Over the past 5-6 years, I have noticed that there has been a significant increase in the number of property crimes in the west Georgia area. Burglaries, thefts, and illegal “scrapping” have been on the rise.

I had an opportunity to ask Rett Harmon, 2013 Times Georgian Reader’s Choice Winner for Best Realtor, what the problems and potential solutions to this epidemic may be.

We were actually sitting on the couch at Lake Wedowee early in the morning on the 4th of July waiting for our guest to awaken and begin preparations for the Boston butts, ribs, and other Independence Day activities.

During our early morning conversation, Rett said, “It is common practice now to go by a piece of vacant property the day of closing to make sure that the copper in the building has not been stolen. People are known to steal copper from air conditioner units, plumbing, and wiring. These folks can literally strip a home or building before a sale can take place.”

The impact of this type of property damage does not just harm the homeowner, potential buyer, and the real estate agents. It has a macroeconomic effect on our local economy. Harmon points out, “A property that has been damaged by copper theft will typically sell for much less and brings market prices down for homes of similar sizes and locations. In worse situations, copper theft can actually make a property unmarketable because the buyer cannot obtain a loan.”

However, there are some things that homeowners can do to prevent real estate property crimes.

Harmon suggests:

1. Make your property appear to look “occupied” even if it is vacant;

2. Visit the property frequently;

3. Keep the landscape and yard in the same or better condition than other homes in the neighborhood;

4. If you have a fenced in yard, keep locks on the gates. You want to make it difficult for the thief to get to the air conditioner unit. Harmon says that most thieves will pick out the easiest home to ransack;

5. Utilize multiple ways to secure your property; such as using a lock and chain on a gate, installing heavier and multiple locks on crawlspace and basement doors, and utilizing a “metal cage” around the air conditioner unit that is bolted to the house or the ground.”; and

6. Keep the utilities turned on.

The idea is to make the property appear occupied, secure, and very inconvenient to “mess with.”
As I have said in the past, the root of the problem of crimes involving property stem from addiction to drugs, particularly methamphetamine. With the support of our governor, criminal justice system, and the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who are dedicating their time to battling the evils of addiction, the future appears to be brighter.

In fact, Harmon believes that the amount of vacant homes in the west Georgia area is on the decline. However, he warns “we probably do not have a shortage of thieves.” So, even if you own or rent an occupied dwelling, utilizing some of the above mentioned methods will lessen the chance of becoming a victim.

By the way, the author of this column has actually been a victim of copper theft from a vacant home. Perhaps I should have talked with Rett months ago about protecting my own property.