When we look at claims data, we see that many of the properties subject to break-ins, thefts, and vandalism are usually vacant or going through renovations. It’s truly disappointing when you arrive to show a house that was freshly renovated only two days before and see it broken into and missing key components like stoves, ovens, air conditioning, the furnace, water heater, or even copper plumbing, and electrical wiring. Now you have to deal with police reports and invest even more time and money to restore the property all without gaining income. Here are the usual suspects in these situations:
- Neighborhood kids looking to make your vacant property their clubhouse
- Professional thieves looking to take your possessions for their gain
- Contractors or their sub-contractors returning to the property, knowing what’s inside
Knowing this, how do you protect your vacant properties?
If you own a home that has been vacant for a while, chances are there may be other vacant homes in the same neighborhood. Make sure your house is not the easiest target on the block. Lead thieves and vandals to believe the house is being lived in or at least being watched. Don’t make it easy for them.
Locks & Door Reinforcement
Properly secure your property. Doors and windows should be locked with sturdy hardware. If you are purchasing a property or taking possession back from a tenant, change the locks or get them re-keyed. Who knows how many copies of keys could be floating around. Even with good locks, doors can still be kicked in. Consider reinforcing your exterior doors to keep the bad guys out. Adding metal door jamb shields and hinge shields can make a world of difference. Securing basement windows is also critical as this often provides an easy access point to the house and to expensive housing components like water heaters, the furnace, pipes, and wiring.
Getting to know your neighbors can be a big benefit. Discuss what your plans are with the house and let them know that you want to make sure they have good neighbors moving in as renters or buyers. Good relationships with your neighbors allow you to have eyes and ears around your investment property. They should feel free to call you if they see anything suspicious.
Driving by regularly and making sure the house is still secure is important. It may provide a good opportunity to wave at the neighbors or get out and talk to them to build that relationship. If you notice the house has been broken into, call the police and don’t enter the house until an officer arrives. The intruder may still be inside!
Maintain the outside appearance of the house. Keep the yard cut and clean. Trim back trees and shrubs that may block views of the house and provide thieves places to hide. Make sure that you also keep the mailbox from filling up with mail. Newspapers stacking up on the lawn and mail flowing out of the mailbox is an indicator to a thief that nobody is at home. Even though you have stopped bills from going to the house or the past residents have redirected their mail, remember you may still get junk mail that will fill up a mailbox fast.
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A well-lit exterior will discourage thieves from approaching your house at night. Lights should be placed at a height where it’s not easy to disable them and consider using motion detector lights. Lighting the inside of the house is critical too. Using lights on timers in various rooms and radios that come on and go off in the evening may make your vacant home look and sound occupied dissuading potential thieves and vandals. There’s a product out now that looks like a light bulb you would put in standard lamps. It records your usage and replicates your patterns at night gradually turning out lights downstairs and ending with turning out an upstairs light like you would when you go to bed. These lights can also be set up to turn on if the doorbell were to ring, imitating a household being startled awake by a late-night visitor.
Board Up the Property
When appropriate and required you should board up your property. There are several board-up solutions. The easiest fix might be to send over a handyperson with plywood and long screws, but there are also cage systems, steel shields held in place by special hardware, and even a heavy-duty Plexiglas-type product that allows light in the house. It doesn’t make the house appear boarded up but is strong enough to keep thieves and vandals out. Use the best method available to you that is also compliant with local codes. Remember, insurance policies will often require that vacant houses be boarded up as a security measure.
Posting a sign on the front window or in the yard indicating an alarm is monitoring the house is a great deterrent. Actually having an alarm is better, and I would urge you to get one that works best for you. Some alarm systems and components can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and there are a ton of choices. We found several portable systems that can be moved to another property once a vacant property is rented or from renovation to renovation as you are flipping. Get a system that is flexible, does not require Wi-Fi, and monitoring is set up on a monthly basis.
To best protect your vacant properties, layer your security. If you create a security system that consists of the 8 components we addressed today, you will be well on your way to moving a theft or vandalism down the block. These types of losses at vacant or renovated properties aren’t inevitable; it just takes some effort and consistent monitoring by you or your property manager to protect your valuable investment.