France is a relatively safe country and in many rural areas, locking the front door is still almost unheard of. Having said that, burglaries have increased in recent years and it is sensible to make sure that your home is as securely protected as possible. Security is a special concern for second home owners. Holiday homes tend to be located in isolated rural areas and as a result, are often a favourite target for thieves. However, there are numerous measure which home owners can take, many of which cost almost nothing and will mean that your home is much less likely to be a target.
The vast majority of break ins are committed by opportunists, so the less opportunity you can offer, the better. The bulk of burglaries are committed during the day when people are out at work. Always close shutters and lock doors and windows, even if you are only popping out for a while. Close the garage and the gate and invest in good quality locks. None of these measures will stop a determined burglar but they mean that a break in will take longer and as a result, the thief will be inclined to look for an easier target. Never leave keys hidden under door mats or flower pots or for that matter in glazed doors, as it is only too easy to smash the glass, reach in and turn the key.
The best way to reduce the potential for a break in, is to look at the property as a whole and identify any weak spots. These are areas where it will be easier for an intruder to gain access. Trees and shrubs may obscure windows or doors, allowing the thief to be shielded from view, so think about pruning them back. Equally prickly shrubs or bushes along a hedge line or under windows, can be a good deterrent and if you are installing new garden fencing, make sure it is difficult to climb. You could also consider installing a motion sensor exterior lighting system as most thieves do not want to be spotted whilst they are trying to break in and a pool of light is a big deterrent. Make sure that nothing is left lying around that could facilitate a break in. Ladders will allow thieves to gain access to first floor windows or balconies, so make sure that any ladders or steps are securely locked away. Unlocked outbuildings are often a great source of tools and equipment for burglars. Not only can they walk off with your expensive garden tools and equipment, the burglars can also often find items that will make breaking in to the house easier. Fit the door with a good quality lock or padlock and check that any windows are secure. The windows in outbuildings are often shutterless, so if this is the case and you are going away for a while, you could even board the windows up. It may not look pretty but it will deter thieves. Older houses may also have traditional features which although attractive, present a security headache for the modern homeowner. For example, many properties in the south, have doors with opening glazed panels. These can be opened in the summer months to increase airflow but equally, provide an easy way for thieves to slip a hand inside and open the door.
Whether you are a full time resident and are going away for a while, or a holiday home owner who leaves the property unoccupied for prolonged periods, there are several things you can do to make your home less of an obvious target. Never let your mail pile up as this is a clear sign that the house is empty. Junk mail can soon fill a letter box so put a ‘Pas de Pub’ (pas de publicite - no junk mail) notice on your letter box. If you leave an answer phone on, make sure you remotely check and remove any messages on a regular basis and do not record a message telling the world that you have gone on holiday - that is effectively an open invitation to any potential burglars! One of the most important things that you can do is get someone to maintain the garden. An unkempt garden and overgrown lawn is a clear sign that the property is empty and paying someone to come and cut the grass, is a worthwhile investment.
Neighbours are one of the best weapons in the fight against crime. Good neighbours will keep an eye on the property whilst you are away and alert you to any problems. Tell them when you are going to be away, suggest they record the registration details of any vehicles that appear to be acting suspiciously and get them to call the police if they have the slightest concern. Getting a friend or neighbour to pop in morning and evening and open and close a few shutters and maybe turn some lights on and off, is ideal but if this isn’t feasible, you may want to consider a house sitter. A house sitter may also do things like look after the garden, house plants and pets so this can be an ideal solution. There are now numerous agencies who supply house sitters and you can also use social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to make useful contacts.
The police are very keen to prevent property crime and during the summer months, offer home owners extra reassurance. If you tell the local police station when you are going to be away, they will make regular patrols to check up on your property during these dates. This service is entirely free of charge and is a surprisingly effective method of preventing burglaries. The police leave a card after each visit, stating that the property is under surveillance and this alone acts as a deterrent. Even outside of the official holiday season, in many areas the police are likely to be quite happy to pop along and check on your property, if you let them know when you are going to be absent.
Depending on the area, the location and the type of property, you may want to consider installing extra deterrents such as bars on ground floor windows or doors and alarm systems. In terms of alarm systems, there is now a huge choice available with everything from basic systems which are simply designed to draw attention, to ones with multiple sensors which can be remotely monitored. For second home owners, especially those with isolated properties, the best choice is likely to be a monitored alarm system where, once activated, the alarm alerts a security company who then call the police. Other systems could be programmed to alert a friend or neighbour who could then check the property and call you or the police if required.
It is vital that you check the small print of your insurance policy, just in case the worst happens and you do suffer a break in. Many policies have a clause stating that you will not be covered if your property is left unoccupied for more than a certain number of days each year and you have not informed the insurers. Others may insist that shutters are closed and bolted when the house is empty or that ground floor windows are fitted with shutters. Check to see the exact requirements regarding locks, doors and windows and make sure that your fittings comply. Policies are likely to contain more stringent requirements in major cities and other areas that suffer from higher crime rates, so do check with your insurer. It is also worth asking to see if installing additional security measures such as an alarm, will reduce the premium and check to see that the contents of any outbuildings are sufficiently covered. These days, the replacement costs of tools and garden equipment such as ride on mowers and hedge trimmers, can easily account for more than the insured contents value of outbuildings which is often capped at quite a low amount.
Invest in a little safe for small valuable items, jewellery and personal papers. For added peace of mind, opt for a safe that is fire and flood proof. Keep any paperwork related to possible insurance claims (policies, receipts, valuations etc.) in the safe.
If you don’t possess receipts (perhaps for items bought second hand or inherited), insurers will often accept photographic evidence so make sure all your belongings are well documented.
Don’t display your home address on luggage labels. Professional thieves use this information to target empty properties. Use a work address instead.
Copyright - Catharine Higginson