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Safe and sound in your home

“Today” financial editor Jean Chatzky offers advice for protecting your belongings without breaking your bank.
/ Source: TODAY

The cost of a home security starts at about $1,000 and goes up from there, but there are several less expensive ways to make your home more secure. “Today” financial editor Jean Chatzky shares a look at the latest options.

Home security systems are good things, right? Insurers certainly think so: If you get a system that notifies an outside network, they’ll knock 15 to 20 percent off your home insurance premiums. And this is a good time to buy: The average system costs $1,000 these days, down from $1,509 in 1990. If you go this route, you’ll also want to shop around. When we recently replaced our out-of-date systems we got several quotes. The low — for the same apples-to-apples stuff — was 50 percent less than the high.

But you may also decide that spending that much on home security isn’t worth it for you. In some neighborhoods, false alarms have become such a nuisance that some police departments like Los Angeles have decided not to respond unless a person confirms there’s a break-in. Many burglars have also gotten good at circumventing these systems when they’re on. Or you might know your own habits well enough to know that you’re never going to turn it on anyway. According to one two and a half year study of burglary victims, 41 percent of those with home alarms don’t turn them on. If, for any of these reasons, an alarm isn’t for you, you should invest in the following less expensive safety measures which can go a long way toward keeping burglars at bay.

SAFETY MEASURES

Good doors:

All doors that lead outside should be metal or solid core (1 3/4 inch hardwood) and fitted with a deadbolt lock.

Security for sliding glass doors:

You can do this with bars or locks, or you can put a wooden dowel or broom handle in the door track.

Additional lighting:

Make sure all entrances are well-lit with at least a 40-watt bulb. Or consider buying motion-sensor outdoor lights — the automatic “on” function may scare a robber into believing you’re home.

Safe or safe deposit box for valuables:

Your valuables are safer in both safes and safe deposit boxes than they are, say, in your jewelry box or filing cabinet. That leaves two questions: Which one is most appropriate for each particular item? And how do you get a good one at a decent price?

The purpose of a home safe is not high security. They’re made to defeat the work of the average home burglar, to keep people with sticky fingers off. That makes them good for valuable papers you might need to access on a Sunday when your bank is closed. For example, passports, wills, birth certificates, insurance policies, or jewelry you wear so frequently it would be a hassle to go to the bank and get it for a special occasion. You may net a small discount on your insurance policy for putting jewelry in an at-home safe. In New Jersey, for example, Chubb Insurance would charge $175 a year to insure $10,000 worth of jewelry if it’s in a safe (and your home is alarmed). Without a safe, it’s $185. And without the safe and the alarm, $205.

If, like many people, you’re stashing a thousand or so away in case of emergency, better it sit in a home safe than, say a mattress.

How best to buy one? Start by checking out sizes. The biggest mistake people make is buying a safe that’s too little. A safe of two to three cubic feet (which starts at about $500 or $600) should be enough for an average family’s papers. But if you start adding heirlooms, family pictures and other items, you may need one that’s substantially larger. To protect your valuables from both burglary and fire, look for three different ratings from the testing center Underwriters Laboratory. For safety, you want to see that the safe is UL rated. That means it can withstand a five-minute attack from one technician with limited tools — including a three-pound hammer, 18-inch screwdriver and 1/4-inch drill bit. That’s sufficient for most homeowners. The next step up is a commercial safe with a rating of TL15. To pass that test a safe has to withstand a 15-minute attack from two technicians with eight-pound hammers and thicker drill bits. But unless you’re storing $100,000 in Rolexes, it’s complete overkill.

Next, look at fire-resistance. There’s no such thing as fireproof safe. In reality, it’s not melting that damages your papers and valuables. It’s heat. Safes marked FR 1/2 hour, will protect valuables for up to 30 minutes with outside temperatures of 1550 degrees. FR one hour gets you an hour at 1700 degrees. That’s generally sufficient, because the average house burns less than 1,700 degrees. But because the price difference between a safe with one hour of fire protection and two is only about $50 to $100, many people decide to spend the money anyway.

Safe-deposit boxes in bank vaults, on the other hand are designed for your finest jewelry, your most important papers — things that you can live without. For example? Jewelry you only wear a few times a year. It can be five times less expensive to insure jewelry if you keep it in a safe deposit box. Chubb, for example, charges $30 for $10,000 worth of coverage. The trade-off: You have to tell your insurer each time you take a piece out of the vault, and tell them when you’ll return it.

Valuable papers you aren’t likely to need to access in an emergency — like stock certificates or marriage licenses, should go in a safe-deposit box. Collectibles you don’t need or want to display like stamps and baseball cards can also go here. If you want to protect them in case a vault or safe deposit box floods, put them in Ziploc bags or Tupperwear.

A video inventory of the contents of your home should be kept off premises. A safe-deposit box is as good a place as any.

How best to rent one? You can simply walk into your local branch, look at the display to get an idea of box shapes and sizes to assess your needs and sign on the dotted line. Most banks require you to have either a checking or savings account before they’ll rent you a box. So if you’re not willing to switch banks or open another account, that’s the end of the process. However, if you’re looking to save a few bucks, you can do so by shopping around. A lot of national banks set prices for safe deposit boxes across the entire country. That may make them much more expensive than local or regional players.

Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for “Today,” editor-at-large at Money magazine and the author of “Talking Money: Everything You Need to Know About Your Finances and Your Future.” Information provided courtesy of Jean Chatzky and Money magazine. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved. For more financial advice, visit the Money magazine Web site at: