A Los Angeles man has been charged with stealing millions of dollars worth of luxury goods from celebrities like Usher and Adam Lambert, whose homes the thief reportedly scoped out while attending open houses in Hollywood Hills. You may not have reached celebrity status yet, but you too should think about open house safety—including the safety of your information.
Warnings to Homeowners and Real Estate Agents
While there is very little hard data on the number of thefts that take place during open houses, some police departments in the US have issued warnings to real estate agents and homeowners about the risk of having items stolen during an open house. Thieves may attend an open house in the hopes of stealing cash, jewelry, electronics, or prescription drugs, or to research a home for a future break in.
Can you guess the number one item that real estate experts recommend that you take with you or safely store prior to an open house? Your personal documents. Anything that lists your full name and any identifying numbers, such as your Social Security card, checkbook, or credit cards, could be an identity thief’s dream haul.
Ways to Better Protect Yourself and Your Home
Whether you plan on hosting an open house or will be putting your home on the market to be shown by appointment, there are some ways you can better protect yourself, your belongings, and your information.
Safeguard Your Personal and Financial Information
You wouldn’t leave your jewelry sitting on the kitchen countertop during an open house, and experts say you shouldn’t leave any personal information out for the taking either.
Make sure there aren’t any photos, bills, or other correspondence in plain sight. Even if you have an office or table where you typically stack bills or mail for sorting, you’ll want to change your routine and store them safely inside a locked drawer or cabinet. This should include bills, bank statements, credit card receipts, passports and other important documents, as well as USB flash drives.
Securely store small electronic devices, and if you have any devices that are too big to store, such as a desktop computer or smart TV, make sure they are password protected. Take down any visible stickers or notes where passwords are written down, including your WiFi password. Also be sure to safely store anything that could give someone access to your home later, such as garage or gate remotes or keys hanging on easily accessible hooks.
Remove or Lock Up Valuables
Staging a home isn’t just about making it look welcoming and appealing to visitors. It’s also an excellent opportunity to examine your home from a potential buyer’s perspective and tuck away any personal items that shouldn’t be left out.
Some experts say that simply stashing your valuables in a drawer probably isn’t going to cut it. Instead, consider investing in a safe, locking items in a closet, or safely storing them at another location. Take particular care in protecting any prescription medications, which are sometimes known to be pilfered during an open house. Consider locking prescriptions and other medicines in a lockbox, so they are still available to you if you live in the home, but safely stored away from any visitors who open your cabinets.
Check Your Homeowners Insurance
Some homeowners insurance policies may cover items stolen during an open house or showing, so it’s wise to check your policy before you put your home on the market.
It’s also a good idea to document the items in your home before the selling process starts. Make a list of valuable possessions and take plenty of photos, so you have documentation of what was in the home both before and after the open house in case something goes missing.
Validate the Credentials of Prospective Real Estate Agents
Unfortunately, just because someone claims to be a reputable real estate agent, that doesn’t mean that it’s true. These days, professional-looking business cards are easy to create, and some thieves even go so far as to set up a fake website or have their friends act as references.
To eliminate potential scammers, ask for the individual’s real estate license number or other credentials, and do your research to make sure the information they’ve given you is accurate. This may include calling their office, researching them online, and checking their social media accounts.
Talk with Your Real Estate Agent
Once you have vetted your real estate agent, talk with them about their plan for keeping your home secure during showings or an open house. According to real estate experts, some methods used are:
- Providing a sign-in sheet for guests
- Keeping prospective buyers or unknown agents within view at all times when they are touring the home
- Installing security cameras
- Recognizing common red flags, such as anyone who asks to be left alone
Use the Buddy System
If you choose to sell the home yourself without the help of a real estate agent, it is wise not to conduct an open house alone. For your own safety and that of your home, arrange to have a friend or relative there to help you out. If you are using a real estate agent, ask if he or she can bring an assistant along that can help keep an eye on visitors.
Check and Recheck
Thieves sometimes leave a back door or window unlocked to enter the home again later. At the end of the open house, your realtor should do a walk-through to ensure that everything is in order, and when you return home, you should also check all windows and doors, including ones that weren’t necessarily accessed during the open house.
To learn more about protecting your personal information, read the FTC’s tips on how to keep your personal information secure.