Theft During House Showing: What Can We Do?

Real estate showings can create opportunities for thieves to take advantage, but there are measures you can take to prevent or deal with such crime.

By , Attorney UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 9/29/2023

When your house is on the market, there might be times when a real estate agent (yours or the buyers') shows it to prospective purchasers while you're away, perhaps at work. That has created shocks for some homeowners, who return home to discover that items have gone missing. What can you do? That's what we'll discuss here, including:

  • understanding who the likely culprits are
  • contacting your real estate agent about potential follow-up
  • filing a police report
  • making a homeowners' insurance claim if the items stolen were valuable enough, and
  • for prevention of future trouble, taking steps to remove temptations from your home and avoid situations where strangers have easy and unaccompanied access.

Who's Doing the Stealing?

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. Their only interest might be to pocket silver, cash, keys, prescription medications, or your ATM card.

Contact Your Real Estate Agent About the Theft

The first thing to do is contact your agent and explain 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.

Perhaps 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 and encourage anyone who might not want to otherwise come forward.

File a Police Report

If the above inquiry doesn't work, you could file a police report. Unless the theft was large-scale or part of a pattern, however, don't expect a full investigation. Nevertheless, your copy of the report could be useful in documenting what happened for your insurance company, if you make a claim (as discussed next).

For High Value Items, Try a Homeowners' Insurance Claim

You could make a claim on your homeowners' insurance or ask your agent to make a claim for loss on the company policy. But your deductible (the amount you must pay out of pocket before the coverage kicks in) might be higher than the item's value. Besides, the more insurance claims you make, the higher you might find your premiums going.

Take Other Steps Against Theft While Your Home Is on the Market

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 clients when showing homes, so the "buyer" might wander alone through the house, with free rein 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. You can ask your agent to require visitors to sign in and list their names and phone numbers. 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, be especially diligent about locking and storing all valuable items.

Ultimately, if items are lost, you might have to view it as 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.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Real Estate attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you