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Lighting, inside and outside your home, is key to deterring would-be burglars. Lights inside indicate someone is home, and timed lighting when you're not there helps give the illusion you are. Motion-detecting lights outside keep prowlers away by making it easy for a security camera or neighbor to spot them. (Steven Puetzer/Getty Images)

You may think of home security and insuring your valuables as a “been there, done that” concern that you took care of when you got your homeowners insurance policy, put into place when you first bought the property. Chances are, you will be incident-free and all will be fine for the years that you live there.

But a break-in or other home disaster can happen when you least expect it. To be sure that you don’t fall victim to a home invasion or burglary, let’s take a look at how you can protect your home and ensure that your insurance coverage is up to par, should a loss occur.

Security Basics

The harder you make it for a thief to gain access to your home and your valuables, the less likely he or she is to try. “Burglars are lazy. They won’t attempt entry into a house where the risk is heightened that they may be caught. They will simply move on to the next house that seems less protected and more burglar-friendly,” says Maribeth Anderson, assistant vice president and senior risk consultant for HUB International in the Chicago area. According to Anderson, a security protocol for your home should include the following best practices that will help to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

Here are five things you can do to make your home more secure:

  • Keep track of who has keys to your home.
  • Check that all locks work.
  • Add lighting outside your home.
  • Get an alarm system.
  • Lock away your valuables.

[Read: 6 Ways To Make Your Home Environmentally Friendly]

1. Keep Track of Who Has Keys to Your Home

Who has a key to your home? Keep a list (somewhere safe) of who has been given a key to your house. Besides immediate family members, there may service providers who come weekly that you have given a key to. On a regular basis, review this list and make sure everyone who has a key is still working for you or should have this sort of access to your home.

2. Check That All Locks Work

Check that all lock devices work correctly on windows and doors. It is easy to check and should be conducted regularly.

[Read: 8 Ways to Upgrade Your Front Porch.]

3. Add Lighting Outside Your Home

Thieves look for doorways and windows that are not well lit from the street. Add motion-detecting lights around the perimeter of your property. When movement is detected, the lights will automatically turn on. Motion detector lights must be high wattage to illuminate an area, especially one that has many trees or shrubs. Think obnoxious floodlights that light up the sky – and house, and lawn – making it difficult for the intruders to find a place to hide.

4. Get an Alarm System

If you are interested in a higher level of security other than locking doors and windows, you may want to install a security system. There is a reason why words like “stealth” and “stalk” come to mind when talking about a burglary. Robbers want to come in and go out of your home without anyone knowing they have ever been there. The three elements that they hate the most when making their way into a residence are sound, lights and video cameras. Having an alarm system that is loud and persistent, reaching neighbors and tied directly to the local police department shows the would-be robber that the time at your home is limited before police respond to the alarm.

Take the time to review reputable security companies to develop a security plan that's capable of providing the right monitoring level for your needs. The installation will include monitoring for all doors and windows, or at minimum the ones that are most easily accessible. Once the homeowner turns on the alarm system, if a door or window contact is broken the alarm will sound, unless the correct code is entered on the key panel. After a brief period, the alarm company will send out the police to check the premises.

There are many options that can be implemented on your own – if you're looking for a more economical solution, there are a number of affordable home security system options now available that include video monitoring,

If you choose the outside company route, your real estate agent is a good source for the names of security companies that have a solid reputation in your area. It's a good idea to have the company come in periodically and check contact points if this is a part of your system.

[Read: Why Isn't Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim as Easy as Auto Insurance?]

5. Lock Away Your Valuables

The odds that your home will be the target of a burglary are low. But if it is, how easy would be it for the robbers to find your valuables? While keeping jewelry in a jewelry box or somewhere in your closet is certainly convenient, it is also convenient for the intruder. Criminals will look in the obvious places.

