Selling home when vacant increases likelihood of sale

Q: What are some of the pros and cons about leaving a home vacant for a few months while trying to sell it?

— Larry C., North Las Vegas

A: That’s a very timely question.

The Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors estimates that more than half of all homes listed for sale in Southern Nevada right now are vacant and that 84 percent of all rental properties listed on our Multiple Listing Service are vacant.

Most of us know that you improve the chances of selling or renting a home when it’s vacant. Buyers don’t usually want to see another person’s furnishings, decorations, clothes and dirty dishes when they walk into a home.

That being said, this also creates some safety issues. With so many vacant homes on the market, we have thousands of targets for crimes ranging from vandalism to theft.

An obviously vacant home can attract criminals and detract from a neighborhood. In one recent scheme, the perpetrator removed the lockbox — door handle and all — from a home being listed for sale, then re-keyed the locks on the home, rented out the property with a fake lease, and took off with thousands of dollars in “rent.” The property owners were understandably shocked to discover “tenants” in their home, and were forced to pursue legal action.

Such scams are on the rise, from stripping copper wire to using a vacant home’s address to receive proceeds from other crimes. But we can all take steps to protect vacant properties.

When you place your home on the market, you should verify homeowner’s insurance coverage with your insurance agent, and maintain that coverage on the property throughout the listing period. You can also take steps to make the home look occupied. Inexpensive tips include:

— Install timers on a few interior lights. Most timers are inexpensive, with the more expensive models varying the on-off times.

— Leave some furniture and window coverings in the home, or consider professionally “staging,” or decorating, the home.

— Install exterior motion-detector lights.

— Lock all windows and doors, and use secondary locks where possible.

— If there is an alarm system on the house, keep the service active.

— Cancel newspaper delivery and forward the mail.

— Visit the home often, at least weekly, to remove fliers, free publications and other items left in front of the house.

— Introduce yourself to the neighbors (or have your Realtor do so) and give them your contact information. Tell them the home is vacant and ask them to call the police and you if they notice any suspicious activity.

— Ask a friend or neighbor to park a car in the driveway occasionally.

— Schedule a free home security check with a crime prevention specialist from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. For more information, visit lvmpd.com and click on Crime, then Crime Prevention.

Despite taking all of these steps, bad things can happen. If that occurs, it helps to be prepared and to follow up with the proper authorities. Police advise Realtors and others to never confront a criminal if they witness a crime in progress.

Instead, secure yourself in the house or in your car and call 911.

If a crime has already occurred and there is no immediate danger, call 311 for the non-emergency line. Homeowners should then file a police report and report the loss to their insurance company.

They may consult an attorney to determine what civil causes of action they may have, especially in the case of an unauthorized tenant.

Patty Kelley is the president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors and has worked in the real estate industry for more than 30 years. GLVAR has nearly 16,000 members. To ask Kelley a question, e-mail her at ask@glvar.org. For more information, visit lasvegasrealtor.com.

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