Thieves in Rotorua have been targeting half-finished homes in their search for scrap metal and fixtures with one street in Pukehangi seeing at least three burglaries in the last 12 months.

Hamon Pl residents Chantelle and Shane Ward said when they were building their new home just over a year ago someone stole their fireplace.

They know of at least three instances where homes being built had been burgled on Hamon Pl.

"It would have taken three people because those things are pretty heavy," Mr Ward said.

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"They obviously had a trolley and moved it out on the pallet and scoped out the house before they came."

The thieves also stole some of their builders' gear at the same time.

Just a few weeks ago a neighbouring house under construction was broken into.

"It's pretty disappointing because we had been looking out for them and trying to be vigilant," Mrs Ward said.

"It's a violation having people come through your house taking things. We hadn't even moved in."

The couple said they had to change the locks on doors they had never even used.

Rotorua Registered Master Builders Association spokesman for Rotorua Bill Clement said he had not heard of many thefts recently but they were often carried out by opportunists.

"We've had a couple of sites where copper cable has been removed . . . and a few reports of those light weight mobile scaffolding units going missing.

"There are a lot of opportunists around who may see something from the street and have a go at it.

"But, people do need to use a bit of common sense.

"Keep your property locked up or have some security lights installed.

"If you are in a built up area, speak to your neighbours and tell them what's going on and ask them to keep an eye on the place. Most people are really good if you knock on their door and introduce yourself," he said.

Rotorua builder Mathew McGovern said a house lot of copper wiring and air conditioning piping was stolen from the Hamon Pl property he was working on.

"It seems to be a bit more common. They took all the copper wiring and piping because it can be worth a bit of money, but things like ladders and tools, which are worth a lot more we left on site."

He said they had noticed a suspicious person in the neighbourhood around the same time.

"It's a shame with people building a new home and they are getting robbed before they have even moved in and are worried what might happen when they are actually living in the home," Mr McGovern said.

Rotorua police area prevention manager Inspector Stuart Nightingale said thieves preyed on new houses being built and being renovated.

"They take anything from water cylinders, generators, stoves and tools.

"It's annoying for the builders and it's annoying for the owners of the properties that every opportunity is being taken by thieves to steal from them."

Mr Nightingale said more often than not the property was being used to sell to secondhand dealers or scrap metal yards to make money, often to fuel their drug habits.

"We make inquiries regularly with these dealers. We also want to remind people that being in possession of stolen property carries a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment, so it's a serious offence."

Mr Nightingale said thefts at new building sites was rife in areas in the Western Bay of Plenty given the building booms in that area, but it didn't stop thieves from keeping their eyes on new houses popping up around Rotorua.

"It creates significant damage. It affects our local contractors who are trying to earn a wage."

Mr Nightingale said it never ceased to amaze him this kind of theft often happened right "under our noses".

"We have large TV sets, fridges, freezers, ovens being walked out of these houses by people yet no one sees it. It just goes to show that if you see odd behaviour occurring, then please call us."

Mr Nightingale urged anyone who saw anyone suspicious hanging around building sites to approach them, if they felt safe doing so, and query why they were there.

"If you don't feel safe doing that, try to secretly take a photo or a video on your phone because if it seems out of place, it probably is.

"Our staff are quick to respond to suspicious activity, so if you see something, say something. It's about looking after your neighbourhood because we are all residents."

How to proactively protect your home during a renovation:

Consider the future security of your home. Renovating is a good opportunity to think about installing or upgrading a security alarm and hardwired smoke alarms. And don't forget deadlocks on external doors and windows to keep you, and your property, safe.

Don't leave burglars any clues. Break down packaging that's lying around outside and dispose of it straight away. Put it in the bin or recycling, rather than advertising your new buys on the roadside.

Remove your valuables. If there are people coming and going from your property and your doors are open during renovations, consider keeping your valuables in a more secure location, and let your insurer know.

Secure your property at the end of the day. Once work has stopped for the day, lock the doors and windows, and put new appliances and building materials in a locked shed, along with tools, ladders and wheelie bins.

When you renovate, the other consideration is what to do with items like old windows and ovens. Selling online seems an obvious idea, but it can be a security risk as you're effectively letting the world know that you're renovating.

Check you're covered. Once you've finished renovating, update your cover for the value you've just added to your home, like an extra room, garage or deck.

- Amelia Macandrew, Customer Relations Manager at AA Insurance.