After you have packed your bags and planned your itinerary, you still need to consider how to best protect your home while on vacation. Of course you never leave expecting that something bad will happen, but it is certainly always best to be prepared, just in case. The basic idea or theme, no matter what tips or advice you take on how to best protect your home while it is unattended, is that you should do everything you can in order to make it look like there are still people and signs of activity in the home.
Protect Your Home While on Vacation: Basic Tips
If it looks like there are still people at home, you are much less likely to be robbed. Do everything you can to make it look like there is activity both inside and outside the house. This would be an excellent time to have some lawn or exterior work done. You may need to make arrangements with whoever is doing the work, either paying them a deposit ahead of time, or arranging to pay the balance at a later date. Make sure they mail the invoice (do not take the chance that they will tape it to the door or put it somewhere that is a dead giveaway no one is home). Even a neighborhood teenager could be a good choice for having some basic work done, like mowing or trimming hedges.
You could also consider having some lights or motion sensors put in. A battery operated push light in the window can be a great idea. Better yet, connect some outside and inside lights to motion sensors. This way, if anyone gets too close, the lights will come on automatically.
There are differing opinions on whether or not you should leave your lights on the entire time you’re on vacation. If you leave your lights on the whole time you’re gone, it wastes a lot of electricity and raises your electric bill. Also, having lights on 24/7 can look just as suspicious as having them off. Electronic timers may be helpful. The danger here is that if someone was really intent on robbing you, they will likely be watching the house for a period of time. If they notice that the lights go on at exactly 7:05pm and off at exactly 10:35pm each night, it would not take a genius to figure out they are on a timer. The way to make timers work is to use a varied schedule. If you can find timers which are controlled by an app on your cell phone, that would be the best option. Then, you can vary the times, making it look more like people are still in the home.
Consider adding something to make noise. This mimics actual conversations. Take an mp3 recording or even a good quality tape of cd player. Just make a loop of a long spoken track. Place the player near the door. This way, anyone who comes near the house will think that there are people talking.
Ask a neighbor if they’d be okay with parking in your driveway while you’re away. This is especially handy during the winter months when snow is on the ground. An unmarked driveway is a good sign that no one is home.
Don’t forget other household chores. If it’s winter, pay someone to shovel your sidewalks and driveway. If it’s summer, have someone mow your lawn. You want to try to keep your home looking like it has the same schedule as always. So if you are the type of person who shovels right after a fresh snowfall, be sure to hire someone to do the shoveling for you while you’re away
An easy, low tech way to make sure that your place is covered is by asking a trusted friend, neighbor or family member. Have them go over to your home several times a week just to check on everything. The best thing about this is that you might not need to pay them! Of course, an offer of a free lunch or dinner would be a nice gesture upon your return. You could also have them collect mail and take the trash cans out and/or bring them back in (a next door neighbor works the best for this, since they are already going to be doing these things for their own house). Of course, having the mail stopped and held by the local post office is also an option, although a smart robber who is watching will notice that the mail is not being delivered. This is also a tell-tale sign that someone is out of town.
In some cases, the local police department is able to help with a few of these tasks. This is not a replacement for a trusted friend or neighbor. However, having a police officer do a ‘vacation check’ a few times while you are away is still an additional level of security.
Tips For Hiring a Trustworthy House Sitter
House sitters can be great protection against burglary and theft while you are away on vacation, but only if the house sitter himself is trustworthy. Here are some screening tips so you can leave your worries at home and enjoy yourself while on vacation.
Start Your Search Early to Be Thorough
Taking the process of finding a house sitter seriously means starting a few weeks to a month or more in advance of when you will leave. This ensures you will be able to find someone that is able to take care of your home every day during the whole duration of your vacation. Oftentimes, people fill their schedules up, especially during the summer or the holiday season, so starting early ensures you will find someone. You may even find out about someone who is looking to come into town during the time you will be gone and needs a place to stay. The other reason to start early is so that you are not stuck with the one person who can do it, but keep your options open by giving yourself time to check references, negotiate a fair price (some work for free or for a token amount in exchange for staying in your home), and have the potential house sitter come for a preliminary interview and visit. The latter is especially important if you have a pet that the house sitter will be taking care of. And of course, starting early means you can find a backup sitter should anything happen.
Look For Quality of Character
Asking family and friends is a good place to start, if you know someone who is consistently reliable and trustworthy. This is all the better if he or she is already familiar with your home. If you do not completely know someone who is recommended as a house sitter, you can ask around your friends for references about that person in a much less formal and personable way, which may be more comfortable to you. However, be sure that you pay the house sitter even a token amount, regardless of whether she is in your social circle. This is because people who are doing a job nearly universally take house sitting more seriously and will want to impress you. If you choose to hire a professional, ask for at least three references, and check them. Also insist on a background check. (True professionals will not be offended by this, as they understand the importance of having someone reliable caring for your home and pets.) Finally, after a potential hire has passed those conditions, conduct an interview at the house with all household members present, including any pets that will be staying behind while you leave.
Lay Out The Rules and Requirements
Before committing to hiring someone, explain to him or her what the rules are in your house, as well as thoroughly going over what the job will entail. For instance, let him know whether you are comfortable with his partner staying over, his friends coming to the house, and whether they are allowed to stay the night. Also let him know if there are rooms or items that you do not wish to be used in your absence, doors that need to be shut for ventilation, and whether he should feel free to help himself to anything in the kitchen and/or liquor cabinet. If he needs to take his shoes off inside the front door, check the mail every day, walk the dog twice per day, feed the dog, and water the plants twice per week, make sure you go over all of that, as well. Should you have special instructions, like mowing the lawn, picking up items from the store, or running the de-humidifier twice per day, go over those as well and make sure the house sitter is capable of performing the task. (You may, of course, opt to have another person take care of those tasks for you, but be sure to let the house sitter know that if it is the case.) Furthermore, put all of the rules, requirements, and special instructions in writing and leave them somewhere prominent (coffee table, dining room, refrigerator door) as a reminder.
Inform Friends, Family, Emergency Contacts, and Neighbors
Foremost, let the house sitter know where you will be going and how to reach you via cellphone, email, or through the hotel where you are staying. Get your sitter’s contact information so that you can reach her directly instead of just through your home. If you put personal contacts on your Emergency Contacts list (such as the neighbor who knows the security alarm code), be sure to let those contacts know that you will have a house sitter during your vacation and that you or the house sitter may call upon them in case of emergency. Ask your neighbors to be on the lookout for unscheduled visits or activity that appears to go against your established house rules. Some families even schedule friends to come by the house for special tasks during their vacation (such as taking the dog to a grooming salon) so that they can check the condition of the house while away.
Lock Away and Hide Valuables
Putting some level of trust into your house sitter is a given. However, this does not mean you should leave your valuables out in front of someone you do not know very well. Should the sitter think it’s harmless to invite a few friends over, for instance, or if you allow that, one of the friends may just be tempted to steal since his job is not at stake. Do not show the house sitter the location of any secret safes or stash spots, and lock away all valuables. If you have weapons, lock them up unloaded and lock the ammunition away in a completely separate secret location. Do not grant a house sitter access to weapons under any circumstances.
Speaking of security, you also have the option of installing a security system. There is no better way to secure your home while you are away on vacation than a home alarm system. With the technology available, at minimum you will be able to have a system with a control panel, door and window sensors, motion sensors, glass break sensors and often times these features can be monitored using your cell phone. Visit our Best Home Alarm System page to review the leading home alarm companies.
- Prevent damage from power surges: It would really be bad if you come home and find many of your valuable electronic appliances and items damaged or destroyed due to a power surge. Consider unplugging the computer, TV, stereo and other electronics. Conversely, you could connect such items to a good surge protector. Just make sure that it is something which has a good rating and can withstand a large load of power.
- Be careful what you say: Going on vacation is exciting and we all want to share with others about our upcoming trip. But try not to post about it on Facebook, Twitter, or on the Internet at all. This includes “checking in” to places on Facebook or Foursquare. Someone may see the post and decide to target your home while you’re away.
