What Makes a House Appealing to Burglars?
The United States saw more than 616,000 burglaries in 2021, according to FBI crime data. Many burglars are caught, but some go free. Some reports estimate that the police resolve less than 13% of burglaries. With this in mind, the smartest path is to take preventative measures to protect your home. But what do burglars even look for in a target? Is your home next on someone’s hit list? And how can you stop them?
You can find the answers to these questions by seeing the world through a burglar’s eyes. Interviews with convicted criminals paint a pretty good picture of how burglars choose a target house, what deterrents keep a thief away, and what security mistakes you might make that put your property in danger.
Your Neighborhood Through a Burglar’s Eyes
This story is fiction, but it could be real. Everything you see in this narrative is inspired by burglars’ testimonies. Let’s look at your community the way a criminal does.
I drive my truck into one of the suburbs. Most people think I’m part of a street maintenance crew, so I play the part. A uniform and clipboard can get you inside almost any building, including a house. As I’m driving down the street, I see moms with strollers, joggers, and a few retirees gardening. It’s a busy neighborhood.
The houses are close together, with a direct line of sight into neighboring properties. Another street is made up of duplexes, which share walls and yards. Too many people are out where they could see something. And they all look friendly with each other. I’m not even going to get out of my truck. There are too many people here who might interfere. Time to find another neighborhood.
I drive to another suburb closer to the center of town. Foliage provides much better coverage in this neighborhood. Every yard is fenced off, and there are lots of high bushes blocking the views from one house to another. It’s an excellent place for burglars to walk around and not be noticed.
I park in between two houses that are fairly isolated at the end of the street. There’s a high stone wall between them and overgrown bushes obscuring the walkway from the street. It looks perfect for getting in undetected.
As I’m walking up to one house, I notice that they have a package locker. That’s not something I want to mess with, but it means they order valuable delivery items regularly. There’s no camera at the front door that I can see. Perfect.
I knock on the door loudly and a dog starts barking from inside. (Dogs can be bad news, but not always.) A voice calls out, “Just a second.” Someone’s home. To amateur burglars, this might be a scary situation, but I’m experienced enough to know that this interaction can help me case the house.
When the homeowner answers the door, I feed her a story about working for the city and conducting a survey. After all, my uniform and clipboard look legitimate. While we’re standing in the open doorway, I take note of the electronics in the front room and that her dog looks small and friendly.
The homeowner probably has a phone on her, so I won’t try anything right now. She’s seen my face, but she didn’t look very closely. I’m filing this home away for later.
Most people who came home for lunch should be back at work by now. I pick another house on the same street, one with tall bushes. This one has an “NRA” sign on one of the windows. That means there are probably some guns that are free for the taking.
I knock on the door and wait 30 seconds. Then, I call out “Anyone home?” Another 30 seconds go by with no answer. Jackpot.
The doors and windows are locked. Breaking a window could hurt, and the noise attracts attention. I’ll kick in the door instead. It takes a few kicks, but I’m inside within a minute. They must still have the flimsy builder-grade lock.
It looks like there’s a security system panel on the wall, but the owners didn’t arm it. As long as there’s no camera, I should be fine. I’ll be out of here before anyone shows up.
I beeline for the master bedroom. Usually, that’s where the best stuff is. I find a gun lock box under the bed and jewelry in a vanity drawer. When I check the dresser, I spot some cash in the bottom of the underwear drawer. (People think it’s such a clever hiding spot.) The medicine cabinet in the master bedroom rewards me with some prescription medications.
Down the hall is a home office. These often contain expensive gadgets, and this home is no exception. It’s only too easy to grab the laptop and tablet that are sitting on the desk.
I walk out with my haul and toss everything into my truck. I’ve probably got time for one more trip before the neighbors notice anything, so I walk back in with my screw gun and take the TV off the wall. I’m in and out in under 10 minutes.
I don’t usually work this late in the afternoon, since nosy kids are coming home from school. But I got lucky with the last haul, so I’ll try another. I pull up to another house in the same neighborhood. This looks like a great target. As far as I can tell, there’s no one home.
But as I walk up the driveway, I immediately get a bad feeling. There’s a security camera watching the porch, and a light on it is blinking at me. A sign in the window indicates that live guards are watching the cameras. This house is trouble. I turn around and settle with what I was able to pick up from the last house. Maybe I’ll go back to the house with the friendly dog tomorrow.
Make Your Home Less Appealing to Burglars
So, what can you take away from a burglar’s point of view?
- A house with good visibility and a strong community of neighbors isn’t a good target for theft.
- Most burglaries happen during the day while homeowners are at work.
- Advertising that your home contains expensive goods is never a good idea.
- Burglars might ring your door and pretend to be someone trustworthy to gain access and return later.
- Security systems are useless if you don’t arm them.
- Burglaries are fast—on average, 8-10 minutes.
- Visible home security cameras are an effective crime deterrent.
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