TL;DR: You and your home are not invincible, and the world is not becoming a nicer place. Step up your home security measures so your family and children are protected. (To watch the video, click here: https://youtu.be/WDkYjegzogo)
Almost a year ago today, in the middle of the day, our home was broken into. They took a rock from our garden, and smashed through a glass door in the kitchen. They stole every piece of jewelry I’ve ever owned, my perfumes, my husband's watches, our gun safe plus all the guns in it, our social security cards- including my children's, our birth certificates, marriage license and more. I wasn’t home thank God. But they were watching me come and go. I was in and out of the house several times that day for a home inspection, errands, you know, typical real estate activities while selling homes in Oviedo.
This is one of those things that you read and go "that really sucks, but it would never happen to me." That was us! But I'm here to tell you, it can, and it does, especially in times of economic uncertainty. We live in Oviedo, Florida- a sleepy Central Florida town with an incredibly low crime rate and A+ schools- in a gated community. I had a bigger fear of my coffee pot catching on fire than someone breaking into my home.
As a Mom, Oviedo Realtor & overall do-gooder, I’m sharing my story to bring awareness to one simple fact: our world isn’t becoming a nicer place. While I will never stop seeing the good in people before the bad, I have to be real, I’ve lost some faith in humanity. I was fearful of being in my home for months after the break-in occured, and to be honest, I’m still fearful of being away from my home for long periods of time- not a great perspective coming from a Realtor, huh?
As a result, I've dubbed March 6-12 Home Safety Awareness Week to shed light on the holes we all have in our family's safety plan from both external and internal threats. Let me give you some examples of the holes we had in our safety system: our documents were in an unlocked safe...in the world's most obvious place. Our gun safe was locked, but not bolted down. We had a security system that wasn't connected for service.
Below are some things we had the displeasure of learning last year- if these tips help just one person to never have to be in the position we were in, then my work is done here!
Number 1: Arm your alarm system. If you don’t have one, get one. If you have one and don’t arm it, start! Arm it when you aren’t home, and arm it when you sleep. Make sure it’s connected to 911 dispatch. You can typically negotiate with the security companies to get a couple cameras thrown in- if we had cameras, we would have an ID by now (a year later, mind you.) We also elected to get glass break sensors installed- an amazing piece of technology I had no idea existed. When the house is armed, it detects the frequency, or sound, of glass breaking and will immediately alert law enforcement.
ps. And for all you people saying “the second amendment is my security system”- unless you literally never step foot outside of your home, owning a gun is worthless if you aren’t home when a break in occurs. Owning a gun is also worthless if you don’t know how to use it. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve spoken to in recent months that a) don’t know how to access their gun safe and/or b) don’t know how to load or shoot a gun. I was 100% guilty of both of these things. Had I been home during the break in, owning 1,000 guns would have been worthless to me because I didn’t know how to access our safe or load a gun properly (and truth be told, I still don't think I could actually shoot it at another human being.)
Number 2: If you’re building a home, or replacing doors and windows soon, opt for impact glass. It’s worth it to not have thousands of dollars of damage to your home, with a rock found from your own backyard. Not to mention literally millions of tiny pieces of glass to clean up (our baby was crawling at the time, mind you. I have vacuumed 10,000 times and we still randomly find glass now and then.)
Number 3: Where are your important documents being stored? If they’re thrown in a drawer or even in a cheap filing cabinet with a flimsy lock, move them to a safe. Don’t ever leave your safe unlocked. Have digital copies of everyone’s social security cards and birth certificates- especially your children’s. I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t know either of my children’s social security numbers. I frantically called close advisors to try and find their information so I could get them secured under LifeLock after the incident occurred.
Number 4: You can freeze your credit in real time- it’s a few clicks of a button on each of the credit bureau websites. It prevents people from opening up unauthorized lines of credit in your name. It’s instant- so if your purse or wallet gets stolen, you can do this within seconds. www.identitytheft.gov/#/CreditBureauContacts. Unfreezing your credit is also in real time if you need to access a line of credit for any reason. This same link will also allow you to put a 1 year fraud alert on each of your credit lines as an additional layer of protection.
Number 5: Don’t store cash under your mattress! Seeing your mattress moved and nightside tables turned out is a sickening and humiliating feeling. Thankfully we had no cash to take. Store cash and blank checkbooks in your locked safe- not in the obvious places, under the bed, underwear drawer, etc. And remember, you can't purchase a house with mattress money, so get those stacks of cash in a high yield savings account ASAP!
Number 6: Do you own expensive things? Designer bags, diamonds, anything of value? If so, take a really good look at your home owners insurance policy. Standard policies typically include $1,000 for stolen jewelry and $2,000 for stolen firearms, $1,000 for electronics, etc. If these items were stolen from you, you wouldn't get nearly the replacement value you need to recoup the loss. Any jewelry of value should have its own policy taken out. You can also add a Coverage Extension to your current policy, which shouldn’t cost you very much, to increase the amount of coverage from let’s say, $1,000 to $10,000 if you own several nice things, but not enough to warrant a separate policy.
Number 7: Speaking of expensive things- should you need to make a claim, the insurance adjuster is going to want specifics if you want even a chance at recouping the value of the items stolen from you. They want pictures, they want receipts, they want date of purchase, length of ownership, you get the idea. Take pictures of the expensive things you own- preferably with you holding or wearing the item. Save your receipts or proof of purchase of everything important or valuable and keep it stored digitally. This is especially important for things like tools, silverware, even electronics- things that aren’t typically photographed. If you have no proof of ownership, you’re going to get a fraction- if that- of what the item was worth.
Number 8: Don't keep the safe holding all your important things in a standard location (i.e. closet, office.) Hide it somewhere no one will think to look. Burglars have to be in and out with a quickness, so they systematically only check obvious places. Make it hard for them to find so they waste their time looking instead of stealing your stuff.
Number 9: Bolt down your gun safe or make sure its too heavy to move. If you can carry it, so can a thief. If you have guns, keep a copy of the receipts and/or serial numbers digitally so in the event they are stolen, they can be documented in a police report in case they turn up again. We actually got a call several months ago that one of our guns had been recovered; the amateur who stole it left behind the case with the serial number inside.
Number 10: This is for the Moms: If you think you and your children are in danger, THROW them in the car and get out of there. The boys and I were the first to witness the scene. I pulled my car into the garage and came in through the house the way I always do. Immediately upon seeing the wreckage, I got the kids out of the house, and while on the phone with 911 dispatch, I shakily strapped my kids into their car seats. Looking back, this was insanely stupid and dangerous. I should have thrown the boys in the back and gotten the hell out of my enclosed garage as soon as possible. I was paralyzed with fear, and I wasn’t thinking. I have to live with this forever- don’t be me.
Number 11: Know who is coming into your home. At the time, we recently had several contractors in our home and just threw a huge party for our kids. 80% of break-ins are from someone who has been in your home before- and we were no exception. They knew exactly where to go- the definitive trail of glass to our bedroom, among other things is proof. I can tell with you 100% certainty, no hired help will ever step foot in my home again without proof of ID.
Number 12: Know your neighbors, be a friend. If you see something, say something. My favorite line, which I say literally daily is “it takes a village.” I truly have heart full of gratitude for our amazing neighbors & neighborhood, the City of Oviedo Police Department for their hard work on this case, and for our entire village who came to help us out.
If you found this article helpful, consider sharing it with someone who could use this advice!