When we look at claims information, we see that many of the properties subject to break-ins, thefts and vandalism are usually vacant or going through renovations to prepare them for sale or the next tenant. It’s truly disappointing to arrive to show a house that was finished only two days before and see it broken into and missing key components like stoves, ovens, air conditioning, the furnace, water heater, and maybe even copper plumbing and electrical wiring. All the hard work and investment is gone and now police reports must be dealt with and more work and money have to go into the property to get it ready for sale or rent again, pushing back the start to getting a return on the investment. Share this information with your investors to mitigate loss.
Who are the “usual suspects” for break-ins?
- Neighborhood kids looking to make the vacant house their “club house”.
- Professional thieves looking to take possessions and turn them into their gain.
- Contractors or their sub-contractors returning to the property they have worked on, knowing what’s inside the house.
How Can Investors Protect Their Valuable Investment?
The first line of defense: deterrence
For homes that have been vacant for a while, chances are there may be other vacant homes in the same neighborhood. Make sure the 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 their “job” easy for them.
Locks & Door Reinforcement
Properly secure the property. Doors and windows should be locked with sturdy hardware. If 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 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 the neighbors can be a big benefit. Discuss the plans for the home and let them know the intention to make sure they have good neighbors moving in as renters or buyers. Neighbors can be “eyes and ears” around the investment property. They should have contact information for the property owner 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 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 to 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 if bills have stopped going to the house or the past residents have redirected their mail, remember “junk” mail will fill-up a mailbox fast.
A well-lit exterior will discourage thieves from approaching the house at night. Lights should be placed at a height where it’s not easy to disable them and consider using motion detector lights that instantly light up an area, startling a would-be thief. 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 a vacant home look and sound occupied, dissuading potential thieves and vandals. There’s a product out now that looks like a light bulb – it records usage and replicates patterns at night gradually turning out lights downstairs and ending with turning out an upstairs light like a resident would when going 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.
When appropriate and required, the property should be boarded-up. There are several board-up solutions. The easiest fix might be to send over a handyman 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 that is also compliant with local codes. Remember, insurance policies will often require, as a security measure, that vacant houses are boarded-up.
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 it is recommended to purchase the best system for the property. 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 a property is being flipped. Get a system that is flexible, does not require Wi-Fi, and monitoring is set up on a monthly basis.
To best protect an investment, layer the security. If a security system is created that consists of the 8 components we addressed today, theft and vandalism will be well on its way down the block. These types of losses at vacant or renovation properties aren’t inevitable; it just takes some effort and consistent monitoring to protect a valuable investment.