As a victim of an Easter-weekend home burglary, robbing me of prized possessions and sentimental belongings worth $32,000, I’ve since found out what I should have done to protect myself and my belongings.
Below are the five lessons I’ve learned. On this Memorial Day weekend, I hope that after reading about my unfortunate experience, you’ll take steps to avoid winding up in a similar situation.
Lesson No. 1: A home burglary is an invasion.
The creepiness of knowing total strangers broke into my sanctuary, pawing their way through my things and helping themselves to whatever they wanted is indescribable.
For at least a week, I dreaded returning home from work, not only because I felt unsafe, but also because I couldn’t escape the reminders of what had transpired. Though the intruders left things surprisingly neat and I can take some solace in the fact that they wore gloves (no fingerprints), the noticeable absence of meaningful items is downright depressing.
As I’ve been led to understand, I should count myself “lucky” that there wasn’t a big mess to clean up beyond the fingerprinting dust.
Lesson No. 2: No neighborhood is exempt.
I live in a town I’ve nicknamed “Norman Rockwellville” because it is quaint and safe. Residents take pride in not recalling where their house keys are and leave car keys in the ignition of unattended, unlocked vehicles.
Experienced thieves actually employ surveillance techniques for a period before taking a chance at gaining entry into a home.
As a former Boston resident, I haven’t quite adopted the attitude of most of my neighbors; my house was locked the weekend I was robbed. But I had caught the complacency cold: my “hide-a-key” was not very cleverly hidden and likely found by the thieves as there was no apparent forced entry.
My house is a setback from the road and concealed from neighbors by large pines, making it an attractive target. Based on what was (and wasn’t) taken, the police have theorized that the burglars entered my property on foot and probably under the cover of darkness.
This was also the only weekend there was not a vehicle in the driveway and our cats were with us, so no one was in and out of the house throughout the holiday. We had timers on lights and radios, but the lack of vehicular traffic and the stationary window blinds provided enough evidence that we’d left for a few days. I probably would have come home to a broken window if my concealment skills were better.
I am told that the Thanksgiving and Easter holiday weekends are very popular for this type of activity because so many people travel, leaving their homes unattended for a good stretch of time. Experienced thieves actually employ surveillance techniques for a period before taking a chance at gaining entry into a home.
Lesson No. 3: Our memory skills decline amid a crisis.
Since I was in a shocked and disgusted state after the burglary, trying to determine what was missing was nearly impossible initially.
There were the obvious items: an expensive watch gifted to me upon the completion of my master’s degree along with most of my jewelry and silver service for 12 given by loving friends and family when I married. But it took me days to compile a “complete” list for the police and insurance company.
Other burglary victims have told me I will be looking for something years from now and only then realize it must have been among the items stolen.
Lesson No. 4: Insurance is helpful — when it is kept up to date.
I updated my homeowner’s policy when I moved to Norman Rockwellville about a decade ago and glance through it on an annual basis when the premium is due. But I never really gave much thought to how it would (or wouldn’t) work on a year-to-year basis after the original purchase.
Though I had specifically identified and valued in a separate policy endorsement my graduation watch and silver service, I didn’t give any consideration to how they’d increased in value over the last 10 years. The price of silver has at least tripled and gold has doubled over that time, leaving me seriously under-insured. I still had them covered for what they were worth when I first got the policy.
The result: I’ll likely only be reimbursed for a fraction of their true value.
My insurance agency didn’t nag me about keeping the values up to date and now I wished it had. I’m guessing most don’t.
Also, in an attempt to keep my premiums down, I didn’t schedule (cover separately) any jewelry valued under $1,000 on the policy endorsement. I had a $1,000 deductible and operated under the assumption that I was more likely to have jewelry lifted from a hotel room while traveling than from my own home.
I never thought about someone emptying the drawer where it was kept. I also didn’t pay attention to jewelry I’d accumulated over time, the total value of all of the pieces now exceeding the $3,000 policy limit.
Lesson No. 5: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
My mother was certainly right about this one. But everyone’s perspective of prevention is different. Here’s what my family members and I are now doing (or thinking of doing) to prevent another break-in:
- Though I don’t really have much left to protect, I am now considering installing alarm and monitoring systems because I can’t stand the idea of strangers in my home handling my belongings.
- I have eliminated the hide-a-key system.
- All family members are required to be aggressive about door locking when we are out and at night.
- The next time we go away, our neighbors will be put on alert and we’ll leave a vehicle in the driveway. I will also ask friends who regularly drive by to stop in for a bit and possibly change light and blind configurations as a deterrent.
And here’s my insurance advice:
Preventative maintenance is key here, too. Be sure to review your policy each year for holes.
Think back through the prior year to determine if you made any major purchases and whether any of your assets may have appreciated. Then, make adjustments accordingly if you are not willing to cover the difference yourself.
Document significant purchases with the date and place of purchase, your cost and any applicable serial numbers. You can keep this information on your computer, but you may want to put another copy with your important documents in case your computer gets stolen. Also, take the time to photograph or videotape your belongings and where they are kept; it’s easier than ever now that most of us own smartphones.
I’m in the process of videotaping and documenting my belongings. Having this kind of documentation will not only help jar your memory if you ever need to build an inventory list to make a claim, it will provide you with the needed backup if you have to negotiate with your insurer.
Where Things Stand
So here’s where things stand for me: The thieves are still at large (a nearby home was burglarized a couple of weeks after mine) and the police are uncertain whether they’ll be successful retrieving any of my property.
I’ve submitted my claim and the police report to my insurance company and am waiting for a response.
And I’m seriously hoping I’ll never have to go through something like this again.