If you are heading away on holiday soon, it might be a good idea to do a few security checks on your French house before leaving. This will give you extra peace of mind so you can relax and enjoy your leisure time. Here are our home security tips…
1. Get in the burglar mindset: look around and identify weak areas.
The first step is to take a good look around your property and see if you can identify any obvious weak areas. Are there unlocked outbuildings containing ladders which could be used to gain access? Does the garden fence or hedge provide enough cover for a burglar to take their time while trying to enter? Each home will be different, so there is no perfect checklist, but as gendarme Michel Laborde explains, “You should secure your home by whatever means you normally have available (shutters, locks, bars) and then test the situation. “First, make sure you have your house keys in your pocket, then close up your house, just as if you were going away on holiday. All windows and shutters should be closed and all doors locked or bolted. “When you are done, leave the house and lock the door behind you. Walk away, turn around and imagine trying to get back into your house without using your key. Imagine you have locked the baby inside by mistake and cannot find the keys. You would be frantic, trying to get inside, no matter what, and this is just like a determined burglar who wants to be in and out as fast as possible.“If you can see something that could be used to smash an unprotected window or door, if you can force the shutters open, if there is a ladder which will let you climb in, you will be able to get in and so will any burglar! A determined burglar will enter a property, no matter what; but if you can make it difficult, make it take time, make it noisy, the burglar is far more likely to give up and move on.”
2. Lock up thoroughly
Most break-ins are opportunistic and a large number occur mid-afternoon when people have just popped out so if you leave the premises, even if it’s just for a few minutes, always close the shutters, doors, windows, gates and the garage. Don’t leave keys visible inside glazed doors; it is only too easy for a burglar to smash the glass and open the door. Don’t leave spare keys in obvious places. Make sure that exterior spaces are well lit with sensor lights that are triggered when movement is detected. A burglar will not want to be clearly visible. If you are able to do so, think about replanning outside spaces so that possible entry points are not shielded from view. If you are replacing garden fences or gates, you can opt for something that isn’t easily climbable; prickly hedges are an equally good deterrent.
• An overflowing letterbox is a giveaway that you aren’t there, so make sure you put a pas de pub(no junk mail) sticker on the box and perhaps ask a neighbour to empty it periodically.
• Security cameras linked to your phone will allow you to keep an eye on your property, even when you are far away.
• Long grass is another red flag! It is well worth paying for garden and grounds maintenance when you are not there. Not only will the house look more lived in, you also have the added bonus of someone coming in to do it and letting you know if there are any other problems.
3. Consider installing security systems
Alarms and cameras can be effective. These days there is a large range of reasonably priced products on the market, many of which are simple to use and easy to install. Second-homeowners may find that a camera provides great peace of mind. Should the worst happen, the camera will provide useful evidence and, as many can be linked to apps that work on your smartphone, you will know about any incident immediately. Cameras can also provide reassurance for absent homeowners during periods of bad weather; it can be extremely useful to view the property remotely and check that everything is in order.If you are going away on holiday or are a second-homeowner, it is well worth notifying the local gendarmerie. There is a national service known as tranquillité vacances, where you simply let the local police station know your holiday dates and they will keep a regular eye on the property or premises. This is meant to be reserved for the summer months but, in reality, most local forces are quite happy to provide the service all year. Above all, befriend your neighbours and get them involved. It really is the most effective method. Having someone who pops in to water the plants or just give the place a quick check over is a massive deterrent to potential thieves.
4. Don’t forget the garden: secure loose items
Unfortunately, with the best will in the world, thefts do happen and, as homes become more secure, thieves have increasingly resorted to taking items that are easily removable from outside the property. This is a particular problem for second-homeowners and, in the lastcouple of years, there have been reports of thefts of things such as heating fuel, firewood, plants and garden furniture. The only course of action is to make things as difficult as possible, so lock outbuildings as securely as the main house, store garden furniture inside, put plants in the ground rather than leaving them in attractive and easily transportable pots and keep your firewood in a place where it would be awkward to steal – in other words, not in a nice neat stack next to the gate, where it can be quickly loaded onto a trailer and driven away! Insurance policies rarely cover items outside the house. If this is a concern, it may well be worth checking the small-print and, if necessary, extending the cover or taking on an additional policy. If you do need to make a claim, French insurers are notoriously demanding and will often require written proof (usually in the form of receipts) for any items that you are claiming for. This is always tricky, especially if you are claiming for items that may have been inherited or bought second-hand, so it isa good idea to photograph everything in situ as this will provide some degree of proof of ownership should you need to argue the toss.
5. Unplug the electrics
Securing your home against electrical problems is also a concern. Both power cuts and electrical storms can cause problems, which is why most operators now send text message warnings beforehand. Leaving a key with a neighbour, who can pop in and check the house after a storm, is the best solution. But if you can’t do this, make sure you unplug any electrical appliances before leaving. If there are items that you need to leave connected, install surge protectors and make sure these are kept in good order. And I can report from personal experience that, should you need to claim for loss of contents in the event of a fridge or freezer breakdown, you will be expected to provide proof of the contents, so keep those shopping receipts!
Hopefully, it will never happen, but spending a little time securing your French home from potential intruders will give you peace of mind and minimise the risk of returning to a nasty surprise.
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