By Brentnie Daggett
The holiday season is all about spending time with loved ones, and for many, this means traveling. There are certain precautions you should take whenever you leave your home for an extended period of time, but the holidays specifically tend to lead to an increase in home break-ins and stolen packages. Beyond theft and vandalism, vacant properties are also vulnerable to household catastrophes like frozen pipes or leaky sinks.
Here are some simple steps you can take to protect your property while you enjoy your vacation without worry:
Enlist the help of your neighbors.
Ask around to see if a neighbor or friend is staying in town for the holidays, and find someone who would be willing to keep tabs on things for you. If they're willing, have them do things like bring in your mail or park a car in your driveway to make it look like someone is home. If you'll be gone for an extended period of time, you may even want to ask if they could mow the lawn or shovel any walkways to deter thieves. If nothing else, have your neighbor or friend simply drive by your property each day to make sure nothing looks out of the ordinary and that there's nothing that needs immediate attention. Make sure whoever is helping you out has a copy of your itinerary and emergency contact information in case something comes up.
Be cautious on social media.
The holidays provide countless opportunities to share updates, photos and stories with your social media followers. Unfortunately, your friends and family aren't the only ones with Facebook and Instagram profiles. Several studies have shown that somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of burglars are using social media to find potential targets. Location tags and photos of your expensive new gifts can catch the wrong person's eye. Save the sharing for after you return home from your trip.
Invest in a timer for your lights.
Leaving a few lights on while you're away to make it look like someone is home is usually a good idea, but if you leave the lights on throughout your entire vacation, your electric bill will be an unwelcome surprise when you return. Purchase an automatic timer that'll turn the lights in your home on and off according to a programmed schedule. Unplug any other appliances that won't be in use while you're gone to further save on the electric bill—think computers, televisions, coffee makers and toasters. Be sure to inspect any holiday lights or wiring, and consider unplugging them before you leave town. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, December is the most popular month for electrical fires. Keep an eye out for frayed cords, cracked bulbs or faulty wiring to prevent any accidental fires.
Protect your pipes.
If you live in a cold climate, you need to prevent your pipes from freezing while you're away. Frozen pipes can crack and burst, which will translate to a lot of water pouring into your home in a short amount of time. Make sure your pipes are properly insulated, and leave the heat on low to prevent pipes from freezing. If you've recruited a friend or neighbor to keep an eye on things, have them turn on the faucet every couple of days—if only a few drops of water come out, your pipes may be frozen. Also, be sure to show them where the main water shutoff is located in case of a burst pipe. It never hurts to take a quick look at your other major appliances, such as washing machines or water heaters, to confirm everything is working correctly before you leave.
Keep your insurance up-to-date.
Whether you're a homeowner or a landlord, insurance exists to protect you from those worst-case scenarios. If something does go wrong while you're away, insurance can help you repair or replace the damages. Landlords: Your renters still may not understand the benefits of renters insurance, including the replacement of stolen items or even their car. Many landlords and property management companies even require renters insurance in their lease terms. With the holidays approaching and many renters traveling home to family, it's a great time of year to remind them of the importance of renters insurance if they don't already have it. Homeowners: Be sure your insurance is up-to-date before you take off on any vacations to make sure your home and your belongings are protected.
The holidays are a time to celebrate and relax with loved ones, so don't spend the season worrying about your home. With some simple precautions in place, your property will be set up for safety, and you can spend your holiday season focusing on what really matters.