Put a little thought into what would make you most comfortable in protecting whatever it is that is of value to you. That can be anything from a fire and burglar-proof commercial container, home safe or a hiding place that only you know about. Banks also offer safety deposit boxes for those extra special items of value. Weigh the cost and security of the various options and determine what will give you peace of mind, and for a cost that you're comfortable with.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when insuring your valuables:

  • Do you have the proper amount of coverage? Be sure your insurance company has up-to-date appraisals for both scheduled and unscheduled (blanket) insurance. On scheduled items, you’ll want to be sure that you are fully covered and on unscheduled items, you’ll want to be sure that the blanket policy covers all of the items.
  • Do you understand your policy? Most people know what their deductible is, but have you walked through the basics of your policy with your insurance agent? You may be surprised at some of the nuances of your policy, such as: Am I paid for the tax on items that are damaged, lost or stolen and replaced? What happens if I don’t replace an insured item with the exact same item? Understanding the ins and outs of your policy will give you peace of mind that you have the right coverage and protection.
  • Storage of Valuables. Don’t make it easy for theft to occur. Leaving jewelry in unlocked or easy-to-break locked drawers or cabinets isn’t going to keep them safe. There are many options, find the right one for you.

Make it a priority to review your homeowners insurance coverage (or any insurance, for that matter) on an annual basis to ensure that it reflects any important changes.


Is Your Home Alone for the Holidays? How to Keep Your House Bandit-Free

Keep the burglars at bay without the booby traps.

(Getty Images)

When your family goes out of town for the holidays, fingers crossed, you won’t leave a kid behind. But then who’s going to keep your home safe from the criminals waiting to pounce on an empty house or apartment? There’s no need to call on Kevin McCallister of "Home Alone" if you follow these ways to secure your home before you take off for the holidays.

Lock up.

Lock up.

A bright blue front door with a stainless steel knob

(Getty Images)

It’s obvious – maybe too obvious – but it’s easy for homeowners to forget to do a final check on the door handle when they’re juggling suitcases, presents for family and a road trip’s worth of snacks. If you don’t lock up, you’re making it easy on criminals. “The burglars are most likely coming through the front door,” says Chris McGoey, a crime prevention expert based in Los Angeles. Before you leave, double-check that doors and windows are locked, and try the front door as you leave to ensure it’s completely secure.

Go for a monitored security system.

Go for a monitored security system.

Pushing Alarm. Woman's hand, connecting a home alarm

(Getty Images)

When shopping around for a home security system, you can opt for monitored or unmonitored systems. A monitored system requires an annual fee but is tracked by a security company, which can contact local authorities if an alarm goes off. With an unmonitored system, “There’s no security company on call if your alarm goes off,” says Sarah Brown, home and community safety expert for home security information company SafeWise. If you're planning an extended holiday vacation where you might not notice a mobile update right away, Brown recommends a monitored system.

Go high-tech with your doorbell.

Go high-tech with your doorbell.

door security with camera intercom

(Getty Images)

If you want to increase your security before burglars even try to break in, a remote-access video doorbell is an effective option. David DeMille – a home security expert and website manager for ASecureLife.com, a personal security ratings and rankings website – explains that if you're not home, you can voice answer through your phone when someone rings your doorbell – potentially to case the property as a break-in target. A voice answer will likely send criminals away, even if they can tell you’re responding from somewhere else. “Either way, they know you’re watching,” DeMille says.

Be diligent.

Be diligent.

A man carrying a suitcase about to walk out the front door of his house to travel.

(Getty Images)

When you’re rushing to get out of the house and on the road, it can be tough to go through a laundry list of tasks to ensure your home is secure. But it’s useful to be in the habit already – whether it’s activating your security system, double-checking the deadbolt or setting light timers. “There’s always human error. The old theory’s true: If it can go wrong, it will go wrong,” says Paul Ciepiela, president of the Maryland Crime Prevention Association and a detective for Baltimore County Police.

Get to know your neighbors.

Get to know your neighbors.

Two men talking near plants in a garden.

(Getty Images)

Unlike in “Home Alone,” chances are slim that the entire neighborhood will be out of town. If you’re friendly with the people on your block – in a neighborhood watch or otherwise – those who stick around during the holidays are more likely to think twice if they see something out of the ordinary. “Community involvement is a huge factor in home safety and recovering things,” Brown says, noting that people who live on a cul-de-sac often have low risk of burglary because they interact with each other more and know their neighbors' comings and goings.

Call on friends to collect the mail.

