One of the joys of living in London is that you get to live some of the exciting things that happen in a highly populated city like being a “victim of crime”.
I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to have experienced it twice last year! Once in a mugging and once in our home being burgled. If I had to choose between which I preferred (“neither” would be my first answer but if one was going to happen and I had to choose which), I would choose being burgled.
First of all, it’s not personal. They don’t care who you are, they target your place and not you the person. They don’t physically attack or threaten you, your safety or your life, they only sneak in and straight out when you’re not there.
Sure you lose a lot more in a burglary than in a mugging (unless you carry around wads of cash) and sure they’ve monitored you for a couple of weeks so that they know the behaviour and patterns of when you leave the house and come back but they don’t go anywhere near your person.
Believe me, having someone punch you and kick you randomly in broad daylight to take what you’re carrying in your hand, leaving you stranded with no money to get home or way for calling help is MUCH scarier and more traumatic than an anonymous person sweeping in and taking what you own when you’re not there.
Here are some tips however, to help you be more aware and perhaps prevent it from happening in the first place. Please note that this is only based on my experience and not in any way the advise of a professional!
1. Flats with working professionals living in them are more likely to be broken into than houses.
Houses are usually occupied by families – one house, one family. Children, mothers, nannies and cleaners are often in and out of the home throughout the day so the house is very rarely empty for long periods of time. One family means… lots of toys and only one lot of jewellery and electronics (mum’s & dad’s) and an entire house which could be several floors, to search for valuables.
Flats however have minimum 3 sets of people living in them. Usually, 2 professionals sharing per flat. that’s 2 lots of belongings over 3 flats which equals 6 lots of computers, 6 lots of jewellery etc. over the same number of floors as one house.. which is MUCH more lucrative for a burglar. Also professionals more often than not leave the house at around 7.30-8.30am to get to work and come home after 7.00pm which always leaves the entire block of flats empty every single day of the week during those times.
2. Doors that let you buzz people in are easier to get through than ones that you have to unlock to open physically because these doors will not have a mortise lock.
We made the mistake of installing one of those electronic buzzers that let you “buzz people in” – you know the ones, you press the intercom button and the door opens? It turns out that these doors are really easy to get through for a professional burglar.
Of course I’m not talking about a flat with a concierge or a block of 50 units. But, if you do live in a flat with very few units and you use an intercom lock release buzzer, your choice is… do you want the inconvenience of having to run downstairs to physically open the door for your visitors or the inconvenience of having all your stuff stolen? After getting all our stuff stolen, we’ve chosen the former!
We were advised by the security people that all MAIN ENTRY doors must have a mortise lock so we’ve installed one now.
The goal is to make it as hard as you can for them to get into the main entry because it keeps the burglar outside for longer while they fiddle around trying to get in and it’s easier for people to see them then!
If they get in easily, they can close the main door and take as long as they like getting through each flat door without anyone wondering what they’re doing.
3. Your letter slot can make it easy for a burglar to open your door!
Most people don’t have letter boxes in London like they do in Sydney. Instead you have these slots in the doors and the postman pushes the letters through which then land on the floor inside. We got one of those flaps that opens when pushed and closes back down again (so the cold air doesn’t continue to come in from outside) but it turns out that these easily allow for any burglar to insert a contraption from the outside, that could be hooked around to push open the door handle from the inside!
Solution? Either get a post box created for outside and seal the door up or, get a fixed flap for the post slot which forces any contraption to only be pushed down and not up towards the door handle.
4. No matter what you do, you can only make it difficult for them to get in, you can’t stop them from getting in if they want to.
Check with your local security company to make sure you’ve taken all measures to make it really difficult to enter your home. Never leave windows open or unlocked when you leave the house and double lock all doors. Make sure the main entrance has a double lock AND your flat door also has a double lock.
Our downstairs neighbour had her double lock on because she was away on business, they kicked her entire door down and broke the frame. So as mentioned, you can make it difficult but you can’t stop them. What you do ensure by doing this, is that your claim on insurance is valid!
5. Don’t keep valuables you’re not OK with losing in the house
There are things called safety deposit boxes and banks. I kept cash in the house because I’m one of those collectors. Travel to a country, keep that money… I had EUR, AUD, USD, GBP, Egyptian money, Hungarian money, HKD, I swear every place I’d been to, I had kept notes and coins of their money and I started collecting £1 and £2 coins that had different pictures on them.
After talking to many people, there are those that keep no cash in the house and others that do what I do. If you do what I do, stop it!! Otherwise, put it in a safe deposit box, store it outside of your home! I no longer keep any cash in the house because this is hard to prove when claiming on insurance and all insurance companies will have a limit on how much cash they will cover.
If you have really expensive pieces of jewellery or things of high sentimental (and retail) value, just don’t keep them in your home. These guys knew what they were taking, they took all my real stuff (including a white gold earring and pendant set my mother had given to me which I was going to wear on my wedding day) and left me all the fake ones.
To give you an idea of what they took: sunglasses, cufflinks, necklaces, pens (the expensive ones), earrings, rings, cash, mobile phones, laptops, cameras and all chargers amongst other things.
Basically anything small, valuable and easy to sell.
They stole this from all 3 flats in our block. They stole a suitcase from our neighbour, back packs from us… so it was very easy for them to just walk out and look like they were going on holiday!!
Which reminds me – back up YOUR COMPUTER! Most people are OK with losing their laptop, this is replaceable BUT not the information or the photos that are on it! Burglars wouldn’t care about that information either and will wipe your computer in order to be able to reset and sell it. So, make sure you back up those things and keep the back up outside of your home.
6. Keep an inventory of your valuables
We’ve just started to take an inventory. It’s much easier to go through a list you’ve already made and check if everything’s there than it is to remember what you had when it’s gone.
It was really hard to remember what we had and what might have been taken. We made a list and then a few days later realised something was missing. You could go for months and not need something then look for it and realise it had been taken!
Besides, for your insurance claim and police report, they like you to provide evidence that you had the items you’re claiming for so if you have photos and serial numbers of your items etc. it will make it much easier for you.
7. Get insurance
This one seems pretty evident but our upstairs neighbour took their time and managed to get burgled before they got around to it!
Make sure your insurance covers what’s on your inventory list to their correct replacement value and check requirements like locks on windows and locks on doors. If you haven’t secured your home based on what’s specified on your policy, you could nullify your entire claim!
Keep a look out for my next blog on burglary and I’ll give you some tips then for AFTER the event. I hope you never get burgled but if you follow at least some of the tips, hopefully it will ease the pain if it ever does happen to you.