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Vacant ‘For Sale’ homes a target of thieves

Locked key boxes, such as this one, have been smashed. - Leslie Kelly
Locked key boxes, such as this one, have been smashed.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

Kitsap County real estate agents are spending a lot more time checking on their listings these days — especially the vacant homes that are on the market.

“It’s just very troubling,” said agent Kathy Berndtson, who is on the board of the Kitsap Realtors Association. “As I talk to other agents, we’re discovering more and more of these incidents. I don’t know the exact number. But let’s just say there are more than I could count on my fingers.”

In fact, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office reports that there have been 206 residential burglaries in Kitsap County in the past three months. And some of them have been at vacant homes that are for sale.

“It’s happening,” said Deputy Sheriff Scott Wilson, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

In that three month period, at least a dozen vacant homes that are for sale have been broken into, he said.

And in some cases, the “lock boxes,” where real estate agents leave the key to the house and have to have a code to access it, have been smashed and the key has been used to enter the homes.

“These lock boxes aren’t easy things to get into,” Wilson said. “We don’t know for sure, but we are assuming that the perpetrators are using a sledge hammer to break the boxes open.”

That’s also what local real estate agents think.

Jim Almond, of Almond Properties in North Kitsap County, had one of his listings broken into where the lock box was smashed.

“The neighbors heard a big bang,” he said. “When they went to look they saw somebody driving away in a pick-up truck.”

The scenario fits what’s being reported, said Mike Eliason, executive director of the Kitsap Realtors Association.

“It’s happening both day and night and in urban and rural areas,” Eliason said. “The lock boxes are being smashed and the thieves are stealing home appliances —things like washers and dryers.”

At the listing Almond has, he thinks the neighbors interrupted the thieves before the appliances could be loaded.

“They beat the tar out of it and took the key,” he said of the lock box. “It did some damage to the door, where they beat the box off of the door knob.

“When we got in the house, all that was missing were some small items, like nick nacks,” he said.

In fact, some nick nacks were left behind in a waste paper basket, as if they were dropped as the thieves ran from the house, he said.

“And there was a pillow case taken off one of the pillows on the bed,” he said. “The police are telling us that the criminals are using pillow cases to put things in.”

A clock and a few other smaller items were also reported missing from that home.

The situation has Kitsap County real estate agents so concerned that the association has scheduled a meeting with sheriff’s officials to try to come up with some solutions.

In Almond’s case, the neighbors who interrupted the burglary have agreed to let him put the key lock box on their property so they can watch to see that it is actually another real estate agent accessing it.

“These key boxes don’t have any tracking devices on them,” he said. “In this case, it was missing and had to be replaced. But I don’t know if the people who broke in just threw it in the bushes or took it with them.”

He replaced the box and had to have the house re-keyed, since the original key wasn’t located.

Eliason has been asking agents to speak with neighbors of vacant properties they have listed, to make sure that they report anything that looks suspicious.

“Agents are also checking on their properties more often,” he said.

Indeed. Both Almond and Berndtson said they are spending more time checking on the vacant properties.

“It’s a real tough situation,” Almond said. “These homes are all online and anyone can see whether they look as if they are vacant. They have the address and all they have to do is go check it out.”

He also said he thinks some thieves are frequenting open houses to find the homes that are vacant, and what is inside that could be taken.

“We ask them to sign in, but sometimes it gets so busy that we can’t make sure they do,” Almond said. “They act like customers and scope the house out.”

The thieves actions are unpredictable, said Berndtson.

“Sometimes the appliances have been moved around, like they’re going to come back later and get them,” she said. “In one case, they took the piano bench, but left the piano.”

She said they are leaving behind some very nice items that are being used to “stage” the homes, but are taking items like fancy towels that have been hung in the bathrooms.

“They’re breaking into garages, too, taking building supplies,” she said. “At one house in Bremerton, they took the paintings right off the wall.”

Some properties have been hit twice, she said. And, she said, agents have told her that when they call to report the incidents, law enforcement officials tell them to file a report.

“They tell us they don’t have enough staff,” she said.

Wilson said, however, that the sheriff’s office and other law enforcement want anyone seeing anything suspicious to call 911.

“It’s true, we may not be able to respond immediately,” he said. “But if something’s in progress, we’ll try to get there as soon as we can. Whether we can catch the criminal in action, it will depend. But definitely we want people to call.”

 

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