1. Arrange for regular, basic care
A house that looks vacant is a magnet for vandalism and other illicit activities, and these problems tend to snowball; once shady characters realize your house is unoccupied and unmonitored, they’re much more likely to smash a deadbolt, break a window, or spray a graffiti tag—which in turn makes the property even more attractive to vandals, and so on.
To minimize this effect, arrange to have someone visit the unit on a regular basis to empty the mailbox, remove trash from the yard, and care for the lawn. Even a weekly stop will signal that there is someone who cares about this property, and that criminal activity will be investigated.
2. Make it look inhabited
A window with clear line of sight into your empty home is an invitation for vandalism, and the constant, direct sunlight can lead to discolored carpets and peeling linoleum. If your vacant home doesn’t have blinds, buy some cheap ones—it will be far less expensive than replacing stripped wiring, repainting interior walls, or replacing sun-damaged carpet and linoleum. It’s also a good idea to install timed lighting in one or two rooms—if there’s a light in your kitchen, living room, and bedroom at regular intervals (even just an hour or two a night), that will be enough to deter most thieves.
3. Choose low-maintenance landscaping
Kentucky bluegrass and other high-maintenance, water-guzzling grasses can be a huge burden to maintain. Especially if you need the home in showing condition for an extended period of time, it may make sense to simply replace a high-maintenance lawn, rather than continually paying to have it watered and mowed. Drought-resistant seeds take some effort in the beginning, but once they’ve taken hold in your lawn, they’ll look great with minimal mowing and almost no extra water.
For garden plots, shrubbery, and any other vegetation, ask yourself whether you’re able to do the work required to keep them alive and healthy—if not, it may make more sense to uproot them than to let them simply wither in your front lawn.
4. Weatherize your patio
Any patio furniture or wooden deck items will take a beating from rain, sun, and snow while you’re away. Before you leave, it may be a good idea to pressure wash your deck, and then apply a thin coat of stain sealer to lock out moisture and avoid rot. Plastic patio furniture, above-ground hot tubs, and anything else that you plan on leaving in the yard should be securely covered with a weatherproof tarp, and probably chained down as well.
5. Enlist the help of neighbors and police
If you’re doing your best to keep your vacant home presentable, your neighbors will likely be willing to help you keep it safe—just like you, they have a vested interest in the quality of the neighborhood. Let them know that you care about the property, and that you’re doing your part to keep the neighborhood safe. Check to see whether your area has a Neighborhood Watch program, and contact your local police station to see if they have any programs for foreclosed and vacant homes—they may be able to add your address to a registry of vacant homes that are patrolled regularly.
Mike Freiberg is a staff writer for HomeDaddys, a resource for stay-at-home dads, work-at-home dads, and everything in between. He’s a handyman, an amateur astronomer, and a tech junkie, who loves being home with his two kids. He lives in Austin.