Open houses are leaving owners vulnerable to theft

By Faiza Amin

An experience from hell, that’s how Brenda Potter-Phelan describes her open house from 2012. Her family had $4,000 worth of merchandise stolen and her husband was a victim of identity theft.

Among the items taken from the home include jewelry, portable electronics (cameras and cellphones), and family heirlooms.

She blames her real estate agent for not preparing them.

“Our agent spent so much time emphasizing the staging and the de-cluttering, that we didn’t have a conversation whatsoever on safeguarding our property and our identity,” said Potter-Phelan.

Having an open house poses risks for families, as strangers are given an all access pass to your home.

Although sellers often think real estate agents will watch over their belongings, that isn’t their responsibility and they’re not liable for theft.

“It’s the homeowners obligation themselves to make sure they safeguard their home as much as they can,” said Kelvin Kucey, with the Real Estate Council of Ontario.

Although the real estate agent wasn’t at fault in the eyes of the law, Potter-Phelan says hers did compensate the family for their stolen items. She couldn’t however reimburse them for the stolen identity.

“Identity theft is an issue,” said Tim Konnry, Potter-Phelan’s new real estate agent.

Konnry is now helping his client sell her mom’s home and prepare for an upcoming open house. This time Potter-Phelan is doing things differently, removing all of her mom’s items and leaving no trace of who lived in the home.

“We emptied pretty much everything from the house, we took all the family photos down, and there’s no identification at all in the house,” she said.

Other Sellers should also be thinking ahead and safeguarding their house ahead of an open house.

Below are some of the tips suggested by real estate agents and RECO.

    • Remove valuables like small electronics, jewelry and any family heirlooms
    • Prescription medication should be removed from any rooms, including medicine cabinets
    • Any items that can identify household members shouldn’t be left in the open
    • Bills, credit card receipts, bank statements, and passports should be locked away and out of view
    • Don’t hide valuables in places easily accessible by others, like in your dresser for instance
    • Either remove the items from the home, or lock them up in storage or safe
    • Take an inventory of belongings before the open house; either make a list or take photographs
    • If your home is big enough, consider asking for a second real estate agent working at the open house
    • Consider keeping track of visitors; by having a sign in log, or having them escorted around
    • Have visitors leave their oversized coats and bags at the front of the house


Above all, RECO advises sellers to plan ahead with their real estate agent.

“Sit down, take the time to discuss what it involves, what’s expected of the homeowner and what’s expected of the sale representative as well,” Kucey said.

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