Home Security for Vacation HomesBy - 12/07/2017
Adding home security to a second home is fairly straightforward. If you use your second home as, well, a second home, you can secure it the same way you would secure your primary residence. But what if you plan to rent it out? How do you balance home security with the fact that you’re willingly opening your door to strangers?
While there is no way to guarantee you will return to your vacation home and find it as you left it, there are precautions you can take to minimize both damage and theft. Below you’ll find five tips and multiple product suggestions to help you do just that.
1. Use Common Sense
Let’s start with the least sexy of the five suggestions: common sense. We’ll skip over the obvious tips like, “don’t leave anything irreplaceable” and “screen renters properly” and jump to four less obvious suggestions.
First, add a few pictures of your family. A 2009 study found that wallets with pictures of “a smiling baby, cute puppy, happy family, or an older couple” were more likely to be returned. This same school of thought can be applied to vacation homes. It’s easy for renters to stay in your home and think of it as just another hotel, so humanize it for them. Put pictures out of your family enjoying the area and leave a few children’s books lying around to make sure your guests know that they are staying in someone’s home.
Second, leave a note welcoming them to your home away from home. Make sure to remind them that to you, your vacation home is more than some forgotten financial investment, it’s a place that belongs to you and holds special memories.
Third, leave behind instructions that explain what a guest should do if they encounter a maintenance issue, including accidentals. For example, many vacation home companies provide protection plans that will cover any damage to your home including replacement of broken items. Often, a guest won’t report damage for fear of repercussion. If they know you have a plan in place, they might choose to do the right thing.
Fourth, if you rent your home on your own, it wouldn’t hurt to send your renters a quick text after check-in. Ask them to rate the cleanliness of your home, point out something personal and fun about the area, and let them know that you’re around should they need anything.
2. Enlist Technology to Take Inventory
While you should be doing a yearly inventory on your own, I also suggest you enlist your cleaning crew to help you take inventory of your home’s contents after each cleaning. To do this, I recommend using an app like Properly. The app is aimed at tracking a cleaner’s quality in real time, but you can use it to take a visual inventory of items. After cleaning your home, your cleaning crew will snap photos and upload them to the app so you can inspect their work and make sure that your decorative items haven’t walked off.
3. Add a Home Security System
Home security systems cost less than you might think. There are several options that will work for vacation properties. When selecting a security system, your first step is to choose between a self-monitored, monitored and self-installed, and a monitored and professionally installed home security system.
No matter which option you choose, it’s best to use your security system to monitor your home during vacancies, while disarming the system when your property is occupied. Allowing your guests to arm and disarm your security system is an option, but it comes with risks including abuse of the system and false alarms. For most guests, asking them to responsibly arm and disarm your system is too much responsibility. If a guest forgets or fails to disarm your system and the authorities are called, your police department might issue a fine for the false alarm or worse, they might stop responding to your calls altogether.
Let’s start with self-monitored options. If you don’t want to pay for professional monitoring, you can purchase a self-monitored home security system like Nest Secure, abode, or iSmartAlarm. All three of these options include access to a free mobile app where you can check your system status and arm and disarm your system from anywhere. Using sensors like contact (door/window) sensors and motion sensors, they will monitor for unwanted activity. If activity is detected, a siren will sound, and you will receive an alert on your phone. From there, you can decide how to proceed.
- No Monthly Fee
- Free Mobile App Access
- Must Purchase Hardware Upfront
- You Are Responsible for Monitoring and Responding to Events
Professionally Monitored and Self Installed
The second option is a professionally monitored system that you install on your own. The best part of a self-installed system is that they are 100% wireless which means that there’s no need to drill holes or run wires.
In my home, I use a Frontpoint Home Security system. On average, it takes about thirty minutes to install. I recommend their Interactive Plan which provides monitoring for burglaries, medical emergencies, fires, and provides app access and smart lighting control.
In a vacation home, the biggest challenge of using a self-installed system is that you aren’t around to troubleshoot if needed. If you choose to go this route, I suggest talking to your salesperson in advance to explain the situation and to get more details on their replacement/troubleshooting policy. For example, with Frontpoint, they won’t be able to do any real troubleshooting until you’re on site. This means you might have to beg your handyman, cleaning crew, or management company to help you out. Of course, most security companies can help you set the system to bypass a malfunctioning sensor so that the system as a whole will still protect until you’re ready to go hands-on.
- Professional Monitoring for CO and Fire
- Wireless Installation
- Requires Monthly Monitoring Fee
- Failed Devices Must Be Replaced By You
Professionally Monitored and Professionally Installed
Finally, professionally monitored and installed systems take all the work off of your plate, but there are pros and cons to this approach. If you go with a pro installed system and one of your devices fails, you will need to coordinate a time with the company for onsite maintenance after troubleshooting the issue on the phone. As the repair window can span up to six hours, this could cause a huge headache and inconvenience for you and your renters.
