Keeping your house secure while you’re away is a major concern for many homeowners. Depending on the level of security you need to achieve peace of mind, you may ask a neighbor to keep an eye on the house, request that a friend water the plants or install a security system that allows you to see what’s happening at will.
When it comes to a second home you use as a getaway, the fact that it’s vacant more often than it’s occupied means there’s more opportunity for it to be targeted by burglars. You may not keep cash or expensive jewelry in your beach house or mountain cabin, but TVs, grills and ATVs or Jet Skis could be the target of a vacation home break-in.
The aim of a vacation home break-in could be access to the home itself. In February, three men in Slaughter Beach, Delaware, were arrested by state police for allegedly squatting in a vacation home they did not have permission to be in. The property owner went to the property to find two of the three suspects in the house and called police, according to local ABC News coverage.
And of course, just like with your primary home, you could fall victim to a break-in for no apparent reason. Without someone nearby to keep a close eye on the property, the damage done could be more extreme. In April, a vacation home in Cedar City, Utah, was burglarized and set on fire by a man believed to be under the influence of drugs, according to Fox 13 in Salt Lake City The suspect was caught after a neighbor spotted the man in his backyard, allegedly removing items from his shed. The burglarized vacation home, however, was unable to be salvaged by fire crews.
With a third party also keyed in, if an alarm goes off at the property, the monitoring service will call noted emergency contacts to verify if it’s a false alarm. “If after three calls they still haven’t gotten [anyone] to verify, then no matter what they will dispatch the police,” says Sophie Le Guen, product manager for Nest Secure.
Hiring a property manager gives you locally based eyes and ears not only on the outside the property, but also to check inside for problems beyond theft. Mike Mavromates, a manager for Long & Foster Vacation Rentals in Avalon Bay, New Jersey, says property managers can handle renting out the space to vacationers and also keep an eye on your second home year-round.
“During the wintertime, what the property management company will do is check the property at least once every month or every other month,” Mavromates says. “They’ll check the property both inside and out, make sure no windows are broken, nothing’s broken in, the lights are still on and no light has burned out.”
Whether you’re leaving your vacation home for months at a time to be rented out to weekly tenants or you’re planning to come back next week, always close up the property to keep it as secure as possible and avoid inviting theft.
“You always want your home basically closed up, where most of your drapes are shut and blinds, but you at least want a timer on a light,” says Mavromates, who recommends timing lights in different rooms so the same light isn’t always on. Timers are necessary to help give the illusion that someone is in the house, turning lights on and off. If a house has the same light on day and night for weeks at a time, burglars won’t be fooled into thinking someone’s there.
[See: Is Your Home Alone for the Holidays? How to Keep Your House Bandit-Free.]
Here are five options for keeping your vacation home safe when you’re not there.
Register for police checks. Many towns throughout the U.S. offer a vacation home police check, which ensures a police officer or registered volunteer will periodically check the perimeter of your home while you’re away.
Most of these options are aimed at homeowners leaving their primary residence behind for vacation, but they can also work for your secondary house if offered in its locale. Keep in mind that some municipalities place a 30-day limit on the checks, which may not be enough if you close up your lake house for six months out of the year.
If the house is in a town where most residents are only around a few months out of the year, Mavromates says the police force will likely be used to patrolling empty streets. “They do a good job of riding around and recognizing when something doesn’t look right,” he says.
Hire a property manager. Whether you’re hiring a manager to occasionally check in on your vacant spot or you’re looking to earn additional income with vacation renters, a property manager can help ensure your vacation home’s security.
“Having a local team with boots on the ground guarantees everything is properly taken care of when you’re creating a home away for others,” writes Mary Lynn Clark, president of Wyndham Vacation Rentals, in an email.
Mavromates agrees, noting that even outside the property manager’s regular visits or drive-bys to check on your house, maintenance and cleaning staff are on call during and after a vacation renter’s stay and are typically quick to notice a problem: “Between the two, most can say [if] there’s been damage or something’s been taken – which fortunately isn’t very often.”
Get changeable locks. Especially if you have vacation tenants who stay at your second home, consider a different type of lock that allows you to reprogram the key periodically. Mavromates says traditional keys can open your beach house or cabin up to renters with future burglaries in mind: “If they make a copy of the keys, they can come back in winter when it’s closed up.” A keypad you can change the combination to or fob that can’t easily be copied can keep thieves from planning far in advance.
Install a security system. Security systems are an excellent way to keep yourself connected to the property and deter burglars with an alarm system. Just make sure you effectively use the system – don’t expect something like a sticker with a security company name to keep thieves away. “Having a security system at home is one thing, but if it’s never on, it’s not going to be helpful,” Le Guen says.