If you bought your home in the last year, then the coming months are likely to mark your first vacation since becoming a homeowner.
So this summer, as you make your “to do” lists, inform your house sitter, and put your mail on hold, there is one key thing (no pun intended) you should do: Give your home’s locks a thorough inspection. And make sure your house sitter knows how they work.
In fact, your house sitter or neighbor (or anyone who is going to look after your home while you are away) should be able to lock and unlock your doors with ease and should try doing so before you depart. Now that you are no longer renting, there will be no landlord, no apartment manager to call should your designated water-the-plants, check-the-phone substitute can’t quite figure out your lock and key.
In some cases, a locksmith might not be able to help, either. “It’s one thing if somebody has a key, and we can make it work,” explains Julie Pledger, locksmith and co-owner of Velocity Lock and Key. “But if they lock themselves out, if they leave the key in the house, and have no ID,” she says, trailing off. “Well, we may try to get a neighbor to vouch for them. But there are times when we wouldn’t let people in,” she notes.
In addition to ensuring they have someone to vouch that they belong on the premises, introducing one or two trusted neighbors to your house sitter is also good home security advice, since your neighbors can then easily distinguish between people you do and do not want entering your home.
Pledger says you shouldn’t assume you’re fine because your house sitter isn’t that flaky, either. Many times, new homeowners fail to realize the potential for problems. “Sometimes, they give the house sitter the wrong key. Or, you have to lift it up and twist it a certain way,” she adds.
Pledger says that frequently, homeowners also fail to tell house sitters what they do NOT use. “You get into a situation where the front door has a top and bottom lock, and the homeowners never use one of the locks. The homeowner might say, ‘Oh, we don’t have a key for that lock, and we never use it.’ Well, the house sitter doesn’t know that, and they lock it, therefore locking themselves out.”
The good news, should that happen, is that a locksmith can help in such a situation. “That’s a case where we can help, because then, they clearly have one key,” she says.
What homeowners should avoid, Pledger says, is using only the lock on the doorknob. “Most of the security from a lock set would be from a deadbolt,” she explains. “The one inch throw on a deadbolt goes further into the frame.” While the lock in the doorknob provides some protection, Pledger notes that the doorknob lock is often improperly installed, making it easier for would-be thieves to gain entry.
Pledger says homeowners should also think twice before leaving windows open, even slightly, for ventilation. “Any time you’re giving people enough room to get their fingers in, it’s an invitation [to break in],” she adds.
To make sure your house sitter – and only your house sitter – can get into your home while you are away, Pledger also suggests that homeowners take a close look at two vulnerable areas.
“The back door is the Achilles Heel of all homes,” Pledger notes, as homeowners often wrongly assume any door out of sight won’t be tried. But they will, and therefore should be secured. Doors with large windows in them, as well as sliding glass doors, are also vulnerable areas.
To remedy the problem, Pledger suggests an auxiliary bolt, as well as a stick in the tracks of sliding glass doors.
For any door with a window, she suggests going beyond locks. “If you get a clear piece of Plexiglas and cover the glass area with it, it will make it harder to break in,” she says.
After all, you’ve probably worked extra hard to save enough money for a house last year and a vacation this year. You don’t want to ruin the latter by failing to secure the former.