The holidays are upon us. All across America, people are about to go — or are already on — vacation. That, of course, leaves houses behind. Is your home safe when you’re not around?
Do you travel with a false sense of security after discontinuing your newspapers and arranging to have your lawn mowed while you are away? Take a few minutes to review these 25 tips before your next vacation or business trip.
Hold your tongue. Although it is tempting to chat in public about your upcoming trip with bank tellers and grocery clerks, stifle the urge. The person standing in line behind you might be a professional crook who could use the information to rob your premises while you are away.
Avoid advertising your intentions. Never post a “house sitter wanted” advertisement. Where do you think a crook will look for potential break-in targets? Instead, contact a professional housesitting service.
Notify authorities. Be sure to notify your police department and alarm company of your travel plans. Provide them with a local emergency contact and a way to get in touch with you while you are away, including a cell phone number if possible.
Arrange for extra police patrols. Ask the local police authorities if they would be willing to patrol your neighborhood more frequently during your absence.
Keep your house sitter in the know. Take the time to create a printout or write a note that describes the locations of all water/gas valves, fuse boxes, and main circuit breakers. Give copies to your house sitter and your emergency contact person.
Make the most of your camera. Take photos of everyone who has permission to access the premises in your absence, including neighbors, contractors, yard maintenance people, and pet sitters. E-mail or give copies to the person who is watching your home.
Let there be light. Someone planning a robbery will generally avoid well-lit areas. Motion-sensitive yard lights have discouraged many a break-in.
Increase the difficulty factor. Crooks try to break in and get away as quickly as possible. If it takes them longer than 60 seconds to gain entry, they are likely to abandon the attempt. Install dead bolts on all windows and doors to make break-ins more difficult and time-consuming.
Install an alarm system. The reason behind a monitored alarm system is obvious: increased security for your home. However, you may also find that your insurance company will offer lower rates. In fact, they might be able to recommend alarm companies and/or provide discount coupons.
Repair and replace. Before you go, check all exterior lights. Replace bulbs or repair if necessary.
Maintain the yard. A well-maintained yard creates a lived-in impression. Arrange to have your lawn mowed and the hedges trimmed in summer, the leaves raked in the fall, and snow removed during the winter.
Take care of small details. Arrange for someone to pick up your mail daily and move the trash to the curb on garbage day.
Create the illusion of occupancy. Scatter a few children’s toys around the yard. Borrow them from a friend or neighbor if you do not have any kids of your own.
Park a vehicle in the driveway. If you normally park in your garage, move your vehicle into the driveway. Arrange for someone to move it occasionally, or ask a neighbor to use your driveway for parking.
Unplug the garage door opener. Companies manufacture garage door openers on assembly lines. Many will have the same frequencies or combinations. This means that an outsider might be able to open your garage, unintentionally or on purpose, by using another opener.
Make use of your safety deposit box. Do not leave jewelry and small valuables in your home. Instead, move them to your safety deposit box.
Conserve electricity. Unplug all but essential appliances, computers, and electronics. By doing so, you will protect surge-sensitive equipment, conserve electricity, and save a bit of money.
Turn off all telephone ringers. A phone that rings – and rings – and rings – without being picked up is an obvious sign of an unoccupied home.
Be cautious with voice mail and answering machine messages. Do not leave a message that says something like, “We’re in Hawaii for a couple of weeks. See you when we get back!” This is an open invitation for troublemakers. Instead, record a generic message such as, “You have reached Jess and Bob. We cannot come to the phone right now, so please leave a message.”
Be careful with spare keys. If you can find your spare key under a rock, in a garden gnome, or above the door, so can a thief. Leave your spare keys with your house sitter or emergency contact.
Shut off the water. Hoses spring leaks at the most inopportune times. Prevent water damage by turning off the water to appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines.
Use timers creatively. Connect timers to a radio and a few lamps so that they will turn on and off at random intervals during the day. Passersby will think that someone is home.
Secure all pet doors, doors, and windows. Burglars can gain access to your premises from amazingly small openings – including cat doors. Secure all pet doors and remember to lock every single window and door, including those on garages and exterior buildings or storage sheds.
Leave the air conditioner on. An inactive air conditioner on a scorching day is a big clue that nobody is at home. Leave your air conditioner on a moderate setting so that it will activate during hot days.
Clear your voice mail or answering machine. While you are gone, check your messages regularly to avoid beep patterns, immediate answer, or “voice mail full” messages that could indicate an empty home.
Do your homework, prepare, take necessary steps to safeguard your home, and then enjoy your vacation without worrying about home-sweet-home.