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Holiday home safety: What to do when you leave your house ‘Home Alone’

home safety tips
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Dec. 26, 2017.

For many homeowners, holiday season is crime season. When property crimes occur from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, it’s often a crime of opportunity. It’s that time of year when most of us are busy, distracted, or traveling away from home.

How safe is your home — really?

The good news: The FBI’s latest crime statistics confirm that property crimes decreased by 2.6 percent from 2014 to 2015. And yet, annual losses are still estimated at $14.3 billion.

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Things are looking up for us overall, but it’s still hard to hide from the cold, hard facts of home security. “On average, a burglary occurs every 20 seconds in the United States,” Sage Singleton, home safety expert from SafeWise, qualifies. “As such, it’s essential to safeguard your home — especially during peak holiday seasons.”

The better news: You can enjoy the hustle and bustle of the holidays without looking over your shoulder, when you take a few precautions first.

Got questions about buying a house or your existing mortgage? We’d love to get you some answers.

14 smart ways to protect your home around the holidays

Short of setting booby-traps for burglars, there’s plenty you can do to keep your home and your belongings safe:

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1. Unpack your car at night.

home safety tips

Before you even leave on vacation, your car could be vulnerable to a break-in. Thieves know that we do lots of shopping during the holidays, Jonas Sickler of ConsumerSafety.org tells us. “So, never leave anything in a car overnight. Even if gifts are in the trunk, they may not be safe,” he says.

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2. Remember to lock your doors.

home safety tips

It’s simple enough, but we all forget to do it from time to time. Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, tells us that he recommends all homeowners take this basic precaution throughout the holidays (even when you’re at home, and it’s still light outside). This also means keeping all windows locked, including those on the second floor.

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3. Ask a neighbor to watch your house.

home safety tips

Don’t forget to pay them back the favor in return. According to Singleton, it’s important to communicate frequently with neighbors during the holidays. “Whether you’re going out of town or are simply away at work, let a trusted neighbor know your plans. That way, they can report anything suspicious to either you or the cops,” she says.

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4. Put away the spare key.

home safety tips

Or, give it to your neighbor for safe-keeping. As long as you don’t hide it in plain sight. “Let’s be honest: Everyone knows your spare key is under the mat — or in that fake rock — which is why it’s the easiest way for a trespasser to get into your home while your family is away on holiday,” Frank Guido, CMO at MONI Smart Security, says. “If you absolutely must keep a spare key in a hidden spot, there are several doorknob-hanging safes that you can lock the key in, preventing anyone without the code from accessing.”

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5. Keep quiet about your travels on social media.

home safety tips

Especially if your profiles are public. “While we all want to post about our upcoming holiday vacation or weekend plans, it’s important to post with caution,” Singleton says. “Social media gives everyone, including strangers, a clear view into your world, leaving you vulnerable and exposed. Wait until after a vacation to post pictures and don’t ‘check in’ at a hotel or airport. This will keep you and your home safe while you are away.”

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6. Hold your mail.

home safety tips

This classic anti-crime tip works for a reason — a pile of mail in the mailbox indicates you’re not at home. And yes, this includes the many, many Amazon Prime boxes piling up at your doorstep. Sickler says, “Have packages delivered to a work address so they aren’t sitting out on a porch for someone to grab. Mail theft goes up during the holidays because people are hoping to find cards stuffed with cash. An easy way to deter thieves is to buy a locking mailbox.”

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7. Hire a handyman.

home safety tips

Just like a fully-loaded mailbox that hasn’t been checked, your absence will be obvious when snow begins to build up around your house. Sickler recommends hiring or asking someone to shovel the sidewalk, brush off your car, and walk up and down the steps if you’re going to be gone during the snowy months. This will make your house look lived-in.

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8. Lock up your valuables and sensitive documents.

home safety tips

Preferably, secure them in a fire-proof safe. To add a little extra protection, Siciliano suggests keeping curtains and blinds closed. Simple as it may be, closing the curtains can prevent passersby from checking out your valuables through your windows.

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9. Set your lights on timers.

home safety tips

Or, control them remotely using an app. Home automation makes it extremely easy to secure your home, Singleton explains. “You can use your smartphone to check in on your home while away,” she says.

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10. Beef up your security system.

home safety tips

Beyond smartphone-automated lights, Singleton suggests installing indoor and outdoor cameras and a security system to keep your home safe. “It also makes it easier to catch a burglar in the act if someone happens to break into your home or steal packages off your front door,” she says. “Homes without security are 300 percent more likely to be targeted by burglars.”

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11. Put up some signage.

home safety tips

“Beware of dog” may scare some people off, but a home security company’s sign posted in the front yard works even better. “Criminals look for easy targets,” Sickler says. “If your home seems protected, they will move on to another home. The easiest thing you can do is to place a home security sign in the yard, or in a window.” It may not be the most attractive holiday decoration, but it will bring peace of mind to the season.

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12. Load up the car in the garage.

home safety tips

Quite unlike the movie Home Alone, you don’t want to make a big spectacle of packing up your car to head to the airport before the holidays. Guido recommends packing suitcases into the trunk from the security of your garage. “Transporting suitcases back and forth from the house to the car can tip off anyone watching that you are leaving town,” he says.

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13. Turn on some music.

home safety tips

OK, OK, this one does come straight from the pages of Kevin McAllister’s playbook. Along with the automated lights, Guido suggests turning on music when you’re going to be out of town. “Your house is much safer from theft if potential intruders believe someone is home. A great deterrent to an intruder is noise coming from the house.” Fortunately, he says, “Many smart-home providers enable timing systems that keep your televisions and radios on a timed schedule to go on and off throughout the day.”

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14. Cover your entry points.

home safety tips

Siciliano says that when most homeowners Google “door kicked in,” along with their city and state, they’re shocked by what they see. Even with a stringent home security system, it’s still possible for a thief to make forcible entry through a window or front door. For this reason, Siciliano recommends taking extra precaution by guarding your entry points with a high-level reinforcement device, like the Door Devil. That way, you can leave home for Christmas vacation feeling extra-safe.

We care a lot about keeping your home secure, and we care just as much about your mortgage. First-time homebuyer? We can help you find out how much you prequalify for in just a few minutes. Homeowner? We’ll let you know if you can save money on your monthly payments with a home loan refinance. Whatever your mortgage needs may be, count on the fact that we’ve got your back.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.