Our homes are our sanctuaries, and we tend to think of them as refuges where our friends and family gather. But think back over the past few months: How many other people, people you didn’t know very well, have spent time in your house?
If you’ve had any work done on your home—from plumbing or electrical repairs to a cable installation or construction of a new deck—odds are you’ve had multiple workers in your house. Maybe you also have a housecleaning service? And if you’ve gone on vacation, you may have had a pet-sitter who stayed in the house or at least stopped by when you weren’t home.
Needless to say, there are horror stories about what can happen when you allow strangers in your house. Perhaps the most famous example in recent years is that of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped by a man that was hired by Smart’s parents to rake leaves and help fix their roof. Thankfully she was found alive nine months later.
Far more common are burglaries and thefts, which can happen while the worker is in your house but may not be noticed until much later, when it’s impossible to prove who stole the items. More insidiously, a worker could case your home for a later burglary, learning your schedule and perhaps noting where you keep your valuables.
These worst-case scenarios don’t mean you should shut your doors to all strangers. But you should take some basic steps to protect yourself and your family. First and foremost: check references. Ideally, hire someone who has done good work for friends or neighbors.
It’s also wise to hire a local company. They’re less likely to risk future work in the community by performing poorly or engaging in criminal activity. Plus, they’re going to be easier to track down if something bad happens.
With plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and similar skilled workers, you should also make sure they are properly licensed and insured in your area. That means looking closely at the documentation and placing a phone call or two to confirm. When possible, avoid leaving contractors alone in your house, and regardless, take the simple step of storing valuables out of sight.
Similar rules apply to pet-sitters and housecleaners. Check references, hire local professionals who are licensed and insured, and store valuables out of sight. If you have to give a key to a pet-sitter, you may want to have your locks changed after they leave.
One more tip: talk to your neighbors. Let them know when you’re having work done on or in your home, and invite them to tell you the same. Keeping an eye out for each other is one of the simplest ways to make your home, and your community, safer.