Crime Proof Your Properties: Lessons from a Gang Threat

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The phone call came late on a Friday night. My contractor told me that a neighbor had stopped by to pass on some news. A gang was targeting our almost rehabbed duplex. According to the source, a gang was waiting for all the “goodies” to be installed, then they planned break in and steal everything. In my head, I started adding up the costs of the new furnaces, hot water heaters, cabinets and light fixtures. I tried to slow my heart rate, thanked my contractor and told him I’d think about a plan and get back with him in the morning.

I can remember exactly how I felt that evening. Mostly, I felt a lack of control. How was I going to ensure that my property was safe? I went to sleep that night being grateful, very grateful, for the neighbor’s warning and the contractor’s follow up. I woke up and decided to fight back.

I came up with a game plan that I now use for securing all lower end properties. Let’s face it. Some of us don’t start out buying golf course and lakefront rentals. So, if you are purchasing in medium to high crime areas, you need to consider securing your properties.

Here’s what you can do to fight back and sleep better knowing your properties are secured.

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Steps for Securing Your Properties

Get Alarmed

For my gang targeted property, I had an alarm installed the next morning. For an extra $40 bucks, I purchased a loud external siren as well. That Saturday morning, I triggered the alarm for a full 5 minutes to “tell” the neighborhood gang not to mess with the property. The alarm worked; nothing has been stolen from that duplex.

The Big Bad Door

Buy some storm doors. Tenants feel really secure with a big bad door between them and the outside world. The safer renters feel, the longer they stay.

Don’t Mess with My Crawl Space!

Looking to donate some copper for a bad cause? Keep your crawlspace open and accessible to copper theft. Otherwise, fortify the opening. Don’t just use a measly little lock. If you are concerned about the area, add a horizontal bar and a good sized lock. What’s cheaper, buying a couple of super dooper locks or replacing plumbing, ductwork and hot water heaters?

Light Up the Place

Install some motion sensor lights. Motion sensor lights are inexpensive and tenants love ‘em.

Get Cagey

Budget for an HVAC cage or an A/C unit cage. HVAC cages can be expensive ($200-$400), but I figure that’s a lot cheaper than purchasing a used unit for $1600 or a new one for $3K.

Thieves cost you money and can make tenants move out. Basic security like strong doors, good exterior lighting and a monitored alarm system can help you retain tenants and avoid costly vacancies and turns. Before I came up with my “anti-theft” system, I had the following stolen from my units: copper (a big ticket item to replace), a sink (a low end one at that!), 15 rows of aluminum siding (what kind of person steals aluminum siding?) and a countertop (I swear, a countertop!).

But guess what the gang got from my duplex? Nada.

Photo: Lydia

About Author

McKellar Newsom invests in single family properties in seven different markets. McKellar partners with investors who don't have time to devote to real estate investing.


  1. McKellar, great post. Is the cost of your alarm limited to the $40 external siren or do you do also add a system that calls you and the police? Also, what is your siren triggered by, sensors for all doors and windows? Seems like ti would be more than $40. If not, let us know where you got it!

    • McKellar Newsom on

      Hi Chris,
      I wish the only cost for an alarm was $40. You can get a cell phone system for 350-400. A land line system costs more. I know some people buy systems online and set them up themselves. The monitoring each month can run 20-30/month. I factor it all into my rehab and operating costs. Good luck. mck

  2. McKellar,
    Awesome job of passing along hard-knock lessons. Yep, gang threats can inspire innovations and owners CAN fight back.

    Thank you for pointing out that a neighbor tipped off your contractor. Good neighbor communications is the key for being successful in troubled neighborhoods. If you plan to keep your duplex, you might want to proactive help strengthen communications (phone/text message list, email list, Facebook group).

    I really like the way you turned your fear into “what-ya-gonna-do-punk” action! Well done Ms. Newsom!

  3. Justin Pierce

    Great points. I recently had an AC compressor taken from one of my properties. Those cages are a must. I also install security systems in my rehabbs. I pay for a one year service and convey the service to my buyers. It costs me about $350 for the year. It provides me a little security while I own the home and is a nice selling point for my buyers.

    You’re right about the doors. Theifs don’t like to clime through broken windows. They prefer to break the glass in a door or a nearby window that allows them to open the door so they can walk through.

    You can only go so far, however. A dettermined thief will get in if they want. I just had a window broken and they climbed through and took the stove and washer and dryer. The alarm was in place but one of the contractors or realtors must not have armed it. You could see they cut themselves up. There was blood on one of the walls frrom their injuries.

    Also, wait until the last minute to put up real estate signs and keep the lawn trimmed. I’ve even had neighbors park their cars in the driveway to make the home look like it was occupied.

    Great post.

    • McKellar Newsom on

      Hi Justin,
      Bummer about the theft! Alas, alarms have to be armed to work. Some thieves can get around cages but them are a big deterrent.

      Great idea to make the house seem occupied. A few fake potted plants help too.

      You can get cages for window units as well. Good luck. mck

  4. We have used something called which is $15 per month and has no contract. It is cellular based so it works quite well for vacant type homes as long as they have power. It does have a battery backup which works for a week with out power. Only downside is you have to purchase the system for $200 to $350 dependingon the configuration. But then you can move it house to house as you purchase new ones.

    • McKellar Newsom on

      Hi Sharon,

      Thanks for your comments! I also wonder why most banks do not secure their foreclosed properties, especially ones that might be vacant for awhile. mck

  5. Great posts! I rehab in these areas (low income, higher crime), and the first thing I do now is get security doors (storm doors). Its not full proof, but no break in’s yet (knock on wood!)

    It just makes it so that you’re not the easiest house/vacant on the block to break into.

  6. Chuck Burke on

    Sharon had a great blog post here too about copper thieves. A couple of other notes:

    Chain and padlock your gates (if you have them). And don’t buy puny, cheap locks. Buy the big, bad ones at Home Depot or Lowes.

    Put “real looking” alarm stickers on doors, windows and AC units (available at Amazon).

    Don’t be “bait”… use PEX (plastic plumbing) on everything possibles.

    And one more note about the security doors, you can frequently get these for free when friends/neighbors are doing their own rehabs. I have three sitting in a garage right now waiting for the next rehab. A quick sand and a coat with Rustoleum and they’re as good as new.

    Don’t install appliances until the house is rented or sold.

    Good luck!

    – Chuck

  7. If you are leaving the property vacant for a while, I would also recommend boarding up all windows and using 4 by 4s to secure front and back entries. We have recently switched to using “star” and “hexagonal” screws and 4 by 4s instead of 4 by 2’s and have seen a decrease in break ins. I really like the idea of the “Big Bad Door”. I looked at Home Depot and security doors start at $79.

  8. You should also check into using Polycarbonate / Lexan sheets instead of glass in your windows. These are shatter proof and extremely durable. They are over 250 tougher than normal glass and you can cut the to size with a circular saw. You can buy these are Lowes and Home Depot but there are several places on the internet that sell the sheets even cheaper.

    Here is a Youtube video that shows how durable it is

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