Living alone in an urban area, I've always wondered what I'd do if my house were broken into… and then I found out.
Two years ago on Halloween, I'd popped out to buy candy, making sure all doors and windows were locked. When I returned home, nothing seemed different at first. In fact, the first thing I noticed wasn't that something was missing, just dirty: There was a ring of dust on top of the TV stand where I normally kept the PlayStation.
My first thought: "Wow, how long has it been since I dusted?" My next: "Wait, something is wrong."
It took several seconds for my brain to catch up.
The next few minutes were a blur. I ran to check on my pit bull, Brees. She was safe in her dog crate, where I'd left her. But then I noticed that drawers and closet doors were open, books and knickknacks knocked off the shelves.
I called the police. Once they arrived, I figured it would only be a matter of time before they got fingerprints, found the burglars, and I got my stuff back. But it turns out I had a long road and a lot of lessons ahead of me that I wish I'd known sooner -- which is why I'm sharing them with you now. Save yourself! Let's start from the top:
Lesson 1: Get an alarm system
My rental home didn't have an alarm when I moved in and I never installed one -- because "Pfffft, I'm just a renter, that's not my job." For eight peaceful months, I felt justified in saving what I thought was a lot of money.
But when the police arrived, I realized my mistake. The first thing the officer asked was, "Why didn't that giant dog protect the house?" I countered that wasn't really her style, and besides, she was locked in her crate.
Then he asked why the alarm didn't go off. I said I didn't have one. He sighed. (Loudly.)
The very next day, I got an alarm installed (with my landlord's permission, of course). And all that money I thought I was saving only turned out to be a $250 install with a $25 monthly monitoring fee, a fraction of what I lost in the robbery.
Lesson 2: Don't expect a miracle
Cops want to find every burglar, and they try, but it isn't as easy as TV would lead you to believe.
Once the officer arrived, he found how the intruders had gotten in -- by breaking a lock on a side window. He also found a fingerprint. But it didn't matter too much, because as the officer informed me, my stuff -- and the thief -- were long gone. A fingerprint doesn't make a thief easy to find. The CSI guys were not going to be called in to help me find my Playstation.
Lesson 3: Please get insurance
Making matters worse, there was no hope of recouping my losses, because I didn't have renter's insurance. I know, I know: I'd had it in the past, but the price had spiked, so I'd let my policy lapse for a couple of months while I looked for something more affordable. And, as luck would have it, that's exactly when the robbery happened.
Of course, I feel foolish, but I'm hardly alone: While people who own their home are nearly always required to have homeowner's insurance, only 40% of renters insure their property and possessions, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Perhaps this is because renters presume they don't have enough of value to insure -- that's exactly how I'd felt. Only once this break-in forced me to sit down and tally what I'd lost, I realized that replacing it all would cost me over $5,000.
While having any renter's insurance would have been better than nothing, I've learned it's important to get the right insurance as well. My original policy was very basic; what would have fit my needs better is one with special riders for my grandmother's jewelry.
"Typically, a policy has up to about $1,000 for all jewelry, unless you have a rider on each piece," says Loretta Worters at the Insurance Information Institute. "There are limits as well on things like furs (typically $1,000) and money, typically $500."
Lesson 4: Take a home inventory
If your home is burgled, the police will want to know what is missing -- and that is harder than you think. I was finding stuff gone (and calling the detective to update my report) for weeks after.
It will also help with renter's insurance. Claims can be processed faster if you've already taken a photo of everything you own (something you can easily do in a few hours while you unpack in your new place).
Overall, I've learned that I really, truly don't like being robbed. But more importantly, I've learned that you can't control or determine what will happen in life, so it's best to be prepared. Whether you own your home or rent, having insurance to protect your belongings is a lot like having health insurance: The instant you're without it could be when trouble hits. Why take the risk?
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