Every now and then you find a place that you would like to explore, but you're not 100% convinced that no one lives there. Perhaps you're concerned that someone owns and tends the property even if they're not actively staying there. If this hasn't happened to you yet, it will.
So right off the top, let me tell you that the only surefire 100% best way to deal with that situation is to follow the simple rule, if you aren't sure, walk away. It's that easy. Your world doesn't end because you didn't check out that house.
That being said, you'd also miss out on a lot too. Perhaps you're more about the curiosity and all the great things it does for cats. Here's a general list of some of the things I would look for to determine the occupancy of the property. As you read them, they sound like stupid, common sense things. They are.
- Tracks: Often, you're looking at a dirt driveway, or if you explore in the winter, snow. Look to see if there are fresh tire tracks indicating recent traffic.
- Lights: Come back in early evening and see if there are any lights on. Check back a few times, if you have the opportunity. There's no harm in scouting.
- Mowed Lawn: Yup, that's a giveaway that someone is at least tending to the property and still cares about it. People abandoning a property don't waste the time or energy to mow the lawn. They're also probably close by.
- Mail: If there's a mailbox and it has recent stuff in it, someone lives there, go away.
- Power Meter: This one trumps most others, but requires you to get pretty close. Check the power meter. Sometimes it's been removed, sometimes it's dead, sometimes it's just blinking zero. If there's any number being displayed on the digital ones, or the little wheel is moving even just a little on the old fashioned ones, someone's there.
- Power Lines: This isn't definitive, but can be a clue. If you can see that power lines have come down, or been cut, there's likely no one home. If they're still there, you're going to have to rely on another method, preferably the power meter.
- Spread the Good Word: Come up with a good, plausible reason for being there, and knock on the door. Keep in mind, however, that no one answering doesn't mean anything. Perhaps they're just not home right now. Perhaps they don't want to hear about your Lord and Savior. While it is one possible way to gather evidence, it is by no means conclusive.
- Nice Roof: If the place has a nice new roof, forget it. People aren't generally concerned about such things when abandoning buildings. It's expensive. This is a good clue when scouting from Google Earth too.
There may be some I've forgotten or missed. If so, for the education of your fellow explorers, please share them.