lowe’s sells a very good reliable Volt Stick for about $10 bucks.


A Volt Stick looks like the photos below:


A Non-Contact voltage tester is just that, non-contacting.  The non-contact voltage testers shown above do not require the tip or any other part of the device to come in contact with live electrical surfaces.

Please do not waste your time buying or using “Contact Voltage Testers”.  Our clients will decline our photos.  Providing a photo of a contact type volt stick that has wires, metal prongs/probes will be automatically rejected.

Photos of voltage testers that look like those pictured below
will result in a Follow-Up and a return trip to the property.

The Following Testers are NOT Authorized:


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