Roughly two million household break-ins are recorded each year in the United States. This doesn't create peace of mind, especially if you're a first-time home buyer. You want to live in as safe a neighborhood as possible and feel confident your home is protected.
Don’t worry. We spoke to home security experts and asked them to share their top security tips for first-time home buyers. Whether you’re already a homeowner or you’re currently looking for a house, we have some helpful security tips.
Trying to decide if a neighborhood is safe? Set aside some time to visit the neighborhood at all times of the day, security expert Emily Patterson advises.
Research neighborhood safety and crime rates and visit your new neighborhood at all times of the day. What looks like the perfect home and street may have a different vibe in daylight versus after dark, and you can generally sense this just by driving by or taking a short walk.
Tools like NeighborhoodScout and AreaVibes provide data about neighborhood crime rates, public school rankings, and other livability factors. Whether you have kids, are single, live with roommates or a partner, etc., security is an important part of choosing a new neighborhood.
Patterson also advises prospective buyers to learn about traffic patterns, for both cars and people, before deciding on a neighborhood.
This is something you can observe on your own by visiting at different times of day, or you can ask your prospective neighbors. If you have kids who want to play in your yard, a dog to walk, or like to run/bike/walk yourself, it matters whether a heavy volume of cars speeds past your new home or a lot of pedestrians are wandering by.
Is your new house on a busy thru-street, or does the neighborhood have a single entrance/exit? Are there speed bumps and stop signs to regulate traffic speed and flow? If so, do people actually abide by the rules? (In my old neighborhood, few cars actually respected stop signs and speed limits, which made walking, running, driving, etc. pretty dangerous.) Does the neighborhood have a lot of businesses interspersed with residential buildings and therefore a lot of foot traffic?
Security expert, house flipper, and landlord, Tyler Weinrich suggests looking into local crime when choosing a neighborhood. Although every place will have crime, Weinrich explains it is the type of crime you should be concerned with.
You can look at all the recent incidents on a crime map to see how good or bad an area is. Every place will have “crime.” However, some will be minor and others not. I wouldn't worry about distance to police station as the cops can get to any place quickly. I would focus on crime rate and examine types of crimes that have occurred.
Another one of our security specialists, Sean Little, agrees with Weinrich.
No neighborhood is immune [to crime], and while one might have a higher overall rate than another, the higher rate area could have more property crime or vandalism compared to more violent crime that happens less often than the property crime in the other. Some people may be willing to risk one type of crime over another in order to purchase a home in their budget, so being honest with what risks you’re prepared to take is important.
Little continues with additional tips, starting with seeing how involved a community is.
You can find out when city council or neighborhood meetings are held and drop in to observe what type of engagement and conversations take place. Are neighbors engaged and proactive in making sure the neighborhood is kept up and engaged in honest discourse with residents, or are meetings a sparsely attended formality?
It’s also important to look at the long-term statistics. Transitional neighborhoods that attract many first-time buyers may not look the best one month to the next when house hunting, especially compared to the nicer areas with higher home prices they’re compared against. If a potential homeowner only looks at a few months of crime statistics, they may not see that while comparatively the crime is not great now, the neighborhood has improved greatly over the last year and only looks to continue to do so.
If a burglary does take place within your home, you want to ensure your valuable items are still likely to be safe. Little advises purchasing a home safe.
If you have small, expensive items like jewelry or sentimental items like family photos, heirlooms, etc., I’d highly suggest you purchase a fireproof lockbox or safe that can be bolted to the floor. This provides another layer of security to hinder a thief if they did happen to gain access to your home and went searching for expensive belongings.
It’s always better to be extra careful than leave it to chance and regret it later. Odds are a burglar won’t waste their time trying to break into a quality safe that can’t be moved when other, less expensive items could be easily taken instead.
Don’t underestimate the helpfulness of an additional pair of eyes watching out for your home. Little thinks it’s an important step to creating a safe environment.
Another great deterrent is a live human being keeping an eye on your home for you. You may also want to make friends with any retiree or stay-at-home neighbors by introducing yourself and offering a small gift when you move in.
Showing neighbors that you are friendly and that you care will increase the likelihood that they will too. This way, you can both watch out for each other and each other’s homes. This makes it less likely that suspicious activity in your neighborhood will go unnoticed.
If you’re in the process of looking for a home, Little explains you might want to consider doing some research on the previous home owners.
This is being a bit paranoid, but depending on the neighborhood and how comfortable you feel with your new neighbors, you may want to look up the previous owners’ information or ask neighbors about them to make sure that they didn’t attract unwanted attention. While it doesn’t happen often, there are times that break-ins and home invasions happen because criminals had a connection to the previous owner of some kind and believe they still live there.
