The security of your vacation home against theft and vandalism is a fairly common concern among new owners and veterans alike. After all, your vacation rental listing likely provides a rundown of all your home's amenities — a veritable virtual catalog for thieves. And if your calendar is up-to-date, savvy burglars can also figure out which days your home will be unoccupied.
Not to worry, however. Below, we've outlined some strategies to keep your guests comfortable and secure while easing your own concerns about the safety of your home and possessions.
Set clear expectations with your housekeeper. Besides keeping your house clean, you may also ask that your housekeeper check up on your home when it will be sitting empty for extended periods of time. Plus, once he/she becomes familiar with your home and your belongings, your housekeeper will be able notice anything out of the ordinary or if something has gone missing.
Leave your curtains closed. When you have several days in between guests checking out and checking in, there's no reason to turn your vacation home into a fishbowl. Have your housekeeper close all blinds and curtains when the house is going to sit empty for a while. If you don’t want your guests to arrive to a dark house, you could consider leaving the curtains on the first floor closed, but leaving the second floor curtains open. However, if you have back-to-back guests, it's probably fine to leave them open.
Communicate with your guests. You should also include some guidelines in your house instructions or check-in procedures regarding safety precautions during your guests' stays. Advise all renters to keep valuables hidden, close all windows, and lock all doors before leaving the house. Just try not to go overboard – you don't want to scare your guests into thinking your home isn't safe.
Inform guests about your home's smoke alarms and/or security system. During our Florida seminar series, we stayed in a beautiful vacation rental where the smoke detectors were connected to the alarm system. When we finally had a morning off, we decided to cook bacon for breakfast. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the smoke alarms were very sensitive and would go off if the oven fan was not turned on. After desperately trying to wave a towel below the smoke detector, we received a call from the security company asking us for a password to shut off the alarm. Obviously, we had no idea what the owner's password was, and without it they would have had to send the fire department. We were finally able to get in touch with the owner and come up with the password, but the whole situation could have been avoided with some clear instructions.
Don’t show an exterior view of your home from the road. While we recommend that you include an exterior photo in your listing, it doesn’t have to compromise the security of your home. If your home is easily identifiable from the street, consider using an exterior shot of the back of your home instead. Many owners, especially those with homes in urban areas, will want to carefully choose an exterior photo of their home that doesn’t scream “X marks the spot.”
Low-Cost Security Devices
Timers on lights. You can purchase indoor/outdoor timers for as little as $10, and they can help give the appearance that people are inside even if the house is empty or discourage someone from snooping around where they would be visible.
Window locks. Window locks are pretty easy to install and can provide added safety, especially for first-floor windows.
A “Beware of dog” sign. Placing a “beware of dog” sign outside your home could serve as an imitation security system. However, if you're concerned that this will make your renters uncomfortable, you could explain that it is a helpful landmark so that they can easily find your home.
Higher-Priced Security Investments
Security cameras. Some owners choose to set up outdoor cameras, or you can simply install dummy cameras around the perimeter of your home. This decoy might be enough to scare away a potential burglar. Just remember that webcams inside your home are highly inappropriate and likely illegal. If you choose to set up cameras outside (real or fake) be sure to have clear communication with your renters.
Alarm system. Some vacation destinations, particularly urban markets, might warrant investment in an alarm system. This added security might even be the deciding factor for some travelers, and there's a chance your insurance costs could decrease with the installation of a security system. If you choose to go this route, you will probably want to work with the monitoring company and inform them that you will have short-term renters in your home.
Another option is to go un-monitored, meaning an alarm will sound in the event of a break-in, but the security company is unaware and will not automatically contact the police. If that's the case, be sure to explain this to your guests and instruct them to call 911 in the event of a real emergency. Just remember that alarm systems can be difficult with renters, particularly changing the code after each guest, and you run the risk of fines for multiple false alarms.
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