How much is your property worth to you?

For all the discussion of emergency funds and disaster preparedness that goes on in the personal finance blogosphere, I rarely, if ever, read anything about protecting yourself from property crime. Perhaps because it’s an unpleasant subject, perhaps because many people have never experienced it, but I don’t hear a big conversation about the subject in PF discussions.

And yet, for many of us, a sizable portion of our accumulated wealth is in our property — from family heirlooms to everyday items to tools of the trade, our possessions are assets in our personal balance sheets. We work hard, save up, shop smart, and we get stuff we use, enjoy and value.

Yes, owning less stuff means there is less stuff to lose, but let’s be practical for a moment — not everyone can sleep on the floor of an empty apartment and call it a home. So please, let’s not go there, and let’s just stick to the subject of securing whatever it is we have, whether it’s a living room full of family treasures or a small trunk with less than 100 items. Even if you’re a minimalist, your stuff is worth something to you. How do you protect it?

Insurance is not always enough

Since the robbery of my business storage, I’ve been having conversations with other people, including other business owners, about their experiences with theft. In many cases they were compensated by insurance, but not always to their satisfaction. When your insurance pays actual cash value rather than replacement cost, depreciation applies. The check for your stolen top-of-the-line laptop from two years ago might only let you buy a junk computer when it finally arrives.

Also, in many cases, theft policies do not cover “mysterious disappearance,” meaning that, if something simply vanishes without evidence of a crime, you might not be covered. This is the norm with inland marine policies, but it also may be part of your home insurance. Check the fine print and make sure you’re protected if your pricey tablet suddenly grows legs and walks out unnoticed after entertaining visitors.

Additionally, many home or renter’s insurance policies will limit, by default, coverage for things like jewelry. For valuable items like your grandpa’s watch or hobby equipment or that budding art collection, you usually have to add a rider where you specify the items covered. A photographer friend of mine has one as an addition to his homeowner’s insurance for his professional equipment.

Locks: use all of them

This survey in Apartment Therapy shows that about 12 percent of respondents leave their doors unlocked. That shows a lot of trust in humanity. In an ideal world we should be able to leave our keys in the car and sleep with doors and windows open, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and it only takes one instance of having an unwanted visitor to damage your trust and potentially much more.

However, just because you have a lock on your door it doesn’t mean it’s any good. Even if you lock your doors at all times, common locks can be easily picked or bumped. Do a search for “bump keys” and you’ll quickly find how, for a measly $3, you can purchase a master key that will open your door in seconds. This is a new trend in breaking and entering, and I’d recommend upgrading your locks with a model that’s bump-resistant as soon as you can.

I recently replaced my cheapo deadbolts with commercial-grade deadbolts and cylinders. Expensive, and not impossible to force open, but it adds a level of security to my doors, and it’s cheaper than my insurance deductible anyway. I went a little overboard, but you don’t have to.

Not all doors are created equal

Just briefly to say that you can have a great lock, but if your door and/or frame are flimsy it’s almost the same as nothing. Also, you should watch this unintentionally hilarious video which nevertheless is not just funny but also pretty cool at the same time (if you like this kind of stuff):

No need for such extremes of course, especially under normal circumstances, but you get the idea. Get solid doors.

Alarm and monitor

Of course it’s nice to alert you or the neighbors when someone is trying to break in, but it’s much better when the alarm actually reaches the police or a professional service so they can send a patrol car, isn’t it?

Finding a good option took me a bit of research because GRS reader Babs had mentioned that alarm companies are something of a racket and have contracts “full of fine print.” Indeed, some time ago I had an alarm tech come over and offer me a “free installation” that required a two-year commitment and all manner of potential shenanigans, and I said no, thank you. (As you know, I HATE consumer contracts.)

So, here comes this alarm company that offers wireless self-installation. You pay for the hardware and they monitor the alarm for a very reasonable no-contract fee. Funny thing, it features Dave Ramsey on the website (probably because alarm contracts are such a scam, people need reassurance from Mr. Frugality). I swear an oath that I’m not shilling and I’m not getting any free product and I have no economic interest in saying this, but I’m putting in my order soon. Do you know of any other you could recommend?

An added safe

Let’s face it, most people don’t need a bank vault, but my locksmith swears by heavy safes that weight 600lb or more. “Don’t bother with the small ones,” he told me, “they carry those away.”

If you have a monitored alarm system, all you might need is to delay the criminals while the police arrive. So even a cheap gun safe that’s anchored to the wall will add a layer of protection to your valuables (but my locksmith swears by the heavy, fireproof stuff).

If you don’t have the space, of if you rent your home, a bank safe-deposit box might be a place to keep important objects or documents or extra cash, provided you can wait for the bank to open.

K-9 security system

When I was a little kid our house got robbed. So my dad bought a German Shepherd. We didn’t get robbed again for the next several years.

Then, the dog got an incurable disease and was “sent to a farm, to live with nice people.” And we got robbed again. Twice. So, we got another German Shepherd and, once again, no robberies.

You see the pattern. Dog = no robbery. No dog = robbery. Of course there is the feeding and the cleaning up after and the exercise and the vets and training all that, which isn’t small labor or expense, when done responsibly, so this is not for everyone, but it’s an option.

Of course I was just talking to someone who had dogs and got robbed anyway — the dogs were in the front and the tool sheds with all the pricey gear were in the back.

No system is perfect, but we can try — yes? Please share your strategy and tactics!