By Rick Abell
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.
I’m sure 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, furnace, water heater, and maybe even copper plumbing and electrical wiring. All your hard work and investment is gone and now you have to deal with police reports and put in more work and money to get it ready for sale or rent again, pushing back the start to getting a return on your investment.
Who breaks-in and does this kind of stuff?
- Neighborhood kids looking to make your vacant house their “club house”.
- Professional thieves looking to take your 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 DO YOU PROTECT YOUR VALUABLE INVESTMENT?
- Your first line of defense is deterrence. If you own a home that has been vacant for a while, chances are there may be other vacant homes in the same neighborhood. You want to make sure your house is not the easiesttarget. Make thieves and vandals believe the house is being lived in or at least being watched. Don’t make their “job” easy for them.
- Locks. Make sure the property is properly secured. 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? Securing basement windows is critical as this often provides an easy access point to the house and to expensive housing components like water heaters, furnace, pipes and wiring.
- Neighbors. Getting to know the neighbors can be a big benefit. Discuss what your plans are with 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.
- Inspections. 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!
- Yard maintenance. This basically refers to 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.
As part of maintaining the outside appearance make sure that you 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.
- Lighting. 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 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 your vacant home look and sound occupied dissuading potential thieves and vandals. There’s actually 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 down stairs 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. When appropriate and required you should make certain to board-up your property. 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. Make sure you use the best method that is also compliant with local codes. Remember, insurance policies will often require, as a security measure, that vacant houses are boarded-up.
- Alarm Systems. Posting a sign on the front window or in the yard indicating an alarm is monitoring the house is a great deterrent. Actually including 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.
The TattleTale Alarm System
Affinity Group Management (ALPS) found one system in particular that investors with houses that are vacant or undergoing renovations could benefit. Though the TattleTale alarm system has many features critical to ALPS making a recommendation, I’ll list just a few below:
- The system is portable. You can move it from house to house as your investment property is sold, vacated or undergoing renovations between renters or buyers. If you buy one for your personal use you can take it with you in the event you move and some people even use it at hotels when they travel.
- The system uses cellular technology. The other systems we investigated require a live phone line or Wi-Fi connection. You aren’t paying for internet access to your vacant home are you? With this alarm, you don’t have to.
- No contracts. If you desire to purchase monitoring there are a couple of options, but you pay on a month-to-month basis, so there are no multi-year commitments.
- Battery back-up. The on-board battery gives you 20 hours of protection even when the power goes out, is disrupted or the lines are cut.
- You can use the base system on a stand-alone basis or add as many as 95 wireless sensors.
- Easy set-up. It takes about two minutes to set-up out of the box.
- There is also a “High Performance” model that is more suitable for larger construction sites and commercial applications.
Visit our “Product Reviews” section to find a more extensive review and link to the TattleTale site for a full list of their products. Also, be sure to grab the ALPS Product Code within the review to enjoy a 10% savings on the base alarm and any sensors purchased. Look for similar ALPS Product Codes in the other reviews here on our site too!
(REIGuard also offers incentives for using the TattleTale alarm system in your vacant or renovation properties.)
I use many of the above suggestions at my own home, and yes, I even purchased a TattleTale alarm. I was impressed with the easy set-up, how quickly I received mine (2 days), and they actually followed-up with me by phone a few days later to see if I had any questions or concerns…. Pretty strong customer support for a product that seemed so easy to use.
Join the discussion and share your best security measures below. Or feel free to reach out to us directly. Happy investing!