Theft During House Showing: What Can We Do?

Finding out who was in your home during a showing 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 might be lost forever. Luckily, it should be easy to track who was in your house and possibly 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 might not be attractive to someone looking to make a quick buck, but it could be interesting to a curious tot who is bored with his or her parents looking at houses all day.

Contact Your Real Estate Agent About the Theft

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 might 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.

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 his or her policy. But your deductible 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. These have gotten rare since the COVID-19 pandemic. If, however, 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, 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.

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