Thanks to the Enquirer for breaking a story we could have told…and how to keep the metal in your houses

How to Keep the Pipes (and Wiring and Furnace and Sinks) in Your Properties

There’s very little that makes us all as angry as metal theft.
And yet it’s rampant; according to this article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Ohio leads the nation (yay us) in metal theft.

And this is just the REPORTED cases; most real estate investors don’t report thefts anymore because the police don’t respond, and our insurance policies either don’t cover the damages or have deductibles so high that it’s no use making a claim.

It’s pretty typical today to see houses completely stripped, with all the accompanying damage. Kitchen cabinets are reduced to matchsticks. Bathroom walls, including the tiles, are torn apart to get to the copper. Plaster walls are ripped apart to get to the wiring. Ceilings are completely taken down for the same reason. Furnaces are taken apart to get to the a-coils.
And yes, as you’ve always suspected, the thieves get a mere handful of dollars for doing $20,000 in damages to your house—and yes, according to officer Brian Williams of the Cincinnati police department, the thieves are typically drug addicts who steal to support their habits. And for that purpose, it’s an easy, low-risk, and profitable business. Those that burglarize metal on a nightly basis can earn $1,200-$1,500 per week—more than enough to risk a few weeks in jail (where drugs are apparently more plentiful anyway) that will probably never happen.
So what’s the answer? Do things that encourage the bad guys to move on to easier targets than your vacant rentals. Here are some things we’ve found to be effective:
1. Get a portable alarm system and install it the second you close a property or your tenant moves out. We use SimpliSafe Alarms ( and buy the slightly upgraded $450 version. It includes an audible alarm, plus monitoring that calls both you and, if you don’t answer, the police. And best of all, when you get the unit filled, you can move it to the next one. Since investing in these 2 years ago, we’ve had several attempted breakins, but haven’t lost ANY plumbing or wiring in a property.
2. Leave the power on, and light the property. Exterior lights are particularly helpful; they make it difficult for thieves to act unnoticed. Motion detector lights are relatively inexpensive, and draw attention to anyone who’s sneaking around the property
3. Don’t put for rent or for sale signs in front of your empty properties—they’re like a party invitation for thieves
4. If possible, stage your property—at least long enough to take the photos. Thieves can “shop” on craigslist and see which properties are vacant by the photos.
5. Equip all vacancies with curtains or shades in the windows. They not only make it difficult to determine if the property is vacant, they also make it easier to rent or sell
6. Protect central air units with cages. They’re available commercially from lots of places, including . Less than $500 in materials and installation can save you $2,000 in replacement; another alternative is to de-install the units when the property is vacant and reinstall them when the tenant or buyer moves in
For whatever reason, real estate investors seem to have a resigned attitude about metal theft. They treat it as a cost of doing business, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t take this crime lying down. Spend a little extra time and money and so what you can to protect yourself against metal theft.

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