Home security tips and tricks: Keeping the bad guys out

June 4, 2018 - 4 min read

In this article:

There are three key things to check for home security:

  1. Check with your insurance company about home security discounts
  2. Decide if you want a professionally-installed system or DIY
  3. Choose the right system and level of monitoring

Studies show that alarms systems prevent/deter crime. Who doesn’t want a more secure property?

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No such thing as total security

You must have heard the old joke about the two friends who set off on a forest hike:

  • First hiker: Why are you putting on running shoes?
  • Second hiker: In case we come across bears
  • First hiker: You can’t outrun a bear
  • Second hiker: I don’t have to. I just have to outrun you

Home security’s a lot like that. All you have to do is deter them more than other local residents do. Criminals are lazy and, given similar rewards, will almost always go for the easiest pickings.

That doesn’t sound very neighborly. But imagine a whole community that employs security measures. The burglars will move on to an easier neighborhood. And that makes everyone safer.

Professional criminals vs. amateurs

Professional criminals are looking for high value. So don’t leave your $3,000 MacBook Pro visible through a window at night. Hide valuables from sight when you’re not home.

Pros don’t want to get into a fight. If they think you’re home, they will pass.

Amateurs are different. They tend to be addicts and petty criminals whose grip on the concept of risk/return is less than firm. And that can make them foolhardy.

The good news is they tend to be opportunistic. As long as you don’t advertise your home’s vulnerability (by leaving a window open, for example, or letting mail and newspapers pile up while you’re on vacation), there’s a reasonable chance they’ll move on to a more casual homeowner.

Are old home security tips making things worse?

Home security tips get stale very soon. Certainly, advice that was smart a decade or two ago may by now be way out of date.

After all, burglars watch the same cop shows that you do and they read the same advice and news reports.

No hiding place

For example, take places to hide your valuables. Do you keep yours in your sock drawer or freezer?

That’s the equivalent of using “password” as your online password. In a home break-in, the first places criminals look are the supposedly secret hideaways that everyone uses. Get creative.

How safe’s a safe?

A safe can be a great way to keep your precious things away from the sticky-fingered. But only if it’s securely bolted in place.

Can you pick up your safe? So can a burglar. And you might as well hang a big neon sign — complete with flashing arrow — over it saying, “All my cash and valuables are here.”

Lightbulb moment

If you’re unlucky enough to attract the attention of a professional burglar, he or she is likely to case your place thoroughly. In other words, your home may be under sustained surveillance.

After a while, thieves know which lamps are on timers: they always come on at the same time. If you want to use lighting to suggest you’re in when you’re not, use more recent technologies that let you turn them on and off via your smartphone from anywhere in the world.

And don’t forget to mix up your choices of times and individual lamps. Adding music or TV can help.

Lawn signs and sticker litter

Generic signs warning that a home is protected by an alarm system tend to be treated with the contempt they deserve. Those that are branded with an alarm company’s logo are almost certainly more effective and will deter some criminals.

However, amateur burglars sometimes see them as a welcome warning they need to get in and out quickly, while professionals might regard them as technological challenges.

“Beware of the dog” signs may deter some, regardless of the presence or absence of canines. Similarly, “Protected by Second Amendment” ones must surely cause some to move on. You just have to hope the burglars didn’t read the 2015 Harvard study that found that only 0.9 percent of victims of crime actually get to their guns during incidents.

Related: Get to know your neighbors, even if you’re shy

The 10 most effective solutions home security tips

We’ve already established that there’s no such thing as a totally secure home. If the prize is big enough, even minefields, electric fences and armed guards won’t deter criminal masterminds.

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up. Here are some of the steps most likely to help you secure your home:

  1. Fit Grade-1 deadbolts to your exterior doors
  2. Install window locks that keep your windows closed or window stops that prevent them being opened more than a few inches
  3. Have a burglar alarm installed — One offering a monitoring service is a much bigger deterrent but will mean a monthly subscription
  4. Team up with your neighbors for mutual security support — Even if there’s no formal Neighborhood Watch program in place, you can make an informal pact to keep an eye on one another’s homes
  5. Have a neighbor collect your mail and papers for you and put out your trash whenever you’re away. If you’ll be gone a longer period of time, you can stop your mail delivery or forward it
  6. Keep shrubs and hedges trimmed — True, you’ll lose privacy, but burglars hate an audience
  7. For the same reason, use external lighting that’s triggered by motion sensors
  8. Again for the same reason, fit cameras so you can remotely monitor your home and record activity — These have become much more affordable recently
  9. Don’t use social media to tell the world you’re away — Post those wedding/vacation/business trip photos once you’re home
  10. Use home automation technologies to make the home look occupied when you’re away

Any combination of the above could encourage burglars to skip your home and move onto a more vulnerable one.

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Peter Warden
Authored By: Peter Warden
The Mortgage Reports Editor
Peter Warden has been writing for a decade about mortgages, personal finance, credit cards, and insurance. His work has appeared across a wide range of media. He lives in a small town with his partner of 25 years.