Home burglaries resulted in $4.6 billion in lost property in 2010, and the average dollar loss per burglary was $2,119, according to the FBI. While the cost of lost property is significant, even more significant is the emotional toll it takes when your home's security is compromised.
It's impossible to completely safeguard yourself from becoming a victim of burglary, but there are ways to reduce your risk. Employ these eight tactics to help keep your home safe from thieves.
1. Install exterior lighting. Make sure the outside of your home is sufficiently lit, and consider installing lights in shadowed areas. Better yet, install motion sensor lights. Parts and labor run about $1,000 for full installation, and they use less energy than fixtures that are always on. Plus, motion sensor lights are more likely to scare off a would-be burglar when they click on.
2. Reach out to law enforcement. It's obvious you should call 911 if someone is breaking into your home, but did you know you can request to have a police officer inspect your home for home safety shortcomings? While you shouldn't call the emergency number to place this request, the direct line to your local precinct should do the trick. It's a great way to get advice on where your home protection strategy could use improvement.
3. Get involved with your community. Start or join a neighborhood watch group to lower the risk of home burglary and crime throughout your neighborhood. Understand that starting a group takes time, so it's important to prepare for the commitment. Also, notify your local police department that you're starting a watch group, and request their assistance for tips on safety and participation. Finally, make sure everyone in the group understands that they should never approach a suspicious individual themselves, but should call the local police to handle the situation.
4. Become a dog owner. Although this shouldn't be your only line of defense, adopting or buying a dog can help prevent home burglaries, since some burglars might be deterred from breaking in if they hear barking.
5. Consider a home alarm. Home alarm systems are great, but they're also expensive. Weigh the pros and cons, and consider your neighborhood's crime statistics before requesting an installation. If you'd like one for added protection and peace of mind, consider getting one without monitoring. The noise of a tripped alarm is usually all you need to keep a burglar at bay.
6. Install a fence. Installing a fence is another way to keep your home safe, and the higher the fence, the better. If you're handy, you can actually install a 6-foot privacy fence for a reasonable price. You can find some for under $500.
7. Maintain landscaping. Keep all your bushes and shrubs trimmed, cut your grass regularly and maintain the rest of your landscaping. There are two reasons for this: First, you eliminate areas where a burglar could lie in wait, and second, a maintained exterior is a psychological deterrent to a potential thief. He or she knows you spend time caring for your home and are therefore more likely to take steps to protect it.
8. Make your home look occupied. Homes are prone to burglary when thieves have reason to believe the owners are on vacation. Reduce obvious signs of an empty house by asking a friend or family member to pick up your mail and newspapers each day, and pop inside to open and close a few curtains and drapes. If you're going on a road trip, ask a neighbor to park his or her car in the driveway, and always be sure to leave a few lights on. If your house looks maintained and full of activity, burglars are less likely to make it a target.
David Bakke is a financial contributor for the personal finance site Money Crashers, where he writes about money management, budgeting, taxes and lifestyle topics.