This summer, as millions of Americans pack their bags and set out on vacations, burglars are packing up their tools and heading to those empty homes. It’s no coincidence that the prime vacation months of June through August are also the months when crime reaches a yearly peak.
So if you’re heading to the beach (or the woods, or the city) this summer, how do you keep your home safe while you’re away? Here are some tried and true methods of maintaining your home’s security while you’re enjoying some well-earned downtime.
Don’t conspicuously alter your home’s routine
When you’re selling your house, you stage it. When you travel, you should also get your home ready. But make sure you’re not overdoing it. Some homeowners, when they leave town, put their homes into “fortress mode.” They shut all the curtains and drapes, close the gates, put their garbage cans in the garage, and cancel the landscapers. What they may not realize is that this obvious change of routine telegraphs their absence.
Let your home look like it always does while you’re gone. Don’t put a sign on the front door telling the mailman to leave your packages at the next-door neighbor's place. Either stop your mail, or arrange for someone to pick it up. If curtains are usually kept open, keep them open. If your garbage cans live in your driveway, let them stay there. Don’t cancel routine services like landscapers, if you can help it.
Enlist a neighbor
Neighbors are great. They can loan you a cup of sugar, recommend a real estate agent, or keep an eye on your home when you’re on vacation. Give a trusted neighbor a set of spares and have them come by to pick up your mail and deliveries, turn lights on and off at night, and check on any emergencies.
You may want to give them spares to your cars, too, in case they have to move them, or if any vehicle-related emergencies come up. If you're invested in real estate, don't forget to arrange for someone to look in on any rental properties you might have.
Keep things dry
Not every threat to your home is from humans. Every homeowner’s nightmare is a burst pipe flooding their home when they’re gone, or a leaky faucet or running toilet causing a four-figure water bill. Guard against this by turning off water supply valves to your toilets, sinks, dishwasher, and washing machine.
If you’re into smart home tech, you can buy small moisture-detection devices which install near drains and pipes, and will send an alert to your phone if any running water is detected.
Light it up
An always-dark house is a dead giveaway that the home’s owners are away. Have a neighbor or friend turn lights on and off for you or, better yet, use a smart home solution to control your lights. A smart home setup can be programmed to turn your lights on and off at preset times. If you don’t want to go full-on smart home, there are very affordable smart plugs that can turn your lamps on using a preprogrammed schedule, or at random.
And don’t forget the outside of your home. Security lights that are triggered by a motion detector are one of the single most effective home security measures you can install. Consider looking into newer, innovative home security companies with offerings that cost a lot less than traditional security systems and offer modern features like smartphone integration. Much like iBuyers and Redfin revolutionized the real estate industry, these security companies have evolved past your parents’ expensive, clumsy systems.
Keep your plans close
Try not to avoid announcing specifics about your upcoming vacation on social media, especially information like when you’re leaving and when you’re coming back. Even just posting a few photos at your destination can alert unsavory watchers that you’re out of town — and that your home is vulnerable. Be extra careful if your social media accounts are visible to the public.
Don’t hide spare keys outside
It can be tempting to leave a spare key outside, just in case it’s needed. But all the hiding places that you think are so inconspicuous — under the doormat, on top of the door frame, under the flower pot, in the fake rock — are obvious to a burglar.
Leave your spares with a neighbor or, if you really feel like you need to have a spare key floating around, get a secure lockbox like one you’d use for independent showings if you were selling your home without an agent.
Keep an eye on the place with cameras
There are some very affordable, high-quality security cameras on the market. A prominent camera on the front of your house can be useful as a deterrent. Standard doorbell cameras and similar security-oriented cameras can be programmed to take a photo or video clip of anyone who comes to your door, and send you a notification.
You can also install indoor security cameras that will be activated via motion sensors, so you can see whoever comes inside, whether they’re a burglar or house sitter. If you’re against installing cameras, but still want to reap the deterrent benefits of having them, you could put up fake cameras to discourage intruders.
Put valuables out of sight
As we touched on above, you don’t want to close your house up too tight when you leave. Leaving the curtains open can make your home seem normal and occupied, whereas closing the curtains on every window can make it obvious you’ve got something to hide.
But if a bold intruder walks up and looks into your uncurtained window, there’s no reason to make things extra tempting for them. Make sure there are no valuables visible through your doors or windows. Put expensive electronics in a drawer, make sure no cash is out, and consider getting a safe for items like jewelry.
If you’re leaving for more than a week or so, you’ll want to have someone come in to trim your lawn, trees, and bushes. This has two purposes. One, an overgrown, untrimmed lawn alerts burglars to your absence as much as a pile of mail and newspapers on the front porch. And two, it’s much easier for burglars to gain entry into your home if they have thick bushes or grass to hide them while they jimmy doors or windows. Keeping your lawn trimmed denies them the cover they need to do their dirty work.