Managing Project Security

Q: I’ve found a project that looks good for investment, but I’m worried about my improvements disappearing as fast I complete them. How do I protect myself from theft and vandalism?

A: Regardless of where or in what community one is working, either new construction or rehab, project security will be an issue. In areas of high unemployment untended building materials, tools, fixtures ready for installation –virtually anything that can be carried off–will prove too attractive an opportunity to the casual thief.

Our culture views such amateur thievery almost as ‘victimless crime.’ The target is a business not a person, and that business represents The System which, in the view of the perpetrator, ultimately is responsible for the reduced condition of the honest working man. The thief by this logic is a modern day Robin Hood, taking from the Rich, et cetera.

Investors and contractors who hope to stay in business must take care to avoid both incidental and sometimes major thefts. Tools are seldom if ever left unattended or stored overnight on a job. Building materials are brought on site only as needed, never before hand. Relatively costly items such as furnaces, hot water heaters, cabinetry or appliances, will be installed last of all.

In many cases the building itself was acquired boarded up and reasonably secure. In such instances, the boarding may well be retained in place until the rehab is substantially complete. Should a prospective lender require photographs, the boarding may be removed to accommodate the appraiser, then replaced once again until the day of closing, or the day the new owner or tenant moves in.

Absent existing boarding, the rehabber may choose to have his own crew install plywood boarding (which can be reused on subsequent jobs) or have the building windows and doors secured with steel cladding installed on a rental basis by firms using the so-called “VPS” security system. VPS is available locally for about $150 per week, with a 4-week minimum. Slightly less costly is the employment of guard dogs or otherwise homeless ‘house sitters.’ Engaging house sitters, of course, will require that the dwelling be heated and reasonably secure.

Taking all such preventive measures into account however, the professional never loses sight of the largest single cause of losses on the job: the passage of time. However long it takes to complete the work–that is the rehabber’s Period of Vulnerability. To allow a project to languish in any way is to invite intrusion and loss. In a word: Get in and Get Out. Fast track the job. The professional’s hallmark is the 3-week rehab. To let the same project take three months is to invite disaster.