14 Things Smart Homeowners Do Before Going on Vacation
From burglars to water damage, ensure you return to a safe and secure property by taking care of these few important things.
Lock it up
While this may sound like the world’s most obvious advice, homes have many entry points and it’s easy to forget to lock one up behind you. A spokesperson for Neighborly, a home services platform that connects homeowners with trusted professionals, says that July and August are the most frequent months for break-ins—and about 30 percent of home burglaries happen due to an unlocked window or door. The morning of your trip, go door to door and window to window to ensure all doors, windows, and basement access points are secured. Of course, deadbolts only protect you when they’ve been installed correctly, so don’t miss these 21 secrets your locksmith won’t tell you.
Stay off social media
These days, half the fun of traveling can be posting your adventures on Facebook or Instagram. But don’t give out too much information; you may be causing worse havoc than FOMO. “Providing a play-by-play of all the fun you’re having on your vacation can alert a burglar to the fact that your home is empty,” says Joe Liu, CEO of Home8, a home security service that offers cloud-based solutions. “Resist the temptation to post photos of your vacation activities until after you return.”
Secure your valuables
Whether your most valued possession is your grandmother’s sapphire earrings or a high-end gaming system, it’s wise to stash them out of view. “It’s important to protect items of high importance or value,” says Mark Honeycutt, CEO of Jiawei Technology, the company that manufactures the Maximus Smart Video Security Light. “For an extra layer of protection, place items such as jewelry and cash in a protected safe or in hard-to-reach places, like the attic or basement. Otherwise, you’re risking not only monetary loss, but also emotional scars and the trauma of victimization. Victims can have real psychological trauma as a result of their homes being violated.”
Resolve maintenance issues
Before your departure, Neighborly recommends resolving any known home maintenance and repair issues that have the potential to go from bad to worse while you’re away. A slow drip under the sink, a window or door that leaks when the rain comes from just the right direction, or any of a number of other issues that you’ve been keeping an eye on can cause damage while you’re not home—and it can accrue quickly. Read up on these 40 home repairs anyone can do.
Switch to a smart keypad lock
Don’t wait until your next vacation to take inventory of everyone who has a key to your home—can you even recall every pet sitter, baby sitter, service person, neighbor, and family member you’ve given copies to over the years? Upgrade to a smart keypad lock and you can give every person who needs it their own unique PIN code and remove access when visiting hours are over. “Our locks feature a ‘vacation mode,’ which means that all user PIN codes are disabled until the homeowner returns home to turn this mode off,” says Garrett Lovejoy, director of product for Yale Locks. “This ensures that cleaning companies, contractors, and anyone who has a code to your home cannot enter while you’re out of town.” It’s also helpful in alerting you when those who do have access are entering—for instance, you’ll know exactly when your dog is being walked or your plants are being watered. You’ll also get an alert if a door is accidentally left unlocked, plus the keypad can be integrated with your smart alarm system for enhanced home security.
Make your whole home smart
Gone are the days where homeowners leave town and wonder what’s going on back home—now you can integrate all your home’s “activities,” check in whenever you’d like, and make things harder on potential burglars as well. For instance, maybe you don’t want to waste electricity, but you also don’t want a dark house that invites attention. “Use an app to set a schedule that will automatically turn your smart lights and lamps on and off while you’re away to make it appear that someone is home,” says Jeff Lyman, chief product officer at Vivint Smart Home. “This can help deter lazy criminals who are looking for an obviously vacant home and don’t want to risk encountering anyone.” You can also control video doorbells, garage doors, outdoor security cameras, and even your thermostat through the same app.
Guard your GPS
A GPS unit or in-car navigation system is great for getting you from point A to point B—by the way, this is how that GPS system really works. But Liu cautions that many burglars scope out cars at airport parking lots, looking to break in and activate the GPS, which can lead them straight to your home. If you have a portable unit, don’t leave it in the car; take it with you. Or if you have a built-in unit, set “home” as somewhere other than your actual address—perhaps a large department store or gym, anywhere but where you live. Just think: If an intruder has a map to your address and simply has to hit your garage door opener when pulling up to your house, he can walk right in and make himself at home—and there’s nothing suspicious for your neighbors to even notice.