Odds are if the neighbors are observant, they will have some information that could help you gain valuable knowledge about potential threats that might be left over from the home’s previous owners and their past.
Although gated communities have fewer burglaries, it is not by a significant amount. Don’t assume there are no break-ins just because there is this extra precaution. Previously mentioned security expert, Weinrich, explains further:
Gated communities are often seen as a security plus and they are, but they aren't fail proof. Most often the gates are open or people just follow other cars in. Burglars on foot can easily get through these fences as well.
Don’t let security precautions slip through the cracks, even if you do live in a gated community. It’s safer to prepare for the worst rather than the best case scenario.
Weinrich also points out boarded-up or dilapidated buildings or houses are a big negative. These types of areas are targets for crimes and decrease the property value in a neighborhood.
Weinrich notes another good precaution is having a fence around your home. Although like gated communities, you can’t assume this will stop the crime. However, it will make it more difficult for burglars to access your home, especially if you put locks on any of the fence openings. Consider picking a home with a fence or building a fence if the house doesn’t have one.
Weinrich’s last piece of advice is this:
Sliding glass doors are easily broken into and should be reinforced with a bar or piece of wood on the inside rail to prevent the door from being opened from the outside.
When asked what security measures to take in the home, security expert Vi Trang says to hide any valuables in unusual places. He gives an example of what he has done, noting he has hidden cash in coffee tins and left his laptop underneath the couch.
Burglars know the typical spots to find cash and other valuables, so switch it up and put these items in places that aren’t obvious and that are difficult to locate. Burglars want to be in and out of your house as fast as possible, so they most likely won’t spend too much time searching if they can’t find what they are looking.
Trang also suggests hiring a house sitter whenever you are out of town. Whether you hire a professional house sitter or ask a friend or family member to do it, have someone stay at your home while you are gone. This way, you won’t have to worry about the condition of your home when you get back, and you can have someone watching your home at all times. Instead of taking extra precautions to make your home look lived in (leaving a car outside, having lights on, etc.), you can let the house sitter take care of it.
When you move into a new home, Trang suggests tells homeowners to do this:
Get a locksmith to change the locks on all doors and windows, in case the former homeowners have failed to turn over all the keys.
Another of our security advisors, Justin Lavelle, recommends checking the neighborhood’s proximity to resources. He prompts us to ask ourselves these questions:
How close is the home or neighborhood to schools, parks, hospitals, and shopping? Some neighborhoods might have all of these resources within their boundaries, otherwise are they accessible by a short walk or do you have to pack up the car every time you need to get the kids out?
Is the house or neighborhood located by busy streets or large commercial or industrial sites? Kids like to play outside and enjoy riding bikes and playing with friends. Parents may be more comfortable knowing that the neighborhood is not by nuisances that may prove dangerous to kids.
Lavelle also recommends a home inspection before purchasing. Although this doesn’t necessarily have to do with home security and burglary prevention, it is important for the overall safety of your home.
When deciding on your home, pay attention to the details. For example, on the home’s exterior, is there any rotting wood on the outside of the home? What about the landscaping? Anything that is damaged or needs updating could result in an added cost for you. Always have a home inspection done before completing a home purchase.
Gregg DeRouanna advises keeping tool sheds and other storage areas securely locked up. People frequently forget to lock an outside storage area because it’s not as obvious a target as the home is, but it is just as important. DeRouanna recalls one particular time not securing a storage area went wrong:
In one case I know, a burglar used a family's own set of bolt cutters to rob them. Your tools are easy targets, so keep them safe.
The most important tip for any homeowner is to get a home security system. Patterson agrees security systems play a large role in home safety.
Security systems are great because they are comprehensive and allow you to link a bunch of sensors, cameras, and other monitoring devices under a single umbrella, and they can catch dangers like CO and fire even when you aren't home.
You can also start simple with motion-sensing lights in the darker corners of your properties and around doorways (burglars don't want to risk being placed in the spotlight — literally), installing smart cameras or doorbell cams you can monitor from your phone when you're not home, or even just setting your interior lights on timers. Burglars are actually far less likely to go after property they believe is equipped with security devices.
DeRouanna advises getting home security cameras in addition to a home security system.
I recommend that first-time homeowners consider a high-definition surveillance camera system to monitor the inside and outside of their home, and keep an eye on any suspicious activity. Monitoring family, maintenance workers, pets, and keeping an eye on the home while vacationing will provide them with the peace of mind they need.
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