When it comes to protecting your home, some decisions are no-brainers: putting strong locks on the doors and windows, keeping the perimeter of your property well lit and making sure your valuables are out of sight from prying eyes.
But what else can you do to ensure your house isn’t going to be featured on the next episode of Crimewatch?
Here are some expert tips and tricks for deterring burglars…
1. AROUND THE BACK
Back gardens are the most vulnerable part of the house, according to the Metropolitan Police, as it offers would-be thieves a private point of entry. You’d be forgiven for thinking a high, sturdy fence is the best deterrent. However, many burglars are quite adept at scaling a fence – and the sturdier it is, the easier to get a foothold.
The trick, says the Met, is to put a 30-50cm open-edged trellis on the top, as this won’t support the weight of a human without the risk of being seen or breaking the framework. The resulting noise and potential injury will put off some burglars.
If you’re green-fingered, trail a climbing rose through the trellis and you have instant barbed wire, without the aggressive look of the real thing.
In a similar way, ornamental iron gates are harder to climb than wooden ones, and may mean that any potential burglars are still visible from the street.
If you have patio or French doors, fit an anti-lift device. This keyless locking system prevents patio doors being lifted off their rails from the outside to access your home.
2. FRONT OF HOUSE
Your front garden can reveal a lot to potential intruders. A scruffy, uncared for appearance could suggest you’re lax about home security, too.
As well as keeping the greenery trimmed to reduce hiding places, make sure there’s a clear view of your front door to passers by. Keep any fencing to a maximum height of 1m, so anyone entering your home will be visible from the street.
As well as motion detector security lights, gravel footpaths and driveways can help to alert you to any unexpected visitors, as they’re noisy to walk on.
Dense, thorny bushes below ground-floor windows are a deterrent to potential intruders. Plants to consider include berberis, gorse, sea buckthorn and shrub roses. Rose lovers might like to try growing Rosa Fru Dagmar Hastrup (£15.50, davidaustinroses.co.uk) – it has pretty pink flowers and a very thorny stem.
Check the location of your wheelie bins. They make ideal platforms to gain access to high windows. You could consider securing bins in a safe place with a chain, or even locking them in a purpose-built shed.
3. THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Exchanging contracts and receiving the keys to your new home is always an exciting event – but it’s also the time to think about security. Statistics from the British Crime Survey show that if you’ve lived in your house less than a year, you are almost twice as likely to be burgled (46 per 1,000 households as opposed to an average of 26).
Once you move in, the first thing you should do is to change all the door and window locks. There’s no way of knowing how many sets of keys may have been left with builders, cleaners, previous tenants or have simply been lost.
Put up blinds or curtains as soon as possible and don’t leave unpacked boxes in view – it’s easy for potential burglars to spot you’ve just moved in. You’ll be unsettled and receiving lots of visitors, from neighbours to deliverymen to gas board staff, so you’re more vulnerable to imposters.
If you’re unsure who’s visiting, call the company they claim to represent before allowing them in. Utilities companies now offer a password system so any caller should be able to give you a pre-arranged password to prove their identity.
If you’re concerned about how safe your new property is, the Home Security Survey at thecrimepreventionwebsite.com can help to identify any weak spots.
4. AWAY DAYS
When you go on holiday, as well as making a list of clothes to pack, make a note of the security measures you’ll need to take to ensure your home will be safe while you’re away.
If you have milk and groceries delivered, make sure you stop them for the time you’re away. If you go to the newsagent to cancel newspapers, be aware of anyone in the shop who might overhear you speaking.
Nothing advertises an empty house like envelopes on the doormat or free newspapers sticking out of the letterbox, so ask a friend or neighbour to pop in daily and put your post in a safe place. Alternatively, the Royal Mail will put your mail on hold for a small fee, starting at £14 for 17 days.
Also be careful about posting your holiday dates on public social networking sites.
If you’re away for longer than a week, you may want to consider paying a friend’s teenager to cut the grass, and asking a neighbour to park one of their cars on your driveway so the place looks occupied.
As well as plug timers that switch lights on and off at set times, you can also buy devices that emit light in random colours, giving the impression that someone is at home watching television.
5. COMMUNAL LIVING
If you live in a multiple occupancy dwelling such as a block of flats or shared house, there are different security issues to consider. Communal entrances can be a hazard. If someone approaches the main door as you enter or leave, don’t let them in unless you know them – if they’re a genuine visitor, they’ll understand.
Likewise, if someone rings your doorbell and asks you to open the communal door, politely refuse or offer to knock on their friend’s door for them – just in case it’s a criminal trying their luck.
Once inside the building, a thief is likely to head for the top floor, where there’s less chance of being observed. But wherever your flat, your front door needs to be just as secure as if it opened on to the street. The Met advises reinforcing door frames with metal strips called ‘London’ and ‘Birmingham’ bars, and fitting a multi-locking system.
Fitting a doorviewer will allow you to see callers before you open the door. A shield will prevent anyone ‘fishing’ for your keys through the letterbox or accessing the handle.
Sarah says ‘You should obviously have an alarm and window locks – and use them. Both should be at the top of your priority list. If you don’t have an alarm, there are good wireless systems available now, which are much more reliable than they once were.’
ADVICE FROM THE METROPOLITAN POLICE
No one knows more about security and preventing burglaries than the police, so take note of their tried-and-tested advice…
‘Homeowners often make simple mistakes when it comes to security,’ says Detective Chief Inspector John Cushion of the Met.
‘Leaving doors and windows open is, without doubt, the most common mistake. In communal flats, never prop the main front door open or let someone follow you in, as burglars use a technique called “tailgating”, where they go in behind you.
‘Research shows this happens most often in blocks of 10 or more units, so it really helps to get to know your neighbours. You’ll then recognise faces that come regularly in and out of the building, and can be cautious with those that don’t.’
Many police authorities are now providing free property marking kits, which includes a special pen to identify your possessions. The ink isn’t visible to the naked eye but can be seen under ultraviolet light, and used by the police to identify the real owners of stolen goods.
‘The problem is a lot of people don’t use these schemes,’ says DCI Cushion, ‘which is silly because items are then very easily traceable.
‘Neighbourhood Watch schemes are also very popular. They bring the community together and create more eyes on properties in the surrounding area.’
Visit immobilise.com or ourwatch.org.uk for details on these projects.
DCI Cushion adds: ‘An alarm is also a great deterrent and investment to help keep your home secure.’