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San Carlos Real Estate August 10, 2011

The Ugly Side of Open Houses.

by Chuck Gillooley

Protect Your Home.

Despite all of the technological advances in how homes are marketed for sale, the venerable open house remains one of the most convenient and effective ways to get your home in front of the largest group of buyers.  Seeing the home in person creates that visceral connection for buyers that simply cannot be replicated on any website.  It’s still a must-do if you expect to sell your home.  But there’s an ugly side to open houses:

Some people who come through your open house have absolutely no intention of buying your home — or any home, for that matter.

Unfortunately, open houses have become a target-rich environment for thieves.   And why not?  Why run the risk of breaking into a house to steal something when you can just walk right through an open front door?

Easy Pickings.

When I am viewing homes on broker’s tour or during the weekend open house hours, I am constantly amazed at the amount of personal (and valuable) items that are left unattended in plain sight.  iPhones, laptops, jewelry, and other collectible items are just a few things that are inexplicably sitting out in the open,  begging to be pocketed.

While open house thefts aren’t all that common yet in San Carlos, thieves have long targeted open houses in other areas — sometimes they steal items during the open house, and other times they use the “free tour” to set up the house for  a bigger hit later.  It’s as simple as scouting out a window and wedging it slightly ajar to provide access after everyone is gone.  And schemes have gotten more sophisticated too, with crooks working as pairs — one to distract the agent while the other rummages the house looking for valuables.

Homeowners aren’t the only ones who fall victim to open house crooks.  The real estate agents holding open the house, especially female agents with purses, have reported that their stuff has gone missing during a busy open house.  iPads, phones, and purses are easy grab-and-go items.

Valuables aren’t the only thing that are dangerous to leave out in the open.    At the average open house, there’s usually a treasure trove of personal information nailed to every wall for everyone to see.     Just last week, I left an open house knowing exactly where the sellers worked and what they studied in college.   I didn’t have to ask — college diplomas and work awards were plastered all over the home office.   You literally couldn’t miss it unless you closed your eyes.  Do you think that information might be useful to the agent who is getting ready to write an offer on the house?   Yep.

Put it Away.

The solution to this growing problem is simple — take it down, and put it away.  If your listing agent has done his or her job properly, they should have already coached you on de-cluttering your home to make it looks its best.  Use that opportunity to take down ALL personal items — family pictures, diplomas, work awards, etc.    For some reason, many home owners are reluctant to take this extra step because they’re still living in the home and they don’t want to “de-personalize” the house too much.  But in reality, you’re going to move anyway!  So pack it up now.

As far as valuables are concerned, it’s best if you can get them out of the house entirely.  If that’s not practical, an easy way to safeguard your things before an open house is to put them all in an inconspicuous cardboard box and stash it out of sight in the house — somewhere that would be very difficult to find.  Let your listing agent know where it is so that they can keep a close eye on it during the open house.    Remember, thieves are looking for an easy score.  They more difficult you make it for them, the less likely they’ll have the inclination to take anything.

The Bottom Line.

As with many things in life, common sense dictates here.  Don’t assume that everyone who is viewing your home has noble intentions.  Be smart with your personal belongings and valuables.   Open house thievery is still pretty rare in San Carlos…but so were car burglaries and tire slashings once upon a time, right?
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The Ugly Side of Open Houses., 5.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings
Comments 9
  • When we were selling our house in upstate New York, the real estate agent discreetly placed wireless webcams in every room along with a placard in a prominent place stating the intent. The whole setup was connected to our home network and recorded to her laptop.

    When the car break-ins and stolen cars occured near Highlands Park a few weeks ago, a few people chipped in to help a “geeky neighbor” install a webcam that gets motion triggered at night. It’s a neat, simple setup and the picture quality is excellent.

    The worst part is when we’ve had contractors working on our house while we were at work. We’ve had workers rummaging through our drawers, including my undergarments. It’s a sad state of affairs when you can’t trust people anymore.

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    • Wow, that really hit a button. We too had some suspicions that some construction workers were rummaging through our private stuff. It was kind of creepy since the contractor couldn’t vouch for his employees honesty.

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    • Yikes. That is indeed the creepy side of having your house accessible to others.

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  • We had our San Carlos/White Oaks home on the market last November (2010) during which time, someone entered an open house, dug through every one of my bureau drawers, under a thick stack of sweaters and into a nested box which contained my sapphire engagement ring (I wasn’t wearing it because I had JUST had a baby and it wasn’t fitting my swollen fingers). The person/people also made off with incredibly sentimental pieces (that otherwise had no market value). This was an expert job. My ring was plucked from the inner-most box and everything was put back just as it had been. It still sickens me to think about it. I wish I’d been forewarned to REMOVE my valuables from the premises. We changed realtors and successfully sold but this thief really shattered my trust that day. I hope karma finds its way. Thanks for bringing this to people’s attention. I did what I could to get the word out (even got a little spot on the news) but you can never warn people too many times.

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    • Nikki,

      Thanks for taking the time to share a personal story that I’m sure you’d prefer forget about. Seems like in some instances, even stashing valuables isn’t enough to deter some thieves.

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  • During our open house last week, someone stole our very expensive $400 home theatre remote. Our agent offered to replace it, but that’s not the point. I’m infuriated. Open houses need to be by appointment only, otherwise look at the virtual tour. To what extent do we lock every single thing up?

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    • Your sentiment is shared by many others in that they question the risk/reward tradeoff of open houses. Unfortunately, it’s still the easiest method to get your home in front of the largest group of buyers. Believe it or not, there are some lazy agents out there that simply won’t make the effort to show a property that’s “by appointment only.”

      You also reminded me of another class of items that gets lifted from properties quite frequently: prescription medications.

      Thanks for your comment.

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      • Chuck, you made me “laugh” on this one. My ED medicine ($300) worth was taken during our open house.

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  • This is very interesting – the one time I have moved, my old place was snapped up quickly and I had no need for an open house. But I’m always wary of leaving contractors alone, even in another room, and (as paranoid as it may sound) always endeavor to have my girlfriend or someone at home at those times.

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