As housing market spikes, thieves take advantage of open houses

As housing market spikes, thieves take advantage of open houses. (KOMO News)

COVINGTON, Wash. -- As the housing market spikes around the area, investigators said there's a frightening problem with thieves taking advantage of open houses and people trying to sell their homes.

Deputies in King, Kitsap and Snohomish counties have reported instances where thieves are stealing valuables from homes.

One Covington homeowner said he learned the hard way that even if you stash your stuff away before you open your doors to strangers, it still might not be enough.

The Covington homeowner had surveillance video showing a man and woman pretend to look at the home but they were actually looking to snatch valuables.

The victim said the pair got away with more than $3,000 worth of jewelry and belts hidden behind his nightstand and around his room.

“Knowing that somebody –a stranger—was going through that, is pretty unnerving,” the victim said. “I couldn’t believe it. The second I had gotten upstairs and I see that all the watches are gone, I’m thinking ok they had to be hidden somewhere.”

King County Sheriff deputies said the thefts are happening all over the county, and investigators said the same type of thefts have been reported in Kitsap and Snohomish counties.

In Arlington, police detectives arrested a 36-year-old Mercer Island man and a 37-year-old Des Moines woman in connection to a theft that happened during a real estate broker’s open house. Investigators said the man took off with more than $800 in jewelry.

Deputies said the woman in the Covington case has been arrested, but the man is still at large.

“It’s becoming a little disturbing,” Sgt. Cindi West with the King County Sheriff’s Office said. “Bad guys are always trying to figure out ways to make crime easy. Instead of breaking into somebody’s house, hey, if the door’s going to be open for you and you can go on in, why not? I think that’s what they’re doing.”

Deputies said open houses can be beneficial, but homeowners should keep the risk in mind.

KOMO News asked real estate agents how homeowners can protect their valuables and they said hiding isn't enough. Rather, homeowners need to lock valuables away and even consider buying a safe, or put them in a safety deposit box.

Realtors said it's not just valuables, but small electronics and prescriptions are prime targets and it's not just the day of homeowners should be worried about.

“It's not just the first time they come see the house, but they have come and checked it out and cased it and see what's there,” Windermere Real Estate Broker Jeff Reynolds said. “When you have the open house that following weekend, that's when you need to be worried about because they know where everything is.”

Some realtors said if homeowners are still apprehensive about letting strangers in, they can always skip the open house and just have the realtor do one-on-one appointments.

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