Experts say that if you’ve been burgled once, you’re extremely likely to be burgled multiple times. Here are seven mistakes that put homes and their occupants’ personal safety at risk.
Not Having a Home Security System
Having a security system is the biggest deterrent to crime. In a survey conducted at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 60 percent of convicted burglars said that they always chose another house if an alarm system was in place at their first stop.
Homeowners whine that security devices are unaffordable, but at $2,200 per incident, burglary is far more so. Security systems come in all types and price ranges. From simple alarms to motion-activated floodlights to video cameras, anything is better than nothing. Even barking dogs discouraged 50 percent of the respondents in the UNC study.
Leaving Doors and Windows Unlocked
This would seem obvious, but a large percentage of robbers succeed without every breaking a pane of glass or jimmying a door.
The most popular entry point is a ground-floor window concealed by shrubbery, but a surprising number of burglars waltz in through an unlocked front door. Keep your locks in good repair, actively use them, and if you can If you can afford to upgrade to more sophisticated models, do so.
Make a habit of checking the locks on frequently used doors as you pass from room to room. Deliberately try every lock in the house before bed and you may be surprised. A dog getting out, a pizza delivery or a teenager trying to sneak a smoke through an open window can leave your home vulnerable if someone forgets to secure it.
Having a Cluttered Curb or Full Mailbox
Piles of newspapers, stuffed mailboxes and bins standing empty after trash collection are dead giveaways that everyone works or is on vacation.
Ideally, neighbors should cooperate to create an illusion that everybody on the block is at home. It’s a group effort that significantly deters crime. If you’re going away for a few days, ask neighbors to take care of curb clutter. Promise to do the same for them. Another option is to suspend mail and newspaper delivery until your return date.
For longer trips, arrange for someone to mow the grass and trim things up while you’re away.
Not Putting Enough Thought into Landscaping
Everyone values privacy, but allowing trees and shrubbery to cover the windows is not the best way to go. Crooks like privacy too.
Keeping trees and bushes well-trimmed is an easy preventative step to take, when you’re wary of burglars. Bushes adjacent to the house shouldn’t obstruct the windows or provide a hiding place. None of your landscaping should block visibility from the street or neighboring homes. In short, take care of privacy inside. Hang drapes or install indoor shutters to shield yourself from prying eyes.
Make ground-floor windows unappealing to robbers. Spread gravel underneath them, and plant low, thorny bushes. Roses, bougainvillea, barberries, holly, and other prickly species go a long way to prevent break-ins. Adequate lighting is also a must.
Keeping the Same Routine
We’re all creatures of habit, but the more you can vary your routine, the better.
Burglars almost always stake out a property before making their move. Anyone who sees you headed in the same direction at the same time every morning has a pretty good idea of where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. Approximately 60 percent of home robberies occur in broad daylight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
It’s difficult for working people to get around this one but do all you can to shake things up now and then. If possible, leave for work at different times. Take different routes out of the neighborhood. Leave early, waste a little time, and go back home for one more cup of coffee. If you work close by, come home for lunch a few times a week. Making inconsistency a habit could save you a bit of trouble down the line, especially if you live in a less secure area.
Parking in Your Driveway or on the Street
If you have a garage, take advantage of it. Cars are more enticing to thieves than just about anything. Even if they don’t steal the car, a series of smash-and-grabs along a single street can be highly lucrative and takes no time at all.
Leaving a luxury car in the open is a sure sign that there’s more of the same inside the house. If you must park in the open, take all your possessions inside the house. Briefcases, coats, packages, mail, accumulations of loose change and even cigarettes are tempting if thieves can see them.
Having Hired Help
Before you employe a maid, nanny, gardener or other worker, thoroughly check references and job history. It never hurts to spring for a criminal background check as well. Your safety and the safety of your children should always be the first consideration. No one likes being suspicious of everyone, but there are some bad apples looking for opportunities to steal. They prey on homeowners who need help.
When you hire someone, insist on discretion and privacy. Perfectly honest workers sometimes tend to tell all their friends what’s in their new employer’s house.
Here’s a final tip: Make valuables in your master bedroom impossible to find.
Burglars don’t like hanging around in a house for more than eight or ten minutes. They head for the master suite first because jewelry, guns, closet safes, prescription medications, illicit drugs, and other valuable items are usually kept there. If the pickings are slim in the bedroom, they’re likely to leave without exploring the rest of the house. They might grab a laptop or leather jacket on the way out, but the clock is ticking.
Don’t leave jewelry in a dish by the bathroom sink or a handgun in the nightstand drawer. Put valuables in a safe, secure hiding place every time you leave your home.
What Will Insurance Cover?
Specific coverage terms vary by state, insurance company, and product, and there are different policies for all types of homes. However, most policies will cover a good portion of your loss if you’re burgled.
Understand both personal property coverage and dwelling protection. The first covers stolen possessions, and the second covers repair or replacement costs for property damage. Here’s an important distinction: Replacement cost coverage provides reimbursement according to a stolen item’s current price. With actual cash value coverage, insurers factor in depreciation and adjust reimbursements accordingly.
Your premiums may increase if there’s a sudden spike in crime in your area or if you file a claim for theft. You may also be required to pay a deductible if you file a claim. The deductible is the amount that you chose when you bought your policy, and you’ll have to pay it up front before the insurance company reimburses you for your losses. Carefully weigh the cost of your deductible against your losses. Filing a claim may not be worth the hassle, and repeated claims of theft can result in your policy being canceled.
If your house will be vacant for an extended length of time, consider purchasing vacancy insurance. It’s not always offered, and it’s expensive when you can get it, but your theft claim may be denied if no one was living in your home at the time of the robbery.
Standard policies do have limits. Expensive jewelry, for instance, may exceed your limit. However, you can pay extra for a rider, also called an endorsement, that would kick in if high-dollar items are stolen.
Take a thorough inventory of your belongings and assign accurate values. Have valuables like jewelry reappraised every few years, and don’t forget to update your list when you buy new items. Take photos of particularly valuable items. Pictures may also help the police recover your stolen property.
Most insurance policies will only cover theft of cash up to $200, so keep your money in the bank.
Take advantage of insurance discounts for things like installing a security system, living in a gated community, and belonging to a homeowner’s association. It’s assumed that HOA neighborhoods have heightened security and organized efforts to keep the community safe. The greatest discount is awarded for a claim-free record, so do all that you can to prevent break-ins in the first place.