Take your garage offline
Garage door openers can pose a risk even when you don’t leave them in your car. Depending on the brand, some garage door openers can be hacked and opened with universal remotes, says Liu. Take your garage door opener offline so no tech-savvy criminal can potentially gain entrance. Many garage door brands have a “vacation mode” setting, which disables the remotes and prevents the door from being opened from the outside. If your model doesn’t have this feature, simply unplug it before you leave.
Install security cameras—even fakes!
“The single best way to ensure your house is never broken into is to have a security camera at every door that is obvious, and that any potential threat can see,” says Will Ellis, who reviews home security products on his website Privacy Australia. “Here’s the thing though, you don’t need a surveillance system, you don’t need an alarm, you don’t need anything for your security camera. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a real security camera. Fake security cameras exist for a reason. If someone sees that they might be recorded, they won’t break into your home.” The trick is to make sure everyone can easily see the security camera, even if they aren’t looking for it. Any one of these 10 places smart homeowners install security cameras will do for a start.
Keep up with landscaping
You know what makes a perfect hiding spot for burglars while they case your home? Overly large brush, trees, and hedges. “By trimming these plants as short as possible before hitting the road, you’ll be eliminating these hiding spots and making it more likely the burglar will move on to a different target,” says Liu. If you want to get really sneaky, he suggests planting bushes with thorns underneath your windows—a few quick, painful stabs will discourage prospective burglars.
Turn off your water
It’s hard to believe how damaging water can be…until you come home from a wonderfully relaxing vacation to a flooded house. A survey by Chubb found that nearly 80 percent of homeowners overlooked the threat of costly water leaks while on vacation. The insurance company calls internal water leaks the leading cause of property damage, and repairs are expensive—57 percent of homeowners who experienced a water leak claim in the past two years spent $5,000 or more on clean up and repair costs. To protect your home when leaving town, turn off your main water supply, clear gutters of debris, install a water leak detection device, and check all appliance hoses. A burst washing machine hose is the top homeowner-insurance claim. Don’t miss these 30 other secrets your plumber won’t tell you.
Secure sliding glass doors
The most common patio entrance, sliding glass doors, can make your home particularly vulnerable. “The simple latches and locks are relatively easy to circumvent,” says Brad Roberson, president of Glass Doctor, a Neighborly company. “Plus, they are often located in the backyard, which means an intruder simply needs to hop your fence to have all the privacy they need to see what’s inside and smash the glass.” He recommends installing heavy-duty aftermarket locks at the top and bottom of the door to reinforce existing latches and laying a security bar or wooden dowel in the slider track. A glass protection film made of transparent polyester material will reinforce the glass, making it virtually shatter-proof, even with repeated, violent blows.
Install a comprehensive security system
“Unfortunately, locked doors and windows aren’t going to stop all types of intrusion, so having a state-of-the-art home security system is a must if security is a priority,” says Tony Litto, with Inspired Technology and Communications. “Using some of today’s technology can help prevent a potential break-in. Think of it as a safeguard against typical human error.” He says that exterior motion detector lighting is the first line of defense to scare off intruders. If that’s not enough, 4K cameras that operate both in the day and night, placed in plain sight is a tried-and-true deterrent. If at this point the intruder has not turned away and they still attempt to break into the home, having window sensors tied to an alarm and a monitoring service will alert you, your neighbors, and the local authorities.
Put up signs everywhere
Burglars are far less likely to strike if they think they’re going to get caught. “If your house has a security system, place the company’s stickers around your property,” says Liu. “Even if you don’t have a security system, signs and stickers can be a powerful deterrent to burglars who may not be bold enough to call your bluff.” In fact, studies showed that 60 percent of burglars said evidence of a security system—even if there really wasn’t one—led them to select an easier target. Just make sure the signs look convincing, otherwise they’ll act more like a beacon, letting burglars know you’re too cheap to actually protect your belongings.