Call on friends to collect the mail.

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“Don’t let newspapers or sales [fliers] pile up at your door. It is an indication to a burglar that no one is home,” says Commander Leslie Parsons of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia. It helps to have a neighbor or friend pick up mail, newspapers and fliers on a regular basis, but you can also hold post office mail and newspaper delivery for the duration you’re gone and reschedule package delivery from UPS or FedEx for after you return.

Beware of burglar-friendly landscaping.

Beware of burglar-friendly landscaping.

Front Yard Garden with Heather Foliage, Golden Japanese Forest Grass, Helmond Pillar Barberry, and Japanese Maple

(Getty Images)

Bushes and trees that hide windows and doors from the street can be ideal cloaking for a burglar trying to sneak into your home. But you can landscape to deter criminals as well. Your landscaping should ensure there’s no easy place to hide and make it difficult to get close to windows. “Putting bushes underneath windows, especially ones that have thorns, can be a great deterrent,” DeMille says. Lighted walkways, motion-detecting spotlights and a front porch light also help prevent potential burglars from getting a good look at your home's interior.

Time the lights.

Time the lights.

"a beautiful villa taken at dusk with all interior and external lights switched on. In the background, conifers and winter trees are silhouetted against the rich blue evening sky. In the foreground, a large driveway is partially lit by the exterior lights.Looking for exterior views of Luxury Homes and Buildings... then please see my other images by clicking on the lightbox Link below...A>A"

(Getty Images)

A dark house all night is a good sign the home is empty, but so is a house that stays lit all day. “Most burglaries happen between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” Brown says, noting it’s the lights that stay on all day that are the bigger indicator that the house is empty. Attach light timers to a few lamps throughout your home so they go on when it starts to get dark, then turn off in the morning.

Fake like someone's there.

Fake like someone's there.

(Getty Images)

You don’t need a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan dancing around your living room to make it seem like someone’s home. TV simulator lights, like the one by FakeTV, are sold on Amazon and at stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart. “It actually throws colored lights up against the walls and it mimics the TV being on but uses a lot less electricity,” DeMille says. Set a timer on the TV light simulator and it looks like someone is watching TV for a few hours during the day and night.

Turn your phone ringer down.

Turn your phone ringer down.

Yellow rotary telephone sitting on a midcentury side table next to a retro upholstered chair.

(Getty Images)

An age-old strategy for burglars is to call a home phone line before attempting to break in. Even if the burglar isn’t the one calling, hearing the phone ringing without answer from outside can be enough to inspire a break-in. Brown explains: “Phone ringers are actually really loud, so that could be a signal no one’s home” if a potential burglar is scouting your house and hears the phone go to voicemail. To make it more difficult for criminals, turn the ringer down so it can’t be heard from outside the home.

Keep your live-tweeting to a minimum.

Keep your live-tweeting to a minimum.

Woman using laptop with a cup of coffee

(iStockphoto)

It may be hard to not document your Christmas trip to Hawaii all over Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, but if your home is empty, it might be the best move. Friends, acquaintances and even strangers may see your airport selfie and make plans to stop by your empty abode while you’re away. “Saving your pictures until you get home would probably be a smarter idea,” Brown says.

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Tags: real estate, housing, crime, insurance, home insurance


Robin Kencel is a founding agent of Compass’s Greenwich, Connecticut, office and one of the top 10 agents in the Greenwich market. She has been ranked in the top 1% of all agent teams across the United States by the Wall Street Journal/Real Trends and cofounded several top producer agent teams. She is listed in Who’s Who In Luxury Real Estate and is a member of the Compass Sports & Entertainment Division. Her team, the Robin Kencel Group, concentrates in Greenwich, Connecticut, and has a vibrant network of premier agents in other Connecticut and U.S. luxury towns.

Kencel's deep roots in the worlds of interior design and historic preservation give her a unique perspective on every home, whether preparing their homes for sale or evaluating the strength of a home under consideration.

As a six-time national ballroom champion, Kencel is chair of the Greenwich Historical Society’s Landmark Recognition Program, a member of the First Selectman’s Economic Advisory Council, and board member of the Town’s public relations campaign, Think Greenwich.

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