More and more American homes are being burglarized, the Associated Press reports -- all in pursuit of gold, whose price peaked last month at $1,891 an ounce.
Gold rings, gold chains, gold bracelets, gold earrings. Getting rid of them is easy -- they can be melted down and sold, no evidence left, unlike hot TVs or laptops.
For homeowners, there are at least a couple of ways to look at this distressing trend. First: How to protect your house from break-ins. Second: How to keep your losses to a minimum if a burglary does occur.
The Insurance Information Institute says burglars won't find your home an "easy mark" if they are forced to work in the light, have to take a lot of time breaking in, or can't enter without making a lot of noise. Research shows that if it takes more than four or five minutes to break into a house, the intruder will go elsewhere. Thus, deterring burglars is a blend of common sense and expense.
Let's start with expense, as in security systems.
Eighty percent of homeowners with burglar alarms -- in a recent, nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center -- rated their systems effective at protecting their homes.
Consumer Reports magazine says homeowners should expect to pay $1 to $2 per square foot for a complete system, and about $25 per month for monitoring.
If you buy a system, the website Homesecurity.org says, costs start at $400 to $500 for a 1,200-square-foot home. If you lease a system, start-up expenses range from zero to $99, plus the costs of a monitoring package.
The insurance company State Farm describes monitored systems as those in which a private company keeps watch 24 hours a day, every day, alerting police if something goes wrong and you cannot be contacted.
Monitoring subscriptions can run from month to month or up to 36 months, Homesecurity.org says, adding that you should obtain multiple quotes "to ensure you are getting the best value." The website offers tips for assessing the type of system that's best for your house, as well as for comparing prices of alarm companies.
If you sign a contract, make sure you know the financial costs of early cancellation if you are not happy. Many security companies place limits on their liability if a break-in occurs.
Unmonitored security systems have on-site sirens and flashing lights that alert your neighbors of a break-in, meaning that you'll be relying on them instead of an alarm company to contact police if you aren't home.
State Farm recommends contacting your local police department before you talk to security -system providers, to find out how long it takes to respond to a call and to discuss fines for false alarms, which, after two or three freebies, can start to add up.
Consumer Reports warns about scams. Be wary, for instance, if the representative does not take time to assess your home's vulnerabilities or does not discuss alarm-system details, alarm-notification procedures, and the company's call center. Companies with "vans ready to install your system today" are another tipoff.
Quality alarm systems combine audible and silent alarms triggered by sensors throughout the home, not just on doors and windows.
Consumer Reports suggests a combination of sensor technologies for fewer false alarms and better accuracy. Silent alarms notify the monitoring station, which contacts the police. Audible alarms may scare a burglar off.
Some insurance companies offer a discount on annual premiums of 2 percent to 15 percent to homeowners who install security systems approved by the insurer -- especially if there is a fire-detection component.
Using common sense
As for that commonsense component of home security , some of it is as simple as cutting back trees and shrubs that may hide your house from view, and adding motion-detector lights.
"Fool burglars by making your home look occupied all the time," says State Farm, including putting your lights on timers.
Nothing is a 100 percent guarantee that your home won't be burglarized. Having the proper amount of insurance coverage is the way to keep your losses down.
Homeowners' insurance policies typically include coverage for personal possessions such as furniture, clothes, and sports equipment if they are stolen.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, most companies provide coverage for 50 percent to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. If you have $100,000 worth of insurance on the structure, you would have between $50,000 to $70,000 worth of coverage. (Deductibles apply.)
Expensive items like jewelry, furs, and silverware are covered, but there are dollar limits if they are stolen. Generally, coverage is for between $1,000 to $2,000 for all jewelry and furs in a home.