Tuesday, 15 January 2013

home security - 10 tips for a safe home

2012 ended on a pretty bum note in our house, as we were burgled on Christmas Eve. We were at our respective parents for the holidays and I had a phone call from our landlady on Christmas morning to give us the bad news. Aside from cutting short precious family time, I had to return early to list missing items for the police and my insurers. Luckily they didn't cause any more damage than a broken pane of glass and I've always had insurance so I can get thing replaced, although nothing can replace items of sentimental value of course. It got me to thinking though that there was more we could have done to prevent the break in, or a least prevent some of our things getting stolen. I thought I'd share them with you so you can assess your own home and situation and help prevent the trauma of a burglary.

I think there are two key elements to home security, prevention and damage control. Firstly you should do everything you can to prevent anyone gaining access to your property (points 1-6 below) and if the worst does happen, there are things you can do inside your home to prevent them making off with your belongings, or things that allow you to get them replaced more easily (7-10 below)

(c) Lok Leung Image source: Flickr

1.Lock up It might sound obvious but do always check that your doors and windows are locked before you leave the house, even if you're going out for only a short time. If you have lockable internal doors it's worth using them too, as it will hinder a burglars progress through your home if they do manage to get in. Also remember to lock any external buildings like sheds, garages or storage boxes not only to keep their contents safe, but also to prevent any tools being used to break in. Don't ever leave spare keys hidden outside, ask a friend to hold a set of spares if you need to.
2.Out of sight Don't have your valuables on display. If you're going out don't leave the curtains open and make sure your rooms aren't visible from the street. Use some sheer curtains or some opaque window film for both privacy and security. It's worth hiding any high value items as well, anything you can do to make things harder for would-be burglars.

3.Leave a light on A dark house is a sure sign to a would-be burglar that the property is probably empty. Try to leave a really visible light like the hall light on, and at least one other, giving the impression that other rooms are occupied. You can always invest in a timer switch as well to complete the illusion and save on electricity. A reliable digital timer plug can be purchased for less than ten pounds from hardware stores like Screwfix. They are especially useful if you're going away over night or on holiday. Ask your landlord if they would consider fitting a security light if you don't have one (basic ones start at about £10) you can even get ones fitted with a camera for a reasonable price. Being floodlit as they try to break into your property should act as a deterrent.

4. Landlords responsibilities As a tenant you should always ensure your home is as secure as possible, but your landlord has responsibilities too. They must have buildings insurance (so they would be responsible for any buildings damage caused by a break in) and they also have a responsibility to keep the property safe. Immediately report anything like broken window latches or locks to your managing agent or landlord. See if they would consider fitting a burglar alarm if you don't already have one. If you feel that there is a particular trouble spot you are within your rights to bring it up with them too, after all, a break in can cost them money too so it's in their best interests to have a secure property.

5. Neighbourhood watch Consider joining your local scheme (details here) or at a basic level, just get to know your neighbours! If you have neighbours you trust, let them know if you're going away overnight as they can keep an extra look out on your home and you can do the same in return. If you're going away for longer consider asking a friend to flat sit for you. Be familiar with your surroundings too and vary your routine, as there could be someone watching for a good opportunity to break in. You can also request a visit from your local Crime Prevention Officer who may identify issues you haven't thought of.

6.Change the locks You never know who has copies of your keys. Renters especially are at risk as your landlord may not have changed the main locks for some years and any number of previous tenants could theoretically have easy access to your home. You can request the locks to be changed at the start of your tenancy and if you're particularly worried or your landlord is being particularly difficult, you could offer to pay half the costs. You must not change the locks yourself without prior consent though and this will contravene almost all tenancy agreements. 

7. Mark your items If the worst does happen and you get anything stolen, it's easier to be re-united with your stuff if it's marked with a security pen that shows up under UV light. You can pick one up for a pound or two at stationers or on line. You can also purchase stickers to visibly display that your property is marked, to act as a deterrent. Try the ultimate Property Marking Kit here, for example.

8. Back up your files The actual contents of your computer will be irreplaceable if not backed up, especially as many people store family photos on computers now, rather than in an album. Cloud storage is a good option because it can't be stolen, whereas backing up to a hard drive alone still risks data loss either through theft, accidental damage or corruption to the drive itself. Back up regularly and should your computer be stolen, it needn't be a complete disaster.

9. Buy a safe
It's worth investing in a small personal safe, like the one below. They are simple to fit and can be bolted to the bottom of a cupboard or wardrobe. I suggest keeping any important documents like your passport in there to prevent them being stolen or used for identity fraud. It's also a great place to put small valuables like jewellery, watches, cameras and hard drives. Remember to keep your personal details safe too by putting a password on your computer and not storing details that could be used to access things like your bank accounts. If you do have any computer equipment stolen , it's worth changing your passwords on things like your e-mail accounts just in case and always click the 'never store password' option when you log in on line, to prevent anyone gaining access to your personal details that way.

Image source: Homebase

I can't stress enough how important is is to have contents insurance. In the worse case scenario at least you have a chance of replacing your lost items. If you don't think you have much of value take a second to add up how much your phone, camera, laptop, CDs etc would cost to replace. You'll be surprised. Specialist renters insurance is available although most contents cover will be fine unless you house-share in which case I recommend something like Endsleighs insurance cover for renters, which allows not only for shared housing but can also cover accidental damage to some parts of a rented property. Always check the fine print of any policy as contents cover doesn't automatically cover things like your landlords carpet or fixtures as standard and a specialist renters package may be better for you.

A few insurance tips:
  • Make sure your cover is high enough
  • List high value items on the policy separately
  • Make a note of the serial numbers on your electronic equipment and supply your insurer with them if required
  • Keep receipts for new purchases and file them somewhere safe (insurance companies may ask for proof of ownership)
  • Likewise, photograph your high value items in situ should proof of ownership be needed, and e-mail them to yourself to keep them safe.

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