- Alert your alarm company: If you do happen to have a security system, notify the company that you will be away. This is especially needed if you are going on an extended trip. Of course, it goes almost without saying to make sure that the alarm is set properly before you leave!
- Protect your pipes: Especially if you live in an area where cold weather is a possibility, make sure that your pipes are protected. In vulnerable areas like the attic, basement and crawl spaces, make sure the pipes are well insulated. In such a situation, it is also very important to have a trusted friend, family member or neighbor stop by every so often just to turn on faucets to make extra sure that the pipes do not freeze.
- Turn up or down the thermostat: You do not want to turn the thermostat off completely. In the winter, about 55 degrees seems to be the cut off point and 80 degrees is a good setting during the summer. You can also install a smart thermostat so you can control it even when you are away.
- Water heater: Almost no one remembers to turn down the temperature on their water heater. This can be an excellent way to save electricity as well.
- Lock everything: This is a no-brainer, but one that people often forget. Many homes are left unlocked at all hours of the day. You’re not protecting your home if you’re not locking the doors. Burglars look at an unlocked door as an invitation to enter and take what they want. Remember to lock all doors, windows, and your garage.
- Secure valuables: Never leave anything of value out in plain sight. If you have not already done so, now may be a good time to consider placing any jewelry, extra cash or other valuables in a safe deposit box or even a secure hidden safe within the house. Nothing should ever be visible from any window.
- Lock and secure the garage: Secure the door and any other entrances to the garage. Do this even if there is no way to enter the house from the garage (if there is an entrance to the house, then this step is even more important). There have been numerous robberies where the thieves simply grabbed what they could from the garage and then took off.
- Outside spare keys: Do not leave any spare keys outside the house. All burglars know the trick of keeping a spare key under the welcome mat. Actually, if you are going away for more than a day or two, you would be well served to pick up any key that you have hidden in an outside ‘safe’ spot. Consider leaving a spare key with the same trusted friend, neighbor or family member (possibly all three) who is going to be regularly checking on things.
- Remember your mail and packages: A stuffed mailbox, newspapers on the lawn, and packages at the doorstep are other ways to tell a burglar, “Hey there! Come on in, I’m not home so take what you’d like!” Ask a neighbor to retrieve your mail, newspapers, and packages and hold them for you until you arrive home. Alternatively, if someone is already house sitting for you, ask them to do this for you as well. If you can’t find anyone to collect your mail for you, ask the post office and package delivery services to hold your packages until you are back home. Below are the links to FedEx, UPS and USPS.
FedEx – Request a Vacation Hold
UPS – Place a Vacation Hold
USPS – Hold Mail Service
Studies have also shown over and over again that if it takes a burglar more than 5 minutes to break into a home, they will simply stop and go elsewhere (if it looks like it will be difficult to break in, they likely will not even try). Having said that, if your home is still targeted, you want to try and make it as difficult as possible to actually get in. One of the best pieces of advice is to use strong doors. They should be at least 1 ¾ inches thick and made from metal. If metal is not an option or not available, then some type of strong hardwood would be acceptable. Just remember that even the best lock is worthless if a strong burglar can simply kick in your door!
While it is not usually a good idea to turn off the main water supply to your house, consider certain areas on a case by case basis. If you know there is a leaky toilet or faucet, turn off the water to those areas. Another area to watch is the dishwasher. Or get a water/flood sensor as part of your home security system so you will receive an alert if something happens.
The Final Word Is Prepare For the Worst:
No matter what you do or precautions you take, it is still possible that something could happen while you are away. If this happens, it will probably not be a pleasant experience, but it hurts less if you are prepared ahead of time. You may to go ahead and check your insurance policy and claim procedures before leaving. Create a home inventory and take lots of good quality pictures of everything in your house. This may take some time, but afterwards it is just a matter of keeping everything updated.
Taking all of the precautions listed in this article will ensure that you have much less chance of a robbery or something bad happening while you are away. If the worst occurs, you will also be better prepared to deal with the situation.