Is your home also a castle?
PUBLISHED: 07:31 12 April 2018 | UPDATED: 07:31 12 April 2018
Homeowners may be paying a high price for a disturbing rise in burglary that has seen many parts of Hertfordshire feeling under siege.
But they’re paying quite small ones for protecting their homes, according to experts who say many are simply ignoring basic measures or turning to cheaper, DIY alternatives.
A drive around many of the burglary hot-spots of St Albans and Harpenden last week proved the point, judging by the lack of bell boxes pinned under the eaves. And where they were evident, many were well-known DIY or affordable brands available off the shelves.
DIY chains are traditionally reluctant to discuss sales trends but it’s clear from talking to those in the security industry that, if the money’s going anywhere, it’s there.
“It’s always a grudge purchase,” said Eric Chorley, managing director of GuardHome. “No-one really wants to spend money on home security. They’d rather buy a Samsung 9 than a burglar alarm.
“The problem, as with everything else, is that everything is so price sensitive, so it’s a race to the bottom and the lowest price wins.”
That’s borne out by personal experience. A couple of well-heeled young lawyers on whose doorstep I placed a birthday present a few weeks ago watched me all the way via their doorbell camera, straight from the box of a major DIY brand.
Another family round the corner from me did go the whole hog with a more expensive fully-monitored system that included CCTV and panic buttons which apart from making sure there was a very loud noise when they needed it, rang neighbours’ phones.
But you don’t even have to plump for the market-leading likes of Ring, Yale or ADT when you can get a starter kit, such as the £40 Motorolla video monitoring system Wickes currently have marked down in their clearance sale, or a £20 wireless plug-in system like MiGuard.
And if you do put your security in the hands of the professionals, how professional are they likely to be?
“You have to ask yourself who you are letting into your home,” said Chorley, whose company sells hi-tech intelligent systems – the sort that alerts, turns on lights and records – at its St Albans branch in Castle Road. “The problem is, someone can be in prison today, get out tomorrow, buy their stock from the Internet and set up their own alarm company. And of course accreditation is voluntary.”
Chorley, who is in fact highly-accredited, got into the business after a 30-year career in the defence industry came to a conclusion at roughly the same time his own house was burgled.
“When I started 14 years ago, alarm systems were pretty straightforward. These days they have around 1,000 settings, and unless you set them up correctly, to be frank, they won’t work.
“Ideally, you’d be looking for proper kit, set up properly by people who know what they’re doing and will make sure the user knows how to use it.
“Having said that, The Queen has the best security in the country - and she still gets visitors.”
Steve Gibson, of GES home security of London Colney, grew up with an innate awareness of such matters. His father was a local crime prevention officer in Harpenden long before he moved to the town himself.
“I was always amazed when I came as a visitor just how safe it was,” he said. “But we’ve had a huge spike in crime around here of late and it’s such a shame. Even so, I’m convinced the best security is often no more than a community coming together and that seems to be what is happening.”
He’s no doubt referring to the likes of the two men in a mysterious yellow van whose movements were tracked almost minute-by-minute and street-by-street by those contributing to the Harpenden Crime Alert group on Facebook one day last month.
It attracted 79 comments from users who took photographs and, in one instance, even followed it in their car to record the number plate.
Gibson sells smart systems, those which allow homeowners to lock up and leave, knowing they’ll get a message on their phone to tell them if a sensor has been triggered. “They’ve been around for three or four years now and tend to sell particularly well,” he says. “If they’re installed properly they can be quite reliable.”
False alarms – or the fear of a faulty one going off and upsetting neighbours - are some of the main reasons people who have them installed don’t always use them. Daft, but true.
Gibson says: “If the one in, for example, the kitchen goes off you’ll get an alert which tells you there’s either movement, which could be air displacement because of a window being open, a pet or a fault. And, given that it’s extremely unlike two sensors would fail at the same time, a second alert from another one means someone is running around your house.”
And the doorbell videos?
“Few people who have systems fitted, don’t have those as well,” he said. “A lot of families around here have husbands away a lot and they feel happier knowing their wives can see who’s outside before answering the door.”
One phrase I’ve heard a lot of late is that “burglars are getting better at their job – so we need to get better at ours”. One force even reported a spate of graffiti-style markings criminals had left as signs to others on everything from whether there was anything worth pinching or there was likely to be an elderly person at home.
Francesca Boeris, Managing Director of Comelit, the Welwyn Garden City firm behind the Visto doorbell points out that many Neighbourhood Watch teams are now asking homeowners to use them to help build a picture of crime, particularly as pressures mount on an already stretched police service.
But she too recognises that there is a certain amount of complacency when it comes to security and cites a national study that revealed that, while 73 per cent of us believed that crime was on the increase in their area, only 55 per cent said keeping their property secure was of paramount importance.
“Your home is your castle - your aim is to create your own space in look and feel - and always keep it safe and protected. And it’s not just for the sake of your belongings, but also for you and your family,” she added.
“This is especially true currently, given the recent spate of break-ins across the district. But far from scaremongering, what comes across is the apparent contradiction between many people’s worries and concerns over rising crime and approach to home security.”
And among those who do take steps to protect their properties, she admits that “given the choice of DIY versus professional, the former may seem more appealing - and accessible”.
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