Should a Home Be Occupied or Vacant When Home Selling?

Consider Vacant vs. Occupied Before Putting Your House Up for Sale

empty home interior without furniture

Arnt Haug / LOOK-foto LOOK / Getty Images

Not everybody will agree that the song "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash has one of the catchiest lyrics ever written, but it certainly pops into my brain when I think about selling a home and whether vacant vs. occupied is better. Home sellers often ask that question: Should they stay or should they go? They can see reasons for selling the home vacant as well as the reasons for staying in the home while it is on the market for sale. But they often don't consider all of the pros and cons.

Benefits of Selling a Home While It Is Vacant


OK, I take it back, there are a few.

  • For starters, a homeowner is not interrupted at inopportune times to show the home. A seller doesn't have to go out into the yard or walk around the block while buyers are looking at their home.
  • The chances that a real estate agent will show your home are increased. That's because agents often take the path of least resistance. If they have 20 homes to show and five are occupied, they might be tempted to show the vacant homes because it's easier. They don't have to call and make an appointment. They can simply go over and use the lockbox.
  • The seller isn't under continual pressure to keep their home in immaculate showing condition and spotless at all times. With small children, this can be almost impossible to do, even if one of the parents does not hold a job outside of the home.

Drawbacks to Selling a Vacant Home Over an Occupied House

  • A seller might have to stage the house and incur an additional expense for home staging. That's because buyers typically cannot envision a space without furniture. An empty room is really just four walls and a ceiling. There is nothing attractive about that.
  • The home might be vandalized. Vacant homes can attract crime. On top of the damage that can happen when a thug breaks into a vacant house, a seller might end up paying out-of-pocket to make repairs because their homeowner's insurance policy might not insure a vacant home. A separate vacant home insurance policy is expensive.
  • Vacant homes lend less emotional appeal. Buyers who fall head-over-heels in love with a home often will pay more for that home. A vacant house can feel very empty and lonely.

Reasons to Stay in the Home When Selling

  • The home shows better when it is occupied. Buyers don't have to try to second guess whether a bed will fit against a wall or if there is space in the dining room for a table. They can instantly identify the purpose of each room in the home because it's presently being used for that purpose.
  • Thieves are unlikely to break into a home that is occupied. They don't want confrontation. Thieves just want to strip the house and steal your air conditioner and copper plumbing without any physical interaction or objection.
  • A homeowner is present to deal with emergencies. Especially during winter months, when pipes can suddenly freeze from an unexpected cold front and then burst, a seller who is in residence can immediately manage the crisis. I can't count how many laundry rooms have flooded because the faucet to the washer began to leak after the washer was moved.
  • To check out the buyer. If the seller is home when the buyer's agent arrives with the buyers, the seller might have an opportunity to meet in person the potential new home buyers. This doesn't mean the seller can discriminate, and the seller must adhere to Fair Housing Laws the same as their real estate agent, but sellers sometimes prefer to sell to people just like themselves. It could be something small, such as the buyer has a Yorkshire Terrier, just like the seller.
  • The seller is paying the utilities. Sellers typically need to leave the home utilities turned on, whether the home is vacant or occupied. By living in the home while it is shown for sale, a seller does not have to pay duplicate utility bills. Buyer's agents need the utilities on not only for showing but for a home inspection and an appraisal. It's very hard to sell a home without utilities.

The Main Reason to Choose to Sell a Vacant Home Over an Occupied House

The sellers' home is simply too messy to show while the sellers live there. The reasons for messy homes are varied. Some sellers are packrats. They might struggle with a mental health condition and their home reflects that behavior because boxes are piled everywhere, and rooms are stuffed to the gills with personal belongings. Sometimes, the personal belongings take the form of bags of trash or stacks of newspapers.

It's also possible that a seller might have died in the house and the heirs are left to clean out the house. It's not unusual to find dead rats or larger decayed animals on the premises of probate homes, and it could smell very bad. That kind of mess has got to go.

The sellers might be unwilling to keep the home in turnkey condition for showing purposes. In all of these types of circumstances, it's better for the seller to move out before putting the home on the market.