How thieves use property portals to rob your home, and what you can do to stop it
Let’s be honest: we are all at it. The British obsession with house prices and convenience of smartphone apps means we have become a nation of property portal addicts.
Some visitors to the property portals such as Rightmove.co.uk, OnTheMarket and Zoopla.co.uk may be genuinely looking to buy, others simply enjoying nosing around neighbouring homes.
Unfortunately though, some of the 8 billion visits made to one of these websites every year have more sinister reasons – they're scouting houses to rob them.
It’s true that these sites are undoubtedly the best way to market your home, but they have also become an effective resource for criminals, thanks to the plethora of photos, floor plans and satellite images, and shrewd burglars are using that to their advantage.
Thanks to the floor plan often included on the site, a thief can gain confidence on how to move smoothly through the home
How do they do it?
When looking at the photos of a house on a property portal, criminals study the internal pictures of houses to gauge the valuables potentially on offer. Thanks to the floor plan often included on the site, a thief can gain confidence on how to move smoothly through the home, highlighting any threats, for instance dogs or security systems. Studying this means a thief can streamline the process to ensure they’re in and out in a matter of minutes.
Google Street View also means that with just one click of the mouse, a criminal can check out the proximity of neighbours and ease of access and escape routes.
Even if your home isn’t on the market you could be at risk
It’s worth noting that, even if your home isn't for sale at the moment, you could be at risk. If the property was sold in the last few years, there’s a good chance it would have appeared online and the images may still be available for other people to see.
What to do to protect yourself
If you're looking to put your home up for sale, there’s no denying that photography is possibly the most significant marketing tool in your arsenal. But what can you do to protect yourself without affecting any potential sales?
When it comes to taking photos, ask your estate agent to avoid pictures that would give too much away or could tempt thieves.
Avoid shots which reveal anything worth stealing, the location of your security alarm and sensors, or the inside of your garage.
While it may sound obvious, don't photograph anything that might give away personal information – for instance, a family calendar in the kitchen or school photos of your children.
If in any doubt, approve the photos that the agent uses before they get posted on the portal.
When it comes to potential buyers viewing your property there are also common-sense steps you can take to reduce risks.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity dedicated to increasing personal safety, advises homeowners who are selling through an estate agent to confirm that the identities of all potential viewers’ will be checked before entering your home and will be accompanied on the tour.
If you live alone or are alone in the property for most of the day, it’s worth considering not having a ‘for sale’ sign outside. This will mean you don’t have ‘buyers’ turning up on your doorstep asking to be shown around unexpectedly.
What’s more, after potential buyers have looked around your property, double-check all windows and doors are still locked as some canny criminals will feign interest in your home to locate a window or door through which they can enter later.
Bear in mind that although sellers often believe estate agents will offer protection for their possessions during viewings, it isn't their legal responsibility and they’re not liable for any theft that occurs.
3 things to do right now...
Ask your estate agent for help. You can remove your property details from any property portal by asking your estate agent. This can sometimes take up to 24 hours for the property details to be taken down.
Contact the property portal. To get the description, images and floorplan for your property removed from Rightmove, email [email protected] or fill in the online form. To have images removed from OnTheMarket, submit your details using their online form. For Zoopla, either email [email protected] or complete the online contact form.
Change your locks. Three-quarters of movers fail to change locks on all external doors when they get the keys to their new place, yet according to Home Office statistics, you're twice as likely to be burgled in the 12 months after moving compared with the average burglary rate. Ensure you book a locksmith to meet you on moving day.
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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.