Keeping Your Vacation Rental Home Safe When You’re Not Around

If you own a vacation rental home, it’s likely one of your most valuable assets. Therefore, the last thing you want to do is jeopardize that asset.

So, how can you protect this prized asset — your vacation rental home — when no one’s home? Read on to learn tips from experts for keeping your vacation rental safe and sound.

Take a comprehensive approach to security

One of the primary enemies of an unoccupied vacation rental home is, of course, a thief. In all likelihood, would-be burglars have cased the neighborhood and picked out the easiest targets.

Travel safety and personal security expert Philip Farina, CEO of Farina and Associates, recommends visualizing an onion when you’re pondering security for your vacation rental home.

“If your rental property was at the center of that onion, a criminal would have to peel back many layers before they could reach the center. Each layer represents something, one thing, that you change or add to protect yourself better,” says Farina, a certified protection professional and certified lodging security director.

“Criminals often weigh their risk of committing the crime — such as getting caught, being injured, getting arrested or worse — against the potential reward they will reap if they can accomplish it,” Farina says.

As such, you should aim to make it as tough as possible for a thief to break into your vacation rental home. Farina says you want to make criminals feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in your neighborhood, or at least at your home, and force them to move on to a different target.

Sage Singleton, a safety expert at SafeWise, which publishes reviews and advice about home security, recommends conducting an annual assessment to detect safety and security weaknesses at your vacation rental home — and then fixing those deficiencies before you become the victim of a break-in.

Make your home “smart”

Investing in “smart home” technology for your vacation rental home is one of the smartest security steps you can take. High on the list should be “smart” locks and a “smart” doorbell.

“Smart” locks allow keyless entry into a home. Rather than gaining access with a physical key, a renter (or any other visitor) opens a door by punching in a code that you’ve given to guests.

For its property management customers, TurnKey Vacation Rentals uses keyless technology known as ResortLock. Inside a ResortLock is a computer chip that runs a complex algorithm. The algorithm computes a unique code for a set period of time — without the need for an internet connection or cables.

With keyless entry, “a guest never gets ahold of a physical key, and you can change the code after every new visitor,” says Brian Gow, president of Scheel Window & Door in the Ottawa, Canada, area. “For rental spaces, it’s much safer knowing guests can’t find a way to make a copy [of a key] and come back for nefarious reasons.”

Another security tool for your vacation rental home is a video doorbell. Among the top sellers of these devices is a Santa Monica, California-based startup called Ring.

Ring’s chief inventor and CEO, Jamie Siminoff, says his company’s video doorbell calls a user’s smartphone when the doorbell is pushed, enabling a homeowner to remotely see and speak with a front-door visitor from anywhere in the world.

“With Ring, vacation homeowners can keep an eye on guests as they enter and leave the home, and keep it secure during the off-season or when no one’s there,” Siminoff says. “It’s common for burglars to knock or ring the doorbell to make sure nobody’s home before breaking in. With Ring, users can give the impression they’re home, even when they’re not, to prevent a break-in.”

Homeowners can add long-term renters to their Ring account so the renters can monitor the home from their mobile devices as well, Siminoff says. Plus, Ring is compatible with a number of “smart” locks.

“Smart home” technology isn’t limited to “smart” locks and “smart” doorbells.

Other wireless “smart home” products let the owner of a vacation rental home monitor the property via cameras, turn lights on and off remotely via smartphone, and keep tabs on flood sensors and water valves to help prevent structural damage, says Mitchell Klein, executive director of the Fremont, California-based Z-Wave Alliance. Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol for home automation.

Maintain a “lived in” look

For burglars, the exterior of your home can be a huge tip-off that the property is ripe for a break-in. Security expert Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, suggests taking these steps to make your vacation rental home less attractive to a would-be thief:

  • Keep the exterior of your home tidy. That includes ensuring the lawn is mowed, trees and bushes are trimmed, debris is removed, and unused toys and tools aren’t scattered around the front yard.
  • Don’t leave a vehicle outside your home, especially if someone could easily scrawl “Wash me” on the windshield. Park the vehicle in your garage or safely away from your home.
  • Be sure fliers from take-out restaurants and other businesses aren’t cluttering the front door.
  • Stop delivery of snail mail and newspapers.
  • Open curtains or shades enough so that it appears someone’s home, but not so much that passersby can spot valuables through the windows. It’s probably even wiser to make sure valuables, like the china set handed down from your great-grandmother, are stashed away and out of sight.
  • Fake out a would-be burglar by having someone — a neighbor or a property manager, for instance — put garbage cans (with trash actually in them) at the curb on trash pickup day. Of course, you’ll also want to make sure the garbage cans aren’t left at the curb for days on end.

Minimize fire dangers

In a flash, your vacation rental home could go up in flames. According to Gow, Siciliano and Kidde Fire Safety, a maker of smoke and carbon dioxide alarms, you can reduce fire risks by:

  • Testing smoke and carbon dioxide alarms, and replacing the batteries when needed.
  • Hiring a licensed professional to inspect heating systems, chimneys and fuel-burning appliances.
  • Unplugging appliances and electronics if the home will be unoccupied for an extended period. That away, the appliances and electronics don’t become fire hazards.
  • Locking up small valuables and important documents in a fireproof, waterproof safe.

Remember the basics

Tried-and-true safety and security measures have been around a long time for one simple reason — they work. Follow these commonsense tips from Farina, Siciliano and Turnkey Vacation Rentals to safeguard your home:

  • Make sure the locks on windows and doors are working properly.
  • To prevent flooding, switch off the water to your dishwasher and washing machine if the home will be vacant for a while. In addition, shut off the water heater.
  • If you’ve got a traditional alarm system, don’t forget to turn it on before you leave. Even better, you might invest in an alarm system that’s remotely and automatically monitored around the clock.
  • Replace burned-out bulbs in outdoor lights, and consider installing motion-activated floodlights. Bright lights are not a thief’s friends.
  • Secure sliding patio doors. To deter would-be burglars, be sure the latches and locks work. In addition, put in a horizontal security bar that prevents a door from being jammed open.
  • Install sturdy deadbolt locks. The deadbolt locks on your doors should be commercial-quality — not the cheaper ones you’ll typically find at a home improvement store. Ideally, a deadbolt should extend 1 to 3 inches from a door.
  • Put up warnings. If you have an alarm system or surveillance-camera system, be sure to post signs that alert a would-be burglar to the system’s presence.
  • Don’t stash a spare key in a flowerpot, on top of a doorsill or under a welcome mat. If you must, leave a spare key with a nearby friend, trustworthy neighbor or property manager.
  • When you’re marketing your property online, don’t list the specific address or show the exact location. You don’t want to make it easier for a thief to find your home.
  • Enlist a trusted person or property manager to keep tabs on your home when no one’s there. You want someone to periodically check the property in case, for instance, the housekeeper fails to lock the front door after cleaning the house.
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