Good News! You’ve finally put your home on the market. Bad News, you’ll have to spend more time out of the house, leaving it more exposed to the threat of thieves. Even if you’re still living in it until it closes, a for sale sign and an empty driveway might lure criminals, thinking it will be an easy target. Luckily, there are some precautions you can take to ensure that you and your home stay safe all through the selling process.
- Maintain Your Property. Especially in the wintertime, many people stay indoors and neglect issues such as peeling trim or an overgrown yard. But if the home looks unkempt, thieves may think it’s abandoned. This is especially true for homes that are vacant; while you may not be as concerned with thieves in an empty house, squatters can be an issue as well. Removing holiday decorations in a timely manner, clearing out debris, and keeping your lawn maintained will signal the home is occupied, and keep criminals from stopping in.
- Get Your Neighbors Involved. Many people don’t really know their neighbors; it’s more than just saying hi and being friendly. Invite them over to see your home before it goes on the market, and introduce them to the people they may see regularly stopping by during this time (especially your agent). Then they’ll know who is and isn’t supposed to be at your home and can better assess when there may be a threat while you’re gone. It is important to let them know that there will be other agents showing your property, though. Your agent should absolutely have a lock box that is provided by their local MLS to ensure that only bona fide agents can get in. Tell your neighbors that anyone who isn’t using the lock box or seems to be having difficulty with it may be suspicious.
- Assess your home’s vulnerability. Walk to the curb and face your house. Ask yourself, “How would I get in if I were locked out?” The first thing you think of, whether it’s the window with a broken lock or the door that won’t shut all the way, is exactly how a thief will get in. Think like a burglar, and then address the issues that come to mind. Also important to remember is that while a hide-a-key can be a great saver when you’re locked out, make sure it’s not in a place burglars would look. I’ve seen tons of cool diy key storage, but if you’ve got a pill case glued to the bottom of the only pine cone in the yard, there’s a good chance criminals will be able to find it.
- Respect the power of lighting. Criminals are cowards, and they don’t want to be seen. The house that is well-lit at night provides a deterrent because thieves don’t want the attention and the potential to be caught by witnesses. It’s wise to invest in tools that make nighttime light automation easy. That includes dusk-to-dawn adapters that go into existing light fixtures and motion detectors. But beware of leaving your exterior lights on at all times, which signifies the occupant is gone for an extended period of time.
- Use technology to make your home look occupied. In addition to lighting, smart-home technology has made it easier to make it appear like people are home, even when they’re not. Systems that remotely control lighting, music, and appliances such as a thermostat can help you achieve this. Though not considered smart-home tech, lamp timing devices available at hardware stores, or simply playing the radio while you’re away, are also good for this purpose.
- Yes, it has to be said: Lock your doors. It’s amazing how many people think they live in a safe-enough neighborhood not to have to lock their doors when they leave. Some facts sellers should know: In 30 percent of burglaries, the criminals access the home through an unlocked door or window; 34 percent of burglars use the front door to get inside; and 22 percent use the back door, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
- Reinforce your locks. A good door lock is nothing without a solid frame. Invest in a solid door jam and strike plate first, and then invest in good locks. Know the difference between a single-cylinder and a double-cylinder deadbolt. Double-cylinder deadbolts are recommended because they require a key to get in and out. For safety and emergency escape purposes, you must leave the key in when you are home. But double-cylinder locks are against regulations in some places, so check with your local police department’s crime prevention office. Another great idea is to replace the screws on your lock with thicker, longer screws. Most locks come with short screws that are easy to kick out of place. By using bigger screws, your lock is more secure and harder to kick or ram open.
- Blare the sirens. Burglars are usually in and out in less than five minutes, and they know police can’t respond to an alarm that quickly. Their bigger concern is witnesses to their crime. For that reason, an external siren is invaluable, whether as part of a monitored security system or a DIY alarm. Even if you don’t have an alarm, it’s not a bad idea to invest in fake security signs and post them near doors.
- Consider surveillance cameras. The Los Angeles Police Department started a program encouraging homeowners to install a device called Ring, a doorbell with video surveillance capability that allows homeowners to view what’s outside their door on their smartphone, in a neighborhood that was a target for burglaries. After Ring was installed in hundreds of homes, the burglary rate dropped by 55 percent, according to reports. Most state and local regulations require posting a warning that people are being recorded. (But again, this can be effective even if you don’t actually have the cameras installed!)
- Mark your valuables and record details. Use invisible-ink pens or engravers to mark identifying information (driver’s license or state ID numbers) on items. Log serial numbers and take photos of your belongings. Check to see if your police department participates in the Operation Identification program. They will have stickers for you to place on doors or windows warning would-be thieves that your items are marked. These steps may prevent them from pawning or selling stolen items and can help you reclaim recovered belongings.
Oh, and these tricks can be used even if you’re not planning on selling anytime soon! Keeping your home and belongings safe is always a good idea. How do you keep your home safe from intruders? Let us know in the comments.