As far as companies offering pro installed systems, there are a few. The most well-known option is ADT. If you’re an Airbnber, you might want to consider Vivint. Vivint is a professionally monitored, professionally installed, wireless security system complete with smart home services. Their partnership with Airbnb enables several features including the ability for guests to use a unique keyless entry code, an integration with the Vivint Doorbell Camera, and energy savings using either the Vivint Smart Thermostat, Nest Learning Thermostat, or Nest E. When your guest leaves, their temporary entry code will expire, and you can arm your security system to protect your home until you’re ready to welcome someone new.
- Professional Monitoring for CO and Fire
- Professional Installation
- Requires onsite visit to make repairs, potentially disrupting your renters in the process.
- Requires Monthly Monitoring Fee
4. Consider Using a Home Security Camera…Within Reason
Related to home security systems is the home security camera. There are multiple ways to approach this task and a few questions to ask yourself before you purchase.
First, you’ll need to decide if you need a camera at all. You can add a home security camera without a security system or you can allow it to supplement your existing system. If you choose a self-monitored security system, I highly recommend a home security camera. There is nothing more frustrating than receiving an alert and not being able to verify the event. That said, even if you choose a professionally monitored home alarm, I recommend a security camera. If you see someone in your home, the event will be classified as a verified event which means faster police response. In fact, in some areas, police will only respond to verified events.
Second, you’ll need to decide if you want to buy the camera from your home security company or from a third-party. Nine times out of ten, I recommend buying a third-party camera as you usually get a higher quality camera and experience for less money.
Third, placement. If you plan to use your vacation home as a rental, your only option is to place outdoor cameras on your property. Unfortunately, adding indoor cameras isn’t going to sit well with your renters, it’s creepy, and you risk violating surveillance laws.
As far as device recommendations, I suggest starting with a video doorbell like Ring. Ring can help keep track of who’s coming and going, allowing you to count guests to make sure that your booked stay for sixteen people hasn’t magically turned into a party for sixteen-year-olds. It can also help you maintain control over your home thanks to its built-in calling feature. When someone rings your doorbell, you will be able to answer the call and talk to the person no matter where you are (assuming your smartphone has a connection to WiFi, 3G, or 4G). Ring also works with several home security systems including ADT (pending litigation at the moment) and Wink and they have a new partnership with Turnkey Vacation Rentals. Turnkey is a HomeAway partner who relies heavily on technology for guest protection. They now offer the Ring Video Doorbell alongside private security services.
If you want to expand beyond a smart doorbell, I recommend an outdoor home security camera with person detection. Person detection is a smart feature that runs alongside motion detection. If your camera detects an event, it will only notify you if that event includes a human being, which saves you from responding to footage of trees, rain, wind, bugs, and nothingness.
First, Netgear Arlo Pro and Pro 2. The benefit of the Arlo system is that it provides 7 days of free cloud storage, two-way audio, motion detection, sound detection, and a deafening siren. The downside is that the cameras are battery-powered. On average, the cameras last about two to four months on a single charge so you will need to visit often to charge them or you will need to invest in an Arlo Solar Panel. Person detection is a feature included in Arlo Smart which is $2.99 per camera per month. An Arlo Starter Kit sells for $220.00 which includes the required base station and one camera. Though the cameras are wireless, they do require a base station which must remain indoors connected to Ethernet and power. For free, Arlo will allow you to connect up to five cameras to one base station. If you want to connect more than five cameras, you’ll need to subscribe to a paid plan.
My second outdoor suggestion works best with a monthly fee: Nest Cam Outdoor. For $10 per month, you can add Nest Aware to Nest Cam Outdoor. Nest Aware includes 10 days of cloud storage, person detection, and access to 24/7 continuous video storage. Continuous video storage is a wonderful feature to have when monitoring outdoors. Using the app, you can quickly scroll through footage to find events. Notable events are marked on the timeline with different colors assigned based on event information. Nest Cam sells for $180.00. It is a wired camera, but both the camera and the wire are weatherproof.
5. Use Home Automation to Your Advantage
Last, but not least, I recommend adding the magic of home automation. While I’m not going to go into great detail here, I have gone into great detail on adding home automation to your vacation rental here. But for now, let’s talk about a few smart home services that can add home security value.
First, smart lights. Smart home devices like automated lights can make it appear that you’re home even when you’re not by turning on and off at random or scheduled intervals. For example, the Philips Hue Nest integration includes an option called “Leave Home Worry-Free.” If you own a Nest Cam and Hue lights, Nest will automatically notice when your home is vacant using geofencing and proceed to turn your lights on and off to make it look like you’re home.
Second, home automation systems can support sensors including temperature sensors, flood sensors, and humidity sensors. Temperature sensors can warn you if your home’s temperature swings too high or too low saving you from costly events like frozen pipes. If you combine a smart thermostat with a humidity sensor, you can make sure that your home’s temperature stays cool enough to inhibit mold growth. Finally, flood sensors can be placed under sinks, near your washing machine, and close to your water heater, and can be set to notify you if water is detected in any of these areas. While all of these sensors work well with smart home systems, you can also add them to your home security system. However, events like flooding and high humidity will always be self-monitored, even if you pay for professional monitoring.
So, what do you think? How do you plan to protect your vacation home?