Cracking the Burglary Code: Are You a Target?

Criminals study a neighborhood using a totally different calculus than residents and real estate pros do. In Geoff Manaugh’s A Burglar’s Guide to the City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2016), you get a front seat view of what the world looks like through the eyes of a burglar. It’s a fascinating read for any student of real estate, both for its examination of historical heists and the view of modern law enforcement practices that ordinary citizens don’t often see.

Credit: quicksandala, via Morguefile

Credit: quicksandala, via Morguefile

But for the purposes of the real estate industry, the most helpful parts are when Manaugh points out subtle features of neighborhoods and buildings that put them at increased risk. Here are a few of the elements criminals use to profile their target subjects.

  1. Parking for the getaway car. Property on a cul-de-sac is less likely to be targeted, Manaugh says, because cops can more easily box a perpetrator in. Conversely, a corner lot is more likely to be targeted because there are better options available to fleeing criminals.
  2. Cookie-cutter copycats. If your home or building is laid out in a way that’s not obvious from the outside, and isn’t based on the layouts of your neighbors, you might be living in a place that’s less likely to be targeted. Manaugh explains how some thieves can use seemingly harmless information such as fire codes to build a probably layout of apartment buildings before they even see the lobby.
  3. Neighborhood features. Manaugh says burglars are more likely to avoid houses that have schools nearby because they tend to lead to an increased presence of police and eagle-eyed parents. Meanwhile, a forest in one’s backyard could mean thieves have a place to disappear into. Finally, walkable neighborhoods are likely to make burglars nervous because pedestrians might notice something’s amiss.
  4. Items placed up against a building. Manaugh notes that burglars have been known to climb inside a Dumpster that’s positioned against a target building and chip away at the wall of the structure over a period of several days. Not only do they have cover, but the Dumpster provides a convenience place for criminals to store the resulting debris. Also, be wary of scalable junk piled up during construction. As Manaugh cautions, “A pallet is a ladder to a burglar.”

Now that I’ve got you good and paranoid, let me share one last thought with you from Manaugh: Your website might be part of the problem. “All a savvy burglar often needs to do these days is look at the website of your home builder or the property agency in charge of your apartment building to pull up a floor plan; these innocuous online tools ostensibly made for real estate bargain hunters are also amazingly helpful burglars’ guides,” he writes.

Meg White

Meg White is the managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine and administrator of the magazine's Weekly Book Scan blog. Contact her at mwhite[at]

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