Theft During House Showing: What Can We Do?

Finding out who was in your home and seeking return of stolen objects.

Question

Our house is on the market, and we have had a lot of showings to prospective buyers. We were at work one day and were notified by our agent that there were going to be a couple of showings that day.

We were not around when the house was shown. When we returned home, we discovered that, oddly enough, a salt shaker had gone missing. It has no real monetary value, but it was a family heirloom and has a great deal of sentimental value. We’d like to get it back, no questions asked. What can we do?

Answer

It’s very strange the things people will steal . . . and it’s upsetting to realize that an item you care about may be lost forever. Luckily, it should be easy to track who was in your house and hopefully recover this missing heirloom.

When houses on the market are being shown, there are typically two main sources of things going missing: children with sticky fingers and people posing as buyers looking to find items to use or sell quickly.

It is possible that your situation involves the former. A salt shaker may not be attractive to someone looking to make a quick buck, but it may be interesting to a curious little tot who is bored with his parents looking at houses all day.

The first thing to do is contact your agent and let him or her know what’s happened. Your agent will be able to easily obtain a list of all other agents who have shown your home. Even if your agent does not have the names of the buyers, your agent can let all the other agents know that something has gone missing and ask them to inquire with their clients about the item.

Hopefully a mom and dad will have noticed a new item in their child’s collection and be able to return it to you. You might consider offering a small reward to encourage the agents to contact their clients about the missing shaker (as well as to encourage anyone who may not want to otherwise come forward).

If this inquiry doesn’t work, there is unfortunately not a lot left to do. You could file a police report and see if the salt shaker is ever recovered. You could make a claim on your homeowners' insurance or ask your agent to make a claim for loss on his or her policy. But if the item is of little financial value, insurance won’t do much to make you feel whole again.

Otherwise, you should chalk it up to an unfortunate lesson and put away any and all items you truly care about or that are easily lifted for the duration of the time your home is on the market.

A Note About Personal Items and Theft While Your Home Is on the Market

If you are reading this while your home is on the market, be aware that theft from homes that are being shown is not uncommon. The most commonly stolen item is prescription medicine, followed closely by jewelry and small electronics.

Agents don’t always closely supervise their clients when showing homes, so that the “buyer” might wander alone through the house, with free reign to open doors and drawers. If your house is on the market,  assume  that someone is going to be nosy and go through everything you own. Consider renting a small storage unit to temporarily store expensive or cherished small items. Get a lockable box for your prescription medicines that you need to keep nearby. You could even consider getting a small home-monitoring camera to watch as people view the house.

Of special concern—even more so than when individual agents are showing your property to buyers—is an open house where the general public is invited. If you decide you want an open house, ask your agent to require visitors to sign in and list their names and phone numbers at a minimum. If the house is large enough, some agents will enlist a fellow agent to stand on the second floor or separate wing.

Still, a real estate agent is not a security guard. And requiring a sign-in is just a small deterrent, as there’s no guarantee that someone will list a true name and contact information. When you’re having an open house, you should be especially diligent about locking and storing all valuable items.

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