Holding an open house is an act of faith. You clean, declutter, and prepare your home to look its best, hoping at least one of the visitors will fall in love enough to make an offer, preferably all-cash. At the same time, open houses are invitations to strangers to walk among your most prized possessions, often with only a single real estate agent present—and so there are very real security concerns, for agents and homeowners alike.
At least 40% of the agents surveyed by the National Association of Realtors’ for its 2015 Member Safety Reports say they have experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety: Vacant houses, model homes, properties in remote areas, and open houses all caused trepidation. The study found that many now carry weapons for self-defense—no wonder when agents have been killed in the past.
For homeowners, however, self-defense takes place long before strangers show up at the door—and start looking in the refrigerator, the cabinets, the pantry. (A Maryland woman recently went to jail for stealing jewelry from open houses.) You probably know to lock up or take away valuables, but here are a few more things to remember:
Remove all prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet, even the ones you think are harmless. There are so many tales of open house visitors rifling through medicine cabinets and taking a few pills, or even whole bottles. In comments on our site, a user calling himself LARRY KEAN described this very thing, saying people are looking for “abusable” drugs. Likewise, another user, Rose Eneri wrote that her friend “found a guy looking through her medicine cabinet” at an open house: “Easy pickings for a drug addict or dealer.”
Most people don’t think about the extra garage remote they leave dangling from a hook near the back door. It’s small and easy to slip into a pocket, so take it with you when you leave for the open house. One commenter wrote that an open house visitor may have taken the garage remote, then returned later to steal the homeowner’s Lexus! All keys, remotes, and fobs should either be locked away or in your pocket.
There’s a trend in home office decor to make file cabinets pretty and portable—but portability and security are not always compatible. Buy a heavy, nonrolling commercial-grade filing cabinet that locks— and into it put your important documents; birth and marriage certificates, financial statements, basically any legal, medical, or personal information you wouldn’t want falling into someone else’s hands. Identity theft is real and should be taken seriously.
While it’s unlikely that anyone could walk out of your open house with your TV or other large electronics, they could come back for it. That’s why the next item is so important:
While agents will go through to make sure all lights are off and the house is in good condition after an open house, they might not check the doors. Unscrupulous people have been known to unlock a window or basement door with the thought of returning later. After the open house, walk through your house and check every window (even on the second floor), gate, and door to be certain that they are all locked.