Even with the favorable market today for rental property owners, it’s likely that you will have a property that spends at least a little time unoccupied.
During the first few weeks you, or your property management company, will be spending plenty of time at the property readying it for (and showing it to) prospective tenants. However, if those weeks turn to months, how often are people actually paying a visit to the property? Could your forgotten rental be more popular than you realize?
Unfortunately, some people with less than honorable intentions are taking notice, and advantage, of the vacant properties in their neighborhoods. It seems that police are seeing a rise in instances of people, most often teenagers, breaking in to vacant properties in order to throw rowdy parties. They use social networking sites to indiscriminately invite anyone in the area and charge an entrance fee to make a quick buck. You can read of one such account in Concord, CA that was luckily broken up just as it started. If you’re in a similar situation, don’t count on luck to keep your property safe, let’s take a look at how you can actively protect your properties.
Know your neighbors around your vacant rental
The only reason why the property in the article referenced above was not trashed was because a neighbor knew it was supposed to be vacant and noticed the front door was open.
Unfortunately, altruistic neighbors are often few and far between, especially when rental properties are concerned. Sure, your neighbors will know your property is vacant by the “for rent” sign in its yard, but unless they know you, they have no motivation to report anything suspicious until it begins to affect them.
By the time they make a call about the ruckus next-door, your property has already been trashed. That’s why it’s a good idea to introduce yourself to the property’s neighbors. Let them know when you expect the property to be vacant for a while and enlist their help to keep it safe. Even if you don’t have a vacant property, being on good terms with the neighbors can be beneficial to you both.
After all, you and your neighbors probably want the same thing for the property and neighborhood. Let them know they can contact you if there’s anything peculiar going on or if the tenants aren’t fulfilling their obligations to keep the property looking good. Not only will you ensure they’ll have a friendly chat with you instead of passive-aggressively reporting some offense to the city or police, but they’ll also be more likely to want to help you out if you’ve made an effort to be a good neighbor yourself.
Invest in security for your vacant rental
No matter how well your neighbors are helping you look out for your property, they can’t be watching it at all times. That’s why I recommend installing some sort of security system.
There are many choices available at all sorts of price and aggravation levels. The simplest “system” is a non-monitored alarm that is basically two magnets and a speaker. Install them on any entryway and if the window or door is opened then the alarm will sound. It’s cheap, but not very effective if the person breaking in has never seen one before.
The next step up is a system you install yourself made up of motion detectors. These can be monitored and hooked up to either a hard-wired phone line or cell phone. They allow for the security of a monitored solution with the convenience of a temporary installation. Lastly, you have your typical monitored security system, installed and monitored by a local branch of a large national company.
Personally, I would recommend one of the monitored solutions — counting on just noise to scare an intruder off when a property is obviously vacant seems a bit naive to me.
One of the big-brand security systems might be a good idea if you think it would be desirable and marketable to your prospective tenants. Otherwise, a portable system that you could setup and pay monitoring for only when needed might be preferable, especially if you have multiple properties.
Honestly, how many leads do you get nowadays from someone just driving by your property?
My guess is there’s a significant percentage of landlords that fill their vacancies entirely from other forms of marketing. If your property is located in an area where a rental sign wouldn’t be easily noticed, or if your target tenant is practically guaranteed to only search online, perhaps you can ditch the sign and make the property look occupied. After all, like most criminals, these hooligans are looking for the easiest target. In that case, removing the rental sign and turning a light on is probably enough to get you passed over.
However, I’ll admit that it may seem a little risky to remove a form of marketing for a property that is sitting vacant for any amount of time, so only consider this option if it feels right for your particular situation.
Of these three ideas, I think getting to know your neighbors is a great idea whether you think your property is in any danger or not. It never hurts to have a few more sets of eyes looking over what amounts to much, if not all, of your livelihood. Along the same lines, installing a security system can add value to the property while providing some additional peace of mind.
No matter what you do, don’t forget to pay some attention to that vacant property. Otherwise, someone else just might.