Whether you’ve purchased a new home or a buy-to-let property, one of the first things you’ll need to do once you’ve completed is to have a good look at your security. It’s a sad truth that there’s no sure way to stop a determined burglar, but there are plenty of things you can do to make life a lot more difficult for them.
A good burglar alarm can be a great deterrent, particularly as one element of a wider system of security measures. If you’re getting one installed, it’s best to use a company which is endorsed by the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) or the Security System and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB). If your property’s quite large, it could also be worth considering a decoy box located in a prominent place.
There are a few downsides that you’ll need to be prepared for. For example, most modern alarms have a battery backup, and power cuts can often make them think they’re being tampered with, setting them off. Perversely, the last alarm sounding in a neighbourhood where there’s been a power cut can be a clear signal that the owners are away, and it’s at times like this that a tame neighbour is especially valuable.
The police reckon most burglaries are opportunistic, and motion-activated security lights are a good way to put people off snooping around.
Many properties will have cheap doors that are flimsy enough to kick in. Oddly enough, if there’s a weak door on a property, it’s often the back one, which is more appealing to a burglar looking to gain entry without being noticed. It’s really worth replacing any vulnerable doors with something more robust. Make sure you get one with reinforcing metal bars.
Simple, Yale-style locks can be picked in seconds with a piece of washing-up bottle, so in addition to these, a proper mortice lock is essential on any external doors. For fire safety, get one that you can open from the inside without a key. Site your letterbox far enough away from the locks that thieves can’t simply reach through and let themselves in, or better still, fit a letterbox cowl.
Apart from doors, windows are another weak point. Sash windows in particular can be forced easily, and the police often recommend adding extra bolts or a special bar that makes it difficult to get a crowbar underneath. For vulnerable windows (or French doors), tempered glass or acrylic will make the panes much more difficult to smash.
Big metal grilles over the doors or windows are a bit of a last resort. They’re a fearsome physical barrier for a burglar, but as you gaze out through the bars, you (or your tenants) might well feel like you’re living in a prison. Before installing them, you’ll need to do a lot of thinking about how you rate your security against your quality of life.
This is really the big one. It’s always tempting to get a bit lazy, but alarms and locks won’t help unless you use them. You need to secure the property properly even if you’re just nipping down to the shops for a few minutes.
In high-crime areas, it might be worth locking your interior doors to make life harder for criminals, but you should only do this if the alarm is set – without the urgency of a blaring siren, an intruder will have plenty of time to crowbar each door at their leisure, and will do far more damage than they might have otherwise.
Also, when you’re first moving in, you’ll want to be careful about leaving boxes for brand new flat-screen TVs lying around next to the recycling for all to see.
Making friends with your neighbours
Forging a good relationship with your neighbours early on will make them more likely to investigate if they hear an alarm going off, Some of them might be at home during the day, and once you’ve had a chance to suss out which are the most dependable, you might want to give them your number so they can contact you at work if anything’s amiss. Neighbourhood watch schemes are a good thing to get involved with too, and being up-to-date with recent burglaries in the area can help you to protect your own property more effectively.
Making sure everyone’s on the same page
If you rent out rooms to friends (or indeed rent the entire flat to tenants) then you'll need to be clear about expectations regarding security. If you’ve got tenants in, make a point of checking with them – or the agent, if appropriate – that they know all the security measures in place (alarm codes etc), and are prepared to use them.
Take out adequate insurance
If the worst does happen, you don’t want to be left out of pocket. Be honest about the monetary value of your property contents, and read your policy carefully, noting any exemptions. For example, if you rent a room out, your flatmate’s belongings are not usually covered. Likewise, if you’ve got a number of tenants in, their individual