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 must be 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 there are police reports to deal with and more work and money needed to get it ready for sale or rent again.
Who are the “usual suspects” for break-ins?
- Neighborhood kids looking to make a vacant house their “club house”.
- Professional thieves looking to take your clients’ 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.
Your client’s first line of defense is deterrence. Thieves and vandals may be less likely to target a house they believe is being lived in or at least being watched. Below are eight great ways your investor clients can protect their properties from just this scenario.
Locks & Door Reinforcement
The property should be properly secured at all times. Doors and windows should be locked with sturdy hardware. If they are purchasing a property or taking possession back from a tenant, they should 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. They may consider reinforcing the 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.
Knowing the neighbors can be a big benefit. Good relationships with neighbors mean extra “eyes and ears” around the investment property, and makes them feel comfortable calling the 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 investor notices the house has been broken into, they should call the police and wait to enter the house until an officer arrives. The intruder may still be inside!
Maintain the outside appearance of the house. The yard should be kept cut and clean. Trees and shrubs should be trimmed to avoid blocking views of the house and providing thieves places to hide. They should keep the mailbox from filling-up with “junk” mail as this is an indicator to a thief that nobody is at home.
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. Investors may 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 that come on and go off in the evening may make the vacant home look occupied, dissuading potential thieves and vandals.
When appropriate and required, a property sitting vacant for some time 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. Investors should use the best method available to them that is also compliant with local codes.
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 you should urge your clients to get one that works best for them. Some alarm systems and components can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and there are a ton of choices. There are several portable systems that can be moved to another property once a vacant property is rented or from renovation to renovation as investors are flipping. Get a system that is flexible, does not require Wi-Fi and monitoring is set up on a monthly basis.