With the holiday season upon us here in Chicago, we’re in the period of historically high occurrences of home burglaries. With so many families away on vacation, unoccupied homes become a target for the thieves who can spot them.

If you’re heading out of town for the holiday, here are five simple steps you can take to avoid putting a bulls eye on your home for enterprising criminals.

Set several lights in your home on a timer. This is the simplest way to give your home the appearance of being occupied. Lights should be timed to turn on after dark and should be visible from all approaches to the home. Placing lights in common areas such as living rooms and bathrooms is also more plausible than having your bedrooms illuminated 24/7. A timed radio or CD player that is loud enough to hear from outside (without disturbing the neighbors!) is also helpful.

Arrange for someone to shovel your driveway and/or entryway. If every home on the block has been shoveled since last week’s snow – except yours – thieves might get the message that no one is around. Ask a neighbor or hire a local schoolchild or service to keep your place promptly shoveled.

Don’t let mail accumulate in your mailbox. A mailbox overflowing with letters and newspapers is a telltale sign to crooks that a home is unoccupied. You can have your mail and subscriptions put on hold, or, if you don’t want to give that information out, you can simply have a neighbor collect your mail for you.

Tell your neighbors of your plans. Neighbors will be less likely to notice suspicious activity at your home if they think you’re still there. Tell them of your plans so they can keep an eye out while you’re away.

Turn on your security system if you have one. Sound obvious? As a Realtor, I’m still surprised by how many homes I encounter that have security systems that are never used. If you have a system, put it to use and display the company’s decals prominently.

For more tips on keeping your home safe while away, visit this page on protection against home burglary. And while you’re at it, now is another good time to make sure your homes fire safety measures are up to date.

May all of you have a safe and happy holiday!

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