Performing an Occupancy Inspection
An occupancy inspection is the first order of business when you arrive at a property the initial time. Ever since the mortgagers began to fail to make their regular payments to the bank, the bank has been sending an occupancy inspector to see if the property has become vacant, or if it remains occupied. The bank's inspector may have been making weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly inspections.
In the judgment of the lender's inspector, the property was deemed to be vacant. And so you received a work order to secure the property and perform a property condition report. But now, even though you’ve received this work order, it is still your responsibility to make sure the property is indeed vacant.
But Before You Verify Vacancy...
Make sure you’re performing an occupancy inspection at the correct property! Internet mapping programs are wrong sometimes, and even your GPS or smart phone my lead you astray. Double check the street name; don’t ignore any part of it. We know someone who changed the lock on the wrong house, and cut the grass three times before the homeowner-“snowbirds” returned to their home after wintering in the Southwest. Needless to say, they were not happy!
You need to know that this is a huge liability issue for you as well. Breaking into the wrong house can cost you some serious money, so make double sure you’ve got the right street and the right house number. And take a photo of the house and a close-up of the house address.
Determining if the Property is Vacant
Even though you've received a work order to secure the property, it is possible that the occupancy inspector was wrong, and the property is still occupied. So, before you gain access to the property, i.e., break into the house, you need to knock on the door, and peer into the windows to determine for yourself that the property is indeed vacant.
If someone answers the door, simply say that you are doing an occupancy inspection for the bank. Have your clipboard and work order with you, and ask them if they are the people named as the mortgagers on the work order. If someone is there, it could be a renter. Ask for a name and phone number; get whatever contact information from whomever you can.
Never get into a confrontation with anybody who is at the house. Do nothing to place your personal safety at risk; it’s not worth it. The people there may be embarrassed or they may be angry. If they refuse to give you any information, say, “Thank you very much,” and leave.
Evidence of Occupancy
The presence of "personal items" is not an indication that the property is occupied. Some people leave a lot of things, and never intend to return, others are still in the process of moving out all of their things. In either case, if nobody is there, the house is vacant.
If you are convinced that someone is still living there, try to verify by making contact with a neighbor. If you leave without accessing and securing the house, take whatever photos you can to verify that you've gone to the correct house and that it is, in your opinion, still occupied.
An Important Note
You don’t need to tell someone at the house this, but you do need to know that everyone who has signed a mortgage, has agreed that the bank has the right to secure the property if and when they find it vacant. (It's called the "abandonment clause".)
After you’ve completed the occupancy inspection, it’s time to gain access to the house.