NEWS

Real-estate board warns of appliance thefts

01/26/2012 10:04 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT

It's the stuff dream kitchens are made of, but high-end appliances have become a prime target for thieves in the Toronto area.

About $50,000 in appliances, including a refrigerator, a stove and a washing machine, were stolen from a home in the 401 and Bayview area on Monday.

The home was vacant, having been recently rebuilt. It's on the market for nearly $3 million.

Real estate agent Michael Harari knows the problem all too well. In December, a $2.8-million home he's selling in the Glencairn and Bathurst area had nearly $40,000 in appliances stolen.

"It was all top-of-the-line stuff," he said. "High-end appliances for an expensive home, from a sub-zero fridge to a fancy range oven."

Harari said the thieves were very thorough — they cut the alarm system and knew how to take apart gas, water and electrical connections.

"We found out they even took the central vacuum unit out of the garage," he said.

Three large thefts in six months

The theft was one of the three incidents in the last six months — enough for the Toronto Real Estate Board to issue a warning to the 30,000-plus agents it represents.

"Appliance thefts at newly built vacant homes are becoming a more common occurrence in Toronto," the notice reads.

Board president Richard Silver says he hasn't seen anything like this in the 30-plus years he been in the real estate business. He hopes the notice will raise awareness.

“We really put it out as a way of finding out whether there was something we could glean by putting the three in touch with each other…. It was a way of doing almost like an Amber Alert for this kind of a crime," Silver said.

In recent years, the housing industry has dealt with the theft of building supplies from construction sites. In August, the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association issued a warning about thefts from construction sites.

Silver cautions that these kinds of thefts are still relatively rare.

"This was a pretty brazen act, and we just wanted to make sure that our members were on notice and going to take care and make sure that any properties they had [that] were vacant they'd keep an eye on," Silver said.

Upscale homes targeted

Police say the people behind the thefts are well informed and well organized, targeting newly renovated or built homes in upscale neighbourhoods.

"It's more organized criminals," said Const. Tony Vella. "They have the information, they pull up in a vehicle, and they take the belongings and flee the scene. Homeowners will realize they've been broken into after the fact."

Harari said in his case, with so many workers coming and going from the home, neighbours didn't even realize something was amiss.

"Most people passing by or neighbours would probably think it's something the builder is doing in order to get the house on the market, complete the construction of the house, so most people won't be that suspicious," he said.

Harari said the homeowner is upgrading the alarms and is warning other agents about the problem.

Vella urged homeowners to take precautions.

"When you order your appliances, have those appliances brought to your home one or two days prior to you moving in," he said.

"When you do take the empty boxes, don't put them on your front lawn for garbage collection, because basically you're advertising what’s in your home," he added.

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