Burglars Target Homes for Sale: 26 Ways to Stay Protected

It is unnerving to have strangers walking through your home during the home sales process, but it is especially troubling once you realize that not all of those strangers are actually interested in buying your home. Some of them may have plans to burglarize your home -- and may even target your family for violence.

Unfortunately, a for sale sign in front of your home can be an invitation to burglars and scammers. While you see a home for sale, they see a home that's easy to access. This allows them to get their hands on easy to exploit items like credit card statements, jewelry, and family heirlooms while an agent talks about curb appeal. They can even tour your home with an invitation, identifying valuables in every room before they return to burglarize your home.

Knowing that burglars and buyers alike are checking out your home may have you tempted to shut down showings, but you'll never get your home off the market that way. Instead, home sellers should take steps to protect their home, valuables, and family during the home sales process.

Some of the most important steps you can take for safety during the sales process are removing and securing valuables, requiring appointments, prequalification, and identification, and working with a professional agent who understands safety and security, but there's more. Read on to learn about 26 ways you can protect your home, family, and belongings while you're selling your home.

  1. Work with a trusted certified Realtor: Your real estate agent will have extensive access to your home and work closely with you and your family for weeks or months. Be sure that the real estate agent you're working with is one you can trust. Find a great agent by asking for recommendations and reviews and checking to make sure they are a certified Realtor.
  2. Require appointments for showings: Scammers and criminals often target home owners by simply showing up unannounced on their doorstep asking for a showing. Burglars may pose as real estate agents and buyers who are just in the neighborhood and want to see your home. They may even have a convincing business card or sign on their car. Often, these visitors are not really interested in buying your house. Rather, they simply want to gain access to your home. Showing up unannounced makes you particularly vulnerable because you're not expecting it, your guard may be down, and your agent isn't there to help you by prequalifying them and collecting identifying information before they are able to view your home. Never open your door to strangers. If a buyer or agent shows up unannounced, speak to them only through a closed door and direct them to your agent to set up an appointment, no matter how insistent they are.
  3. Don't reveal when the house will be empty when setting appointments: Never share that you'll be at work or elsewhere during a desired appointment time. Instead, simply tell them you'll be busy or that the time is unavailable.
  4. Screen potential buyers before setting appointments: Your agent should put every potential buyer through a prequalification process before allowing them to set up an appointment to view your home. At the very least, they should require photo ID, but many also require prequalification letters and other documentation to show that the buyers are genuine.
  5. Allow your agent to show your house for you: It is your agent's job to show your house. They are also experienced and trained in personal and property safety measures while showing homes, so let them put their expertise to work for your safety.
  6. Only work with your agent or your agent's permission: Criminals may call you and claim they are working with your agent. It's easy enough to note the name of the real estate company on the sign outside your house and claim that they are an agent in the same office helping out during a busy season. Don't fall for it. Give your agent a call directly and verify this information before allowing anyone into your home or giving out any personal information.
  7. Give your Realtor their own alarm code: Even if you trust your Realtor, don't give them your main alarm code. Set up a separate one for their own use that will track when they enter or exit the home.
  8. Remove or lock up sensitive documents: As you're staging your home, look for any sensitive documents, such as credit card statements, social security cards, and vehicle titles. Lock them up in a secure file cabinet, or better yet, completely remove them from your home. Remember to look again before every showing, as new pieces of mail you've collected may still reveal sensitive information that criminals can use to steal your identity. If you don't already, be sure to empty your mailbox and sort your mail right away.
  9. Password protect or remove all computers and devices: Locking up important papers is one step, but with so many people using online bill pay and storing other important personal information online and on computers today, you can't neglect the safety of your devices, either. It's all too easy for a criminal to distract your agent while a partner quickly opens up your computer to gain access to sensitive information. Remove all laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices before showings. Consider removing personal computers during the staging process, or place a password on each of them for a layer of protection.
  10. Remove prescription medications from medicine cabinets: Prescription medications are easy for criminals to find and pocket quickly, then sell for a profit -- possibly before you've even noticed they are gone. Remove all prescription medications from your medicine cabinets, placing them in a locked safe or simply taking them with you before every showing.
