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If you can make your home look occupied you will reduce the odds of break ins, squatting, and other unpleasant trouble. In recent weeks a vacant home near mine in east Los Gatos has been broken into repeatedly, resulting in significant damage to that property.

There are a few things that can be done to dissuade uninvited visitors, and today we’ll go over some of them.  The main question is how to make it look like you’re home when you’re not.


Collage of items to make your home look occupied: gardener's truck, programmable light timers, simple light timers, and "beware of" signs


First, before you invest any time or money, go and meet and talk with your neighbors. Share contact info. They may be your best allies in keeping your home safe. If something happens, they will be able to alert you and the police.  And now onto the tips – how to make your home less attractive to burglars and other unwanted intruders.

How to make your home look occupied – a few basic tips (many are low or no cost)

  • Keep the front yard looking tidy.
    • Mow the lawn (or weed) and at least keep it green!
    • Hire a gardener and make sure the sprinklers are on automatic timers. Nothing screams “vacant house” as much as tall, dead weeds or wildly overgrown bushes in the front yard. Simple “mow and blow” gardeners doing just the front yard are not too costly. Side benefit: your neighbors will appreciate this, too, as weeds in your yard will easily spread to theirs. Be a good neighbor for your sake and for theirs.
    • Add extra landscape lighting. Even standalone solar lights are helpful.
  • Use timers!
    • Put lights on timers. These are inexpensive and  some are programmable timers. You can do this with front porch lights as well as lamps on timers indoors.
    • Put a radio or TV on a timer also. The home needs to have some sound and light. A fake tv light can be convincing from the street!
    • There are smart home devices which can also be set up to open and close curtains or blinds. At a minimum, do this for street-facing first floor windows (unless it’s a bathroom window).
  • If rooms are visible from the front yard or sidewalk, it’s important that they be furnished. If that’s not feasible, use sheer curtains on those windows so that light comes through but visibility is close to nil.
  • Ask a neighbor, if you aren’t nearby, to please pick up fliers that sales people leave on your front door or porch. You might be able to hire a nearby middle schooler to periodically check on the front porch to make sure that nothing is accumulating.
  • If possible, have a car parked in the driveway as this is a great way to make your home look occupied. If your neighbors have too many cars, they may be happy to do this.
  • Consider adding alarm stickers or signs or perhaps a Beware of Dog sign.


Other deterrents and ideas

After you make your home look occupied, there are a few other things you can do to your home less attractive to the wouldbe burglars.

  • The Los Gatos Monte Sereno Police Department can do checks on your home through the Community Policing volunteers if you are going to be away on vacation.
  • For front door sidelight windows, consider adding a translucent, removable privacy film if you  have clear glass. This is very  inexpensive.
  • Be sure to stop mail delivery. If your community gets “free” papers each week, ask for them to skip your address.
  • Do not close all the curtains and simply leave them closed at all times.
  • Lock your gate. Some thieves will hop the fence, but it will put at least some of them off.

Alarms and Cameras

Ring video doorbellAlarms and cameras may dissuade break ins or they may not, but at least they can alert you so that you can call the police and address it before more damage is done.

There are several fairly inexpensive video doorbells and camera systems (Eufy,  Ring, Nest, among others) and many home security camera systems out there.

Some of these have communities who share incidents in the neighborhood and folks can help report things, too. And some, like Ring, can add an alarm feature to it.

Standalone alarms are a wise investment if you have a home that will be vacant, too. There are many choices of providers and options to consider.

If you are going to be gone for a long time, and the home is habitable, you might consider hiring a house sitter. Some may have their own furniture and others may need a furnished house.  You could also rent the home out, depending on the reason it’s unoccupied and for how long.

Insurance considerations

Homeowners insurance companies have varying policies on vacant homes (how soon are they categorized as such, and whether or not having furniture inside causes it to not be considered vacant).  Many insurance companies require that you inform them if the home becomes unoccupied for a period of time (often 30 or 60 days). If it’s furnished and someone stays there occasionally, it may not be dubbed as vacant – but it might be. You’ll need to ask.

If your policy is canceled, it can be hard to get new insurance. Allstate and State Farm are no longer writing new policies in California.

Homeowners who are in the process of selling a house need to be judicious about keeping their insurance in place. If damage happens to the house in escrow, the sellers must repair or replace it, even in an “as is” sale. It’s “as is” as on the date the contract was accepted.

    • The worst case scenario is if a home burns to the ground and there’s no insurance. The seller then will need to pay to rebuild that house for the buyer! At about $500 per square foot, that is very expensive indeed!

If you can make your home look occupied, the odds will improve that you won’t have intruders. This is true even in occupied homes (see the Neighborhood Watch post link below).

Unoccupied homes are more at risk

As Silicon Valley Realtors, we often sell homes that are vacant. We know first hand that an empty home can be too enticing to burglars (there’s always something to steal!), kids who want to party, and to squatters. It’s expensive and time consuming to evict the uninvited if they have moved in and to repair damage, and even insurance coverage for repairs includes a deductible and perhaps more expensive premiums in the future.

Whether you’re selling your home, away on a long vacation, or preparing to gut and remodel a home that you just bought, or one you are going to flip, you do not want intruders (and neither do your neighbors!), so please employ some of these tips if you’re not doing so already to make your home look occupied.


Related reading (on safety)

Neighborhood watch meeting at Belwood of Los Gatos after several break ins (of occupied homes)

Defensible space for fire resistance (on this site)

Blossom Hill Road Fatalities (on this site)