How to Protect Your Vacation Home From Break-ins

How to prevent your vacation home from becoming a security nightmare.

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Do you own a rental property or vacation home? If so, then you know better than anyone how often your property sits vacant. Whether it's waiting for the next round of vacationers or a new renter, there are often long stretches of time when your property is unoccupied. But this can be a security nightmare for landlords and investors. After all, thieves often seek out vacant homes since they have the lowest risk for a run-in with the owner.

That said, there are plenty of things you can do to protect your vacant rental or vacation property from a home break-in.

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1. Take Down the Signs Chances are, you have a sign out front telling passersby that your home is for rent. What you may not realize, however, is that this sign also tells the world your home is currently vacant (or about to be).

But since most renters scour sites like Craigslist and very few come by way of yard signs, take the signs down. That way, your property is less distinguishable from the neighbors' and it's harder for a thief to tell that your property is vacant.

2. Use a Light Timer You should have at least one, and ideally two, lamps plugged into a timer. They should go on late in the afternoon or early evening to make it look as if someone is home. Otherwise, having a dark house on a daily basis can stand out to potential thieves.

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3. Watch What You Say When you're talking to people on the phone who are interested in your vacation home or rental, it's important to watch how much you say. Telling a stranger that the home is fully furnished, especially if they already have the address, might be a mistake. After all, they could be a thief fishing for information.

4. Keep Up the Property If you don't live near your rental, hire a lawn-care service to maintain the yard and exterior. Hire someone to shovel snow in the winter as well. Otherwise, a driveway and sidewalk that stay consistently snow-covered say "Come on in!" to thieves.

Also, don't keep tall or overly thick shrubs around the home since they give thieves an easy place to hide while scoping out your home.

5. Light the Exterior Thieves love dark porches and decks because they provide ample cover for slick break ins. Invest money in motion detector lights in the front and back. Any movement will set them off and deter thieves. You might also want to hire an electrician to set your front porch light on a timer.

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6. Install Video Surveillance Sure, it sounds extreme, but many landlords and vacation homeowners are installing video surveillance equipment. This way, they can monitor their property even when they're not around. If you go this route, post signs to let everyone know the home is constantly monitored. Just like an alarm system, video surveillance can effectively deter would-be thieves.

Final Thoughts As the economy continues to falter, property crimes could rise. But, fortunately, there are plenty of easy and generally inexpensive steps you can take to make yourself and your home less vulnerable. Basically, the more you can make your property look "lived in," the more likely it is that thieves will pass you by.

Heather Levin writes about personal finance and green living on Money Crashers. Check out the site for more tips and advice on real estate and home security topics like how to prevent home burglary and comparisons of home security systems.