  11. Remove guns and ammunition: Guns are another hot commodity for thieves, and unsecured firearms in your home are always a bad idea whether you're selling or not. A gun safe may keep your firearms protected during a showing, but just having one may make your home a target, as criminals will note their presence and may make plans to return for them later when they can take time to work on your safe or simply carry it out of your home. It's best to simply remove your guns and ammunition during the staging process. If you don't feel comfortable without guns in your home, consider simply keeping only those that you can take with you before every showing. Removing guns from your home during the sales process doesn't just protect you from theft. It also reduces your liability, avoiding a situation where a visitor (particularly a curious child) accidentally discharges a gun in your home.
  12. Never leave money or credit cards at home: You may be in a rush to get out the door before a showing, but never forget to pick up cash, credit cards, and checkbooks before you leave. Having these items lying around just makes it too easy for criminals to steal.
  13. Double check your refrigerator: Look on your fridge and remove any calendars, doctor notes, unfilled prescriptions, and other personal information that shouldn't be available to strangers.
  14. Remove or lock up valuables: This should go without saying, but when staging your home, it's time to remove your most valuable items from the home. Jewelry, family heirlooms, china, and artwork that could easily go missing should be put in safe storage, whether that's outside of your home or in a safe on site. Remember that even large pieces that might not be swiped during a showing can still make you a target, as thieves will note their presence and make plans to break in for them later.
  15. Remove all family photos: Another important item to remove during staging is your collection of family photos. It may feel strange to remove some of the most personal traces of your family from your home, especially while you're still living there, but this protects your family from prying eyes. Criminals may use photos to note the number of children in your home, their ages, where they go to school, whether or not there is a spouse in the picture, if that spouse travels often for work, and more. This can make your home and your family a target. Most Realtors recommend removing personal photos from homes during the staging process anyway, as this allows potential buyers to better see themselves in your home.
  16. Check doors and windows after showings: After every showing or open house, look at every door and window to make sure they're still locked. Some burglars unlock a window or door while they're inside identifying valuables, then return later to the spot where they know the house is open and easy to access.
  17. Check other vulnerabilities after showings: Check on valuables that are too big to remove during showings and other items that may have gone amiss while strangers were in your home.
  18. Keep everyone together: Don't allow couples or even families to split up during showings. Burglars in pairs or groups may have one distract the agent while the other steals items or unlocks a window. Encourage your real estate agent to enforce this policy and ask them to work with a partner during open houses both for your home's security and their personal safety.
  19. Use security cameras: Security cameras are always a smart idea for home security, but are especially helpful when you're selling your home. A security camera at the front door allows you to keep a record of everyone who views your home. And indoor security cameras in strategic locations can reveal criminals who may go through and steal your things while they think your agent isn't looking.
  20. Open all of the window coverings and turn on the lights during showings and open houses: Let your neighbors see inside the house while others walk around it, illuminating every room. The people inside will be deterred from criminal acts knowing that others can see what they're doing.
  21. Use an electronic lock box: Electronic lock boxes will track who had access to your home. With tracking, people will be less likely to consider taking advantage of your home, as you'll probably know who was responsible.
  22. Collect information from everyone who attends an open house: Many real estate agents practice this as a matter of policy for every home, but it's a good idea to ask just in case. Speak with your agent and require that they use a sign in sheet during an open house. Be sure to request a driver's license or other photo ID, as anyone can use a fake name to sign in. Some agents also record license plate numbers as an extra precaution.
  23. Make security part of your advertising: Ward off potential burglars or scammers before they even get the idea to target your home. Advertise showings as appointment only with preapproved documentation and driver's license required. This sends a message loud and clear that you're keeping track of who is allowed into your home.
  24. Use deterrent signage: Invest in a sign that says loud and clear you won't be a victim: Video Surveillance in Use.
  25. Never reveal personal information: Don't tell potential buyers when or where you work, whether you're married or live alone, how many children live in the home, or even what you like to do on the weekends. These details may reveal your schedule, which will make it easier for burglars to know when you won't be home -- and when they should break in.
  26. Trust your instincts: If you just don't get a good feeling from a potential buyer, visitor, or even an agent, listen to your gut and don't allow them into your home.

Photo by Flickr user danmoyle