Why Burglars Love Open Houses & Virtual Tours

Thinking about having an open house or creating a virtual tour to sell your home?  Be careful not to reveal to much about your house.  Not only do open houses, virtual tours, brochures, and MLS pictures  attract buyers, but if you reveal too many details, you could be advertising to thieves and burglars too.  Thieves love virtual tours and MLS pictures because they can be used to “case” your house from the comfort of the thief’s home.   Follow these tips to reduce your exposure and prevent your marketing activities from attracting the wrong type of shopper?

Do Your Fliers, Brochures, Virtual Tours and MLS Pictures Create a Robbery Shopping List?

Before publishing any MLS photo, Virtual Tour or brochure, make sure the photos do not reveal:

  • anything worth stealing, like jewelry, valuables, etc., and show where they are located
  • a complete inventory of things easily accessible in your garage
  • the location of your alarm sensors, sirens, keypad, or show where the system is located
  • the location of your phone lines or electrical panel
  • anything that reveals personal information about you or your children
  • any unlocked access such as a “doggie door”
  • great burglar hiding places to hide while observing your home
  • the garage door opener emergency release cord which should be removed regardless of door type
  • where ladders or useful tools are stored

Just How Open Is Your Open House?

Want to avoid getting ripped off during an open house?  Before your next open house, be sure you:

  • lockup or remove all small items that thieves like to steal such as jewelry, cellphones, notebooks, iPads, iPods, etc.
  • remove all bills, checkbooks, mail, and any piece of information that could be used for identity theft
  • make your agent record the names and contact information of all open house visitors
  • place a video camera in your home to record visitor activity
  • lockup or remove your prescription drugs
  • do not leave any cash or checks laying around
  • be sure to password protect your PC and lockup all backup tapes and media, especially USB drives and external backup disks
  • remove all items of interest from your garage and tool shed
  • check all locks to make sure they haven’t been tampered with after the open house
  • remove all keys from the house.  Don’t just hide them.
  • trim all bushes and eliminate hiding spots
  • keep outdoor lights on all night long

Remember, when you post something on the Internet or in a public place, all types of people will be looking at it.  Not everybody has the best of intentions so you need to be careful.  While you’re looking at your house from a buyer’s point-of-view, you might also look at it from a burglar’s perspective too.  Be sure to ask your agent what precautions they will take to safeguard your house.

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15 thoughts on “Why Burglars Love Open Houses & Virtual Tours

  1. Very good list. What would also be informative is a similar list if you are visiting an open house: Be prepared to sign in and possibly show photo ID.

    • Jane:
      I agree. That is also a great idea, especially if you had a business card scanner to take an image of the ID. Great for lead capture but also great deterrent to crime.

  2. Whew! This is very scary. Thanks for the tip. We are planning to do this since we are selling our house in a few weeks from now.

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing these tips, Bill. It’s important to be smart about the way you present your home when it’s on the market. Nice job covering the safe way to showcase a home.

  4. We have been involved on this project for a while. It doesn’t impact security during a showing, but it does have an impact with photos remaining online after the home is sold!

  5. Bill, we are renters & our landlord just put our house on the market. We are a little leary of putting pics if our things (tv, pictures, china, appliances etc) in the house on-line (MLS & Redfin/Zillow). Anything we can do? Release form, waiver or insurance rider?



    • Yes, my advice to tenants and home owners alike. Either remove your valuables or buy a safe, bolt it to the floor and lock them up. I’d definitely have renters insurance, and take lots of pictures of the items in the house. Videos are best because you pick up more items as you pan the camera. I’d also photograph serial numbers of your TV, and easily pawned equipment. Also lock up all your phone chargers and accessories. Leave nothing out that can be easily stolen. The prospective buyers will be roaming the house on their own. Assume their agent will be waiting for them in the living room while they roam. Lock up all pills too. Don’t leave anything out on the counters, don’t leave jewelry or money, etc. Strip the house before the MLS pictures are taken. Remove anything from sight that someone might want to steal. No use advertising your stuff on MLS. Focus mainly on small pocketable stuff. The other agent isn’t going to let them carry out a TV, but the buyer might unlock the back door and return after the showing, before you come home.

      You can also buy cameras and put them in the rooms of value and record the whole showing.

  6. Not only for the safety of the home owner, but also for the safety of the realtor, every open house should have security cameras in all areas of the home during ALL Open House tours, and also other private showings if the owner agrees. Make sure that signs are posted where they are obvious that the cameras are in place and that all those who tour will be monitored. This might discouraged those who are looking for opportunity. It’s sad our world has had to become so untrusting, but I don’t think any true potential buyer would be offended, since we already are monitored everywhere we go.

    • At least posting a camera in the entry so everyone coming in is photographed. People are more honest when they know they can be connected to the location. Cameras in every room may turn off buyers since they think the cameras are there to record their conversations and reactions.

  7. Is there a record of a burglar actually selecting a house from the Online Virtual Tour or Still Photos?

    • It’s not so much a choice between virtual tours vs still photos, it’s what’s in the photos that matters. However, with still photos, you have less chance of something important sneaking into the picture like you would a virtual tour pan across a room. You don’t want to show windows without locks, alarm pads, alarm sensors, easy to open doors, or hiding places in the yard where someone can hide. You also don’t want to show where valuables are so don’t show a picture of the safe or lockbox.

  8. We read this article after the fact but our house was just burglarized during an open house over the weekend and they stole some of our Christmas presents. Fortunately we did move most of them out of the house before we vacated but unfortunately some stuff was left out and, sure enough, it was taken. We had our security cameras positioned to see who was coming in our house but there were no cameras in the room where the items were taken therefore we were unable to identify the burglar. We filed a police report just for reference in order to potentially help the police identify any patterns of the similar crime in our area but we know they’ll more than likely never be caught. Because the items were only $250 in value, it’s not worth an insurance claim and even if the burglars were caught, it would be a misdemeanor in the State of California.

    • File the crime. If you have cameras, then you probably have a photo of the burglar. Keep in mind that it’s a misdemeanor if $250 is all that’s stolen, but if the police get a warrant to search their house and uncover $1000s worth of items, the sentence may be heavier. So sorry you had to deal with this. Was it an open house or a showing? Do you know when? I’d have your agent get on the phone with all the agents that showed the house and start making out a suspect list.

      Personally, I’m vindictive. I’d report it no matter how small.

  9. Are there any documented cases of burglars using the MLS Photos or Virtual Tours to select a home for robbery? Or is this an Urban Myth?

    • I’m not sure if there are any documented cases. However, considering how accessible MLS pictures are nowadays, why wouldn’t a burglar want to case out a house online? While looking at MLS pictures and virtual tours, you can see the layout of the room, and plan your attack. You can also see how nicely the owners have furnished it. Nice furnishings indicate nice valuables. Some MLS pictures even show cars in the garage. Flashy cars indicate flashy valuables. While I’m not aware of any robberies credited to MLS photos or virtual tours, I do know that there are cases of open house robberies. There was a string of them in my area a few years ago.

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