Last month it emerged that a Romanian man had returned to his holiday home to find it had disappeared and a cornfield had taken its place. He believes it had been dismantled piece by piece and stolen. Now this event is an extreme example, but it does remind us that the holiday homes we seek summertime refuge in can be just as unsafe as our homes.
1 out of 5 British people own a holiday home abroad, according to a Right Move survey published by The Telegraph from late last year. The most popular destinations for Brit’s buying abroad are probably not much of a surprise with France, Spain and the USA topping the table respectively, with over 60% situated in France and Spain alone.
It can be easy when holidaying or moving to a different country to forget that the basic rules of home security still apply. Although burglary rates in mainland European countries are much lower, there are obviously still risks. In fact the rural homes we buy in the Mediterranean and southern France may be more at risk because of their isolation. In France it is indeed common practice for insurers to demand windows are covered by shutters in rural areas because of this.
There are generally two types of ‘holiday home owners’, those who buy to rent and those who buy for their own leisure. At Safe, we spoke to our security expert Anthony Neary about the risks we incur and what we can do as homeowners to protect ourselves.
If your property is for your own enjoyment, the chances are it will be kept vacant for extended periods of time. As such there are risks to the safety of your property. A burglar is by enlarge an opportunist and if they pass a property that looks empty or that is in disrepair, they are more likely to take a risk on entering it. This is why it’s important to make sure your property looks occupied and is well maintained.
- Hang a towel or piece of clothing from a balcony or window. By doing so you make it look as if it’s drying, to make the house seem occupied.
- Make friends with your neighbours. Let them know your schedule. Tell them when you arrive and when you leave. This way they’ll be able to tell if somebody’s there who shouldn’t be. They could also help with basic maintenance.
Put some children’s toys in the garden. It again can make the property look occupied but also indicates a family lives there. Families have typically unpredictable schedules which may deter a thief, if he doesn’t want to get caught in the act.
- Find out if the Police can help. French police recently launched ‘Opération Tranquillité Vacances’, a scheme where holiday home owners can sign up to have their houses checked regularly during summer months by police.
Anthony’s Top Tip
“Ask a friend or neighbour to park in your driveway while you’re not there. Keep the property tidy and ideally have someone mow the lawn now and again.”
With rental properties the risks are different. Unlike with a leisure property your home will (hopefully) be occupied for most of the year. However, as you probably don’t know the people there it is still wise to take security precautions. With the rise of the popularity in sites like AirBnB (over 10 million people have used the service to date) you may also be opening up your own home to people.
- How many keys are available and who has access? If you’re buying a new property that has been used for rental before you must be sure of how many keys there are and who has them. If you can’t be sure then change the locks.
- Invest in a coded key cabinet. This means you can safely store keys and customers can easily access them if you’re unavailable in person.
- Make holidaymakers aware of security. Making guests aware of precautions you take means they can lock all doors and windows when they are out of the house and keep it as safe as you would.
- Install a home safe in the building. Having a safe available means you can either store your own valuables securely whole you’re away or residents can use it while they’re staying.
- Be wary of online promotion. Be careful when actively promoting your house’s availability online if renting it out. Letting your customers know when your property available is also letting potential thieves know the same so be wary.
- Check Guest Reviews. If you’re allowing guests in to your home on a site like AirBnB, check the guest’s reviews. On community based sites like this, guests are reviewed in a similar manner to the hosts so you know what other hosts have to say about prospective guests.
Anthony’s Top Tip
“Use locks/keys that can only be duplicated with a code card. This means tenants cannot make copy keys without the card.”
The best way to look after a holiday home or rental property is to treat it as you would your permanent residence. If it is vacant for long periods of time think about how you would protect your own home if you were on holiday and apply the same rules. If you’re renting it out to holiday makers using services like AirBnB then treat the process with due care and remember that as with any strangers, although the majority of people are not there to commit crimes, we should be vigilant about the possibility of those who are.
Fact: Burglaries in rural holiday homes in France went up by 18% percent last year. Areas like the Dordogne, where thousands of Brits have homes, were hard hit.1
Fact: Burglary levels in Spain were about half the rate of those in the UK in 2012.2
Fact: The safest city in the US in 2014 according to FBI statistics was Franklin, Massachusetts with a robbery rate around 5 times less than the US average. 3