Thieves Target Staged Homes—Is it time for a House-Sitter?

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Watch those high-end furnishings and fancy décor you use to stage your listings. Real estate practitioners in California are reporting a surge in staged, unoccupied homes being burglarized in affluent areas. Thieves are making off with linens, dressers, sofas, table lamps, mirrors, and even flat-screen televisions.

“These are highly aesthetic crimes. The thief seems to be someone with very good taste, somebody who knows that mauve is out,” D.J. Grubb, the president of the Oakland, Calif.-based Grubb Co., told reporter Heidi Schumann for a New York Times article, “Houses, Decked Out for Sale, are Burglarized.”

Stager Bonnie Pearson in Emeryville, Calif., told the New York Times that she estimates that the two Piedmont, Calif., robberies in her listings cost her $11,000 in furniture and accessories.

The Oakland Association of REALTORS® sent an e-mail message warning its members last week about the burglaries and provided some tips to prevent their listings from being targeted too. For example, make sure the neighbors know that no one is authorized to take property out of the house and consider installing an alarm system.

Or, maybe it’s time to hire a house-sitter to keep watch of your vacant listings. In January, I interviewed real estate practitioner Diane Uphus of Select Real Estate in Spokane, Wash., for an article in REALTOR® Magazine about how Uphus added house-sitting to her real estate business to keep her vacant listings safe from vandals—not to mention, earn some extra cash.

A house sitter moves in to the vacant property, pays rent, keeps the home tidy (since it’s still on the market), and is ready at a moment’s notice to move out if the house sells. (Read the story: House-Sitters: Take the Vacancy Out of Vacant Homes).

So maybe a house-sitter is just what your staged property needs to deter any would-be vandals from carting away any of your fancy furnishings and staging accessories.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. When hiring a house sitter make sure to place your agreement in a “House Sitter Agreement” so they do not gain squatter rights to the property, especially if you are allowing them to stay there FREE of charge until the property is sold and or rented.

  2. With there being many families that are homeless I would think that working with a homeless shelter to provide temporary housing for a family in need might work. The shelter could set up an application process and screen potential house sitters to be interviewed by the seller and the seller’s agent. The seller and the house sitter could execute a contract with the seller’s agent and an administrator from the shelter as witnesses. I would love some feedback on this thought.

  3. S. Griffiths


    That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!

  4. Truly High End Homes deserve showings with listing agent present, especially if that agent is responsible for equally high end staging furnishings. More of a danger is high valued air conditioning and plumbing equipment and fixtures being ransacked for the copper piping – by people who would scrap a $5,000 compressor for the chance to sell $35 worth of metal inside, or cast aside a $2,500 pair of designer taps to wrench $40 worth of copper pipe from under the sink and out of the wall.

  5. Phil Clawson, Broker, GRI,ABR

    Not so fast, I believe Leslie is on to something. I agree, properly screened, a homeless family might make excellent house sitters. and at below market rent, its a win-win for everyone. There are many many different situations that put people into a homeless category these days, so, the stereotypical view of a homeless family no longer applies today. I speak from experience as one who has worked with a homeless program in conjunction with my church.

  6. I had a new home that was staged and hit by delinquents in the neighborhood not once but three times! I convinced the seller to put in an alarm system and flood lights at the front and back of the house. We put big signs on the fence, front and back yards. I went to the neighbors and asked them to call the police if they saw any activity around the house that looked suspicious. It worked and the vandalism stopped.

  7. This article is an interesting twist to the staging idea.

    I don’t ever remember seeing a functional flat screen TV used as a staging prop.

    But then again, I’ve never helped buyers in California, only in Michigan.

  8. Kathy

    I do not think it would be wise to get involved in the owner’s house sitting situation, especially with the homeless. It could potentially turn into a legal nightmare. The house sitting decisions and recomendations should be the sole responsibility of the owner.

  9. obvious that Leslie may not own or manage rentals and has’nt dealt with section 8, suggest some skin in the game. Good luck!

  10. What about the use of a professional security service. Real Estate professionals could pool their resources, on behalf of the clients, in order to defray costs. The homes could be checked several times per day, you eliminte the legal exposure of a House Sitter or Homeless occupant, and give better lattitude for showings with a vacant home.

    Just a thought.

  11. Valerie Szymaniak

    The practice of using live in stagers to stage, maintain and house-sit the vacant property has worked for over 20 years. It’s a win/win situation for everyone. The homeowner gets a staged house and property management for free, the live in stager gets reduced rent on a house while it’s for sale and the realtor gets a more marketable listing. There is a new website that connects vacant houses with live in stagers. It’s, it’s the only site that does this on a national level. If you have vacant listings you should definitely talk to your clients about posting the vacant house on the website. It doesn’t ask for the address. There is a section for live in stagers to post their profiles and include photos of their furniture too.

  12. Shandel Harper

    I want to know how to get into this, my daughter and I are living in a hotel/motel and have been for 4 months, I would be very happy to do this for a local realtor in Alabama or Tennessee. How do I get in touch with these people to do this, tired of the motel life, might as well kill two birds with one stone.

  13. I agree with Leslie, Valerie, Shandel and a few others with the idea of home staging. I have been looking for work for awhile and now in a living situation I’m not happy with. I would love to be living in a house wherever, even if it is short term, not paying rent. Now living on my last EDD check. I would be willing to be a house sitter for a realtor. I am in CA, but could go elsewhere, TX etc. I would be helping others!

  14. Hello everyone,
    I want to say as much as we would all like to help the homeless gain access to a dwelling, I really think the risk would be too great to entertain this idea. Leagaly, as a Broker I would be putting myself and the owner at great risk by letting anyone move into a property that they are not the legal rightful owners. If you are in the process of selling the property even a renter is a liability and could in fact be an easy task to stop the sale even at the very last hour, by not leaving the premises. Contract and all.
    Just to give all concerned a little info, I am a Broker in OC and do mostly Mortgages although, since the Economy and Mortgage problems with Sub-Prime hit, I decided to take my Real Estate Division and kick it up a bit more than Mortgages by helping the Banks sell their FORC. and Vacant homes. I did quick staging on vacant homes as well as a fast re-design on lived in properties. I wasn’t attached at the time to having to live at any one location so after I had heard of the problems with theft I decided to take the listed homes above 1 mil and “back-pack” my necessities so I could move around and live in each home so no one knew the house was vacant. Not only did this help secure the home it always had the look and feel of warmth because I actually was living in them. It was a bit hard at first moving around but I was able to sell the houses fast and I knew the in(s) and out(s) of each property very well. I fixed things as needed ect…. I even got to know the neighbors and became friends with them and that helped a lot. Know one can sell a house better than the person with the investment and desire to get the deal closed other than myself, the legal owner or any person in the transaction that may be taking a loss or having to make the Mortgage payments currently, so by living in it and knowing how to sell it as a broker I had the upper hand on every sale. It has been fun and interesting doing business this way. I am kind of like a watch dog yet I get a commission at the end. SWEEETTTT………….
    If you would like additional information, please e mail me and I would be happy to help or give some tips if needed. Be creative yet secure with your listings.
    P.S. Being a single woman, I used common sense practices ” ALWAYS” !!
    Good Luck

  15. I am thinking about doing some house sitting over the next 12 months and l would love to hear from people that have either done it or used a house sitter.

  16. I can see that thieves are a problem and it is hard to come up with solution to this problem. I don’t think that a house sitter is the proper solution either because of all the legality issues associated with that possible solution.