Vacant property

8 Great Ways to Protect Vacant & Renovation Properties

By Rick Abell
(Updated 07.21.17)

When we look at claims information we see that many of the properties subject to break-ins, thefts and vandalism are usually vacant or going through renovations to prepare them for sale or the next tenant.

I’m sure it’s truly disappointing to arrive to show a house that was finished only two days before and see it broken into and missing key components like stoves, ovens, air conditioning, furnace, water heater, and maybe even copper plumbing and electrical wiring. All your hard work and investment is gone and now you have to deal with police reports and put in more work and money to get it ready for sale or rent again, pushing back the start to getting a return on your investment.

Who breaks-in and does this kind of stuff?

  • Neighborhood kids looking to make your vacant house their “club house”.
  • Professional thieves looking to take your possessions and turn them into their gain.
  • Contractors or their sub-contractors returning to the property they have worked on, knowing what’s inside the house.


1. First line of defense: deterrence.

If you own a home that has been vacant for a while, chances are there may be other vacant homes in the same neighborhood. You want to make sure your house is not the easiest target. Make thieves and vandals believe the house is being lived in or at least being watched. Don’t make their “job” easy for them.

2. Locks & Door Reinforcement.

Make sure the property is properly secured. Doors and windows should be locked with sturdy hardware. If you are purchasing a property or taking possession back from a tenant, change the locks or get them re-keyed. Who knows how many copies of keys could be floating around? Even with good locks, doors can still be kicked in. Consider reinforcing your exterior doors with Door Armor to keep the bad guys out. Securing basement windows is critical as this often provides an easy access point to the house and to expensive housing components like water heaters, furnace, pipes and wiring.

3. Neighbors.

Getting to know the neighbors can be a big benefit. Discuss what your plans are with house and let them know that you want to make sure they have good neighbors moving in as renters or buyers. Good relationships with your neighbors allow you to have “eyes and ears” around your investment property. They should feel free to call you if they see anything suspicious.

4. Inspections.

Driving by regularly and making sure the house is still secure is important. It may provide a good opportunity to wave at the neighbors or get out and talk to them to build that relationship. If you notice the house has been broken into, call the police and don’t enter the house until an officer arrives. The intruder may still be inside!

5. Yard maintenance.

This basically refers to the outside appearance of the house. Keep the yard cut and clean. Trim back trees and shrubs that may block views of the house and provide thieves places to hide. As part of maintaining the outside appearance make sure that you keep the mailbox from filling-up with mail. Newspapers stacking up on the lawn and mail flowing out of the mailbox is an indicator to a thief that nobody is at home. Even though you have stopped bills from going to the house or the past residents have redirected their mail, remember you may still get “junk” mail that will fill-up a mailbox fast.

6. Lighting.

A well-lit exterior will discourage thieves from approaching your house at night. Lights should be placed at a height where it’s not easy to disable them and consider using motion detector lights that instantly light up an area, startling a would-be thief. Lighting the inside of the house is critical too. Using lights on timers in various rooms and radios that come on and go off in the evening may make your vacant home look and sound occupied dissuading potential thieves and vandals. There’s actually a product out now that looks like a light bulb you would put in standard lamps. It records your usage and replicates your patterns at night gradually turning out lights down stairs and ending with turning out an upstairs light like you would when you go to bed. These lights can also be set-up to turn on if the doorbell were to ring, imitating a household being startled awake by a late night visitor.

7. Board-up.

When appropriate and required you should make certain to board-up your property. There are several board-up solutions. The easiest fix might be to send over a handyman with plywood and long screws, but there are also cage systems, steel “shields” held in place by special hardware, and even a heavy duty Plexiglas-type product that allows light in the house. It doesn’t make the house appear boarded-up, but is strong enough to keep thieves and vandals out. Make sure you use the best method that is also compliant with local codes. Remember, insurance policies will often require, as a security measure, that vacant houses are boarded-up.

8. Alarm Systems.

Posting a sign on the front window or in the yard indicating an alarm is monitoring the house is a great deterrent. Actually having an alarm is better and I would urge you to get one that works best for you. Some alarm systems and components can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and there are a ton of choices. We found the Tattletale Portable Alarm System to be a very good solution. It’s portable, so once you get a vacant property rented you can move it to another property that needs protecting, be that another vacant or a renovation project. The system is flexible, does not require Wi-Fi and monitoring is set up on a monthly basis – no 1-3 year contract like many companies require.

(NREIG also offers incentives for using the TattleTale alarm system in your vacant or renovation properties.)


Visit our Product Reviews section to find a more extensive review and link to the TattleTale and Armor Concepts, Door Armor sites. Also, be sure to grab the ALPS Product Code within each review to enjoy savings on these products. Look for similar ALPS Product Codes in the other reviews here on our site too! Happy investing!

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