Do’s & Don’ts…Of Opening Your Home To The Public

At some point in a homeowner’s life, there comes a time when they decide to open up their house to others.  It could be a party or event, but more often than not, it’s when they decide to sell their home.  It seems a simple enough process:  List the house for sale with an agent, spruce it up, have buyers come over, it sells, you move.  As my six-year-old would say, “easy-peesy lemon-squeezy.”

But it’s never that easy, and there are some serious dangers to an open house (or even opening your house up to the public; i.e. a neighborhood party or event) and you should take precautions to protect yourself.  In the past few years, real estate agents have been attacked, abducted, and worse.  Homeowners are also being made targets and we all need to be hyper-vigilant in protecting our-selves, our families, our identities, our valuables, and our homes.  Get an expert. So what do you do if you’re opening your house to the public?  Well, for starters, hire a reputable agent/agency.  Your first line of defense is the public face of your listing.  If you are conducting an open house, it is suggested that more than one agent be present to keep an eye on people coming and going.  It is suggested that they have a sign-in sheet and check the identification of visitors to make sure the names provided match the identification.  This is a simple step and it’s not too intrusive.  Another possible safety measure is to stagger visitors’ entry into the home.  Provide a guided tour or limit the number of visitors in the house at any given time.  This controls the flow of people and makes the situation more easily monitored.  If you’re opening your home for a party or event, make sure that you have someone solely dedicated to monitoring people and activities.  This can be a friend, a hired party planner or security.  It should not be you, as you’ll be distracted; after all, it’s your party, right?

Don’t Get Personal. The world we live in is different from the one in which we grew up.  People with bad intentions can now stalk you, not only in person but online.  You don’t want you or your family being targeted. The best defense to this is not giving them any information. Take down family photos. If you’re selling your home, you’ll have to take them down eventually anyway.  Take down trophies, extracurricular awards, school awards, diplomas, and other honors, particularly if they’re your children’s awards that identify where they attend school or other activity locations.  Take down calendars that identify your family’s schedule or appointments.  You don’t want people knowing where you’re going to be on any specific day.  That’s when things happen.

It’s Not Over Until It’s Over. At the conclusion of the open house or the event, have the agents/person(s) and yourself walk through the home together.  The more the merrier.  Confirm that everyone is out. Check attics, basements, closets, garages.  Also, it is important to make sure that all doors and windows (garage too) are securely locked. Quite often, a criminal will enter the home, open a lower window or unlock an out-of-the-way door, and then return at a later time to rob the property. Protecting our-selves, our families, our identities, our valuables, and our homes.

Get an Expert. So what do you do if you’re opening your house to the public?  Well, for starters, hire a reputable agent/agency.  Your first line of defense is the public face of your listing.  If you are conducting an open house, it is suggested that more than one agent be present to keep an eye on people coming and going.  It is suggested that they have a sign-in sheet and check the identification of visitors to make sure the names provided match the identification.  This is a simple step and it’s not too intrusive.  Another possible safety measure is to stagger visitors’ entry into the home.  Provide a guided tour or limit the number of visitors in the house at any given time.  This controls the flow of people and makes the situation more easily monitored.  If you’re opening your home for a party or event, make sure that you have someone solely dedicated to monitoring people and activities.  This can be a friend, a hired party planner or security.  It should not be you, as you’ll be distracted; after all, it’s your party, right?

Just Say No to Drugs. One of the most common types of thefts that take place at any home open to the public is people taking medications.  We never think to secure our family’s medications.  Not only are some medications highly sought after, but other medications will be taken simply because of opportunity and their value.  Painkillers (morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, Demerol), depressants (Nembutal, Valium, Xanax), and stimulants sometimes used in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Ritalin, Dexedrine, Concerta, Adder-all) are prime targets for people.  Viagra, Cialis, and other medications are equally targeted because of their value on the secondary black market.  Even over-the-counter cough medications that contain codeine should be safely stored away.

There’s Gold in Them Hills. Obviously, it is wise to store jewelry, and valuables away in a safe and secure place. Also consider storing away valuable documents. Checkbooks (re-member those?), credit card statements, banking account statements, 401K statements, pay stubs, electrical and utility bills, along with other financial and banking documents should be securely stored.  These documents carry confidential information that should not be left out in the open.  Identity theft is rampant and these documents can create the foundation for people to steal from you.  And while you’re at it, store away your laptop, Ipad, tablet and any other valuable electronic device. The Key is Key Gaining access to your home is easy, particularly if you leave spare sets of keys hanging on the key hook or in the proverbial “junk” drawer that we all keep.  Garage keys (and spare openers), shed keys, summer home keys, car keys are targets for the opportunist.  Store them away before they “walk” away….only to return later.

Shut It Down. We live our lives online.  All sorts of personal information can be stored on our computers.  To access it, any opportunist can just open your computer up to your browser and see where you were last. If you didn’t clear your history or your cache, they can easily find confidential information.  So do yourself a favor and shut your computer off.  Don’t simply put it to sleep, or just turn off the monitor, or close the laptop (which should have been safely stored away already), but actually shut it down.  The time it takes to for a computer to start up (even today’s rocket-fast computers) is too long for an opportunist, who only wants to quickly (for fear of getting caught) rifle through your electronic files looking for information.

Bottom Line. My warnings today are just that:  warnings. Something…or nothing might happen. But why take the chance?  We all need to be aware and take pre-cautions.  What do you have to lose?  Opening your house to the public, whether it’s a party, event, or sale of your home, should be an enjoyable, carefree time.  Only with the proper planning and prevention can you truly relax and rest assured that your home is safe.  So hire a professional, make a plan, pack up your personals and open your doors wide to friends, family, and even strangers. You’ll sleep well at night and feel better that you did.

[blockquote class=blue]Brian Levine is the Broker-age Manager for Houlihan Lawrence’s Irvington and Ardsley offices.  A former litigation attorney and adjunct college communication professor, he can be reached at blevine@houlihanlawrence.com[/blockquote]

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