Vandalism and copper theft in vacant properties has become a huge problem for both residential and commercial real estate investors in recent years. Unscrupulous thieves are more likely to prey on vacant properties than occupied homes, because they are much easier targets. They often do thousands of dollars in damage to the property for a relatively small payoff; sometimes as small as $50.00 or less.
It is estimated by the US Department of Energy that this is a 1 billion dollar problem every year. While you can’t completely stop these people from inflicting their misery, there are definitely some steps you can take to deter them.
How to Crime Proof Your Property
1. If you are rehabbing a property, remove all tools from the property at the end of the day. If that’s not practical, store them in an area that cannot be seen from the exterior or consider putting them in the attic for safety.
2. Install hardwired or portable alarm systems in your houses with an external siren. The cost of hardwired systems can be included in the price of rehabs. Otherwise, use one of the portable alarm systems that you can move from house to house when you have a vacant rental.
3. Vet your contractors before hiring them. Get references and make sure they are reputable. You don’t want unscrupulous workers that will be checking out your property so they can come back for later for the “loot”.
4. Installing inexpensive mini-blinds in a vacant rental property can make it look like it is occupied.
5. Put in a couple of lamps on inexpensive timers so the house will look lived in.
6. Pick up junk mail routinely from vacant properties and remove any trash or left over building materials daily. Get rid of the dumpster as soon as you can. This tells thieves that you are in the process of installing “nice things” in your rehab.
7. Install high quality motion detector lights on the exterior of the property. Be sure to install one near the AC unit.
8. If your yard is fenced, secure the gates with chain and a heavy lock. Anything that makes it harder to get in and out of the property without being seen is a deterrent.
9. Spend the $200-$400 to install cages for your AC unit. For extra protection one investor said that he uses AC cages that are custom fabricated from 2” square tubing. He anchors them through the wall or foundation so that can only be unscrewed from inside the property.
10. Lock the AC circuit breaker or fuse box as well as the main panel box
11. Consider installing Pex Tubing instead of copper for your plumbing.
12. If you have exposed copper pipe, paint it black to “disguise” it.
13. Don’t put a “for rent” sign in the yard in high crime areas. That’s known as an “invitation” in some neighborhoods.
14. When you are rehabbing a property or one of your rentals is vacant, introduce yourself to all of the neighbors and give them a business card. Tell them that you are concerned about the safety of the neighborhood and have installed a “high tech” security system in the property. Let them know you will be testing the system in a little while. When you get back to the property, let that siren rip for 3 or 4 minutes and make believers out of them. As an added bonus, one of these neighbors you meet just might be willing to mow the grass for a reasonable fee.
15. Keep your crawl spaces locked with heavy duty locks. You can also install a horizontal bar across the opening for extra safety. This is a lot cheaper and a lot less trouble than replacing all that plumbing, the duct work and a furnace that happens to be installed in the crawl space.
16. As soon as a tenant moves out, be sure the property is secured.
17. Basic security like strong doors and working locks on the windows also go a long way toward keeping your property safe.
Spending some extra time and money upfront can save you from making big expensive repairs in the future not to mention a whole lot of frustration
Sharon Vornholt is the owner of Innovative Property Solutions, LLC in Louisville, KY. She has been investing in real estate since 1998. Sharon owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. It was during that time she began investing in real estate. She has been a full time real estate investor since January of 2008 specializing in wholesaling. Sharon is also an experienced landlord and rehabber.
In addition to investing in real estate, she writes article for several national real estate sites and is an internet marketer. She also is the author of a popular real estate blog called the “Louisville Gals Real Estate Blog”. Contact Sharon at: http://LouisvilleGalsRealEstateBlog.com