Our home got robbed. Here’s what we learned from the experience: the 9 best steps to do when your house gets robbed.
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We purchased a vacation home in Palm Springs in mid 2021. We mentioned it for the first time six months ago, and gave a short update on its progress in the last edition of Anno Darwinii.
The plan call for renovating the kitchen, adding a bathroom to the main house and a pool to the backyard. When it’s all done, we hope it’ll be a luxury vacation rental that we can enjoy and also rent out for income.
Unfortunately, the renovation of our vacation home in Palm Springs has been one surprise after another. I’ll outline most of these in my upcoming winter Anno Darwinii post, but I want to focus on one surprise in particular: a robbery.
Ever since we started the renovation, we’ve been ordering home furnishings and supplies. This way, as soon as we are done with the renovation, we’ll be able to set up the house for rental quickly. The home has a garage with a locked door, so we felt comfortable sending packages directly to the home. When they arrived, the workers would collect and store the packages in the garage for us.
About a month ago, though, our vacation rental got robbed. Around 4AM on a Friday morning, a thief kicked in a secondary front door and stole tools and packages from the interior of the house. They somehow also got into the garage and cleared out the majority of the items we had stored in there. The next morning, my contractor reported a broken door, missing tools, and packages missing from the garage.
Although my first instinct was to rush over to the house, I had to work that day. Luckily, I had the weekend off. So early Saturday morning, my family and I drove out to Palm Springs. We met our contractor at the house and started piecing together the chain of events and making a list of what was stolen.
While this was a big setback, we learned a lot from the experience and now I can share our knowledge with you!
9 steps to do when your house gets robbed
- Escape to safety and call the police
- Photograph the crime scene
- Document everything that was stolen
- File a police report if not already done
- Clean up
- File an insurance claim
- Fortify your home
- Install a security system
- Take time to process the robbery
1. Escape to safety and call the police
If you arrive home and it’s clear that your home has been recently robbed, it’s not a good idea to immediately enter and search the home. If the burglars are still present, they might be armed and dangerous. Assuming there are no loved ones in the house, the first thing to do is escape to a safe place. This might mean a neighbor’s house, or this might mean driving to a safe location down the street where you can observe your house from the safety of your car.
Next, call the police. It’s okay to call 911 in this situation.
Once police officers arrive, they will be able to ensure your home is empty and safe.
In the event of a home invasion (if you are home when burglars arrive), it’s equally important to ensure the safety of you and your family first, before worrying about your property. You can always get more property. You cannot replace a family member.
When it came to our vacation home, no one was home a the time of the robbery. Our renovation team searched and secured the property in the morning before we got the police involved.
2. Photograph the crime scene
When we arrived to the house on Saturday, the first thing I did was photograph the important elements: the entry point, any damage, and areas where items were stolen.
It’s important to do this prior to cleaning up, so there is a record of the damage caused by the burglars. This will be important when you’re filing an insurance claim later.
You don’t need some high quality camera to do this. Most smartphones nowadays are more than sufficient for this purpose.
3. Document everything that was stolen
In the event of a big theft, this will probably be the most challenging part of the whole response. You don’t necessarily need to finish this step before filing the police report, but it will help immensely when you eventually file a report with your insurance claims adjuster.
In our case, we had a detailed list of items that we’d ordered and sent to the house, so we were able to do a detailed inventory and determine what was stolen. For a fully stocked house with a lifetime of property, this might be a more difficult task.
Take note especially if you have private documents missing like debit or credit cards, passports or social security cards. These could be used by thieves for identity theft.
This is a list of all the items that were stolen from our vacation home:
In addition to the above list of items, we also need to replace the broken door. This is another few thousand dollars with materials and labor.
4. File a police report if not already done
You might already have done this in step one, but in our case, we filed the police report one day after the incident. We wanted to be on site and see the damage with our own eyes before talking to law enforcement. That way, I’d be able to answer their questions with first hand information.
When we filed a police report, we had to wait about 4 hours for an officer to arrive. Since there was no immediate threat, we were lower down on the priority list. The police officer took a report of the events, took pictures, and left a phone number and case number.
(Make sure to make note of the case number. You’ll need this for your insurance claim.)
The police report may increase the chance that the burglar might get caught. The police investigation might reveal that the home burglary was perpetrated by a known criminal, for example. Also, If big ticket items were stolen, this might be the only chance at reclaiming these possessions.
5. Clean up
After filing the police report and documenting everything, this is when you can finally clean up. If there’s a broken window or a broken glass door, you can reinforce the entry point with plywood or 4x4s temporarily until you can get it fixed permanently. Especially if there are children in the household, it’s important to remove anything dangerous from the house, like broken wood or glass.
This will also start the healing process. It may not feel completely safe in your home for a while, but taking away the obvious signs of the break-in will help.
6. File an insurance claim
I put this step here to emphasize that the insurance claim is important, but not as time sensitive as the other steps. Your insurance company will wait for you.
But when you do have time to finally sit down and catch your breath, it’s time to call the company that holds your homeowner’s insurance. Whether or not your realized it, your homeowner’s insurance product should have coverage against theft.
Your insurance agent will likely take down all the important basic information and create an insurance claim. Next, you’ll either either:
- Upload information to the insurance website
- Talk to a claims adjuster
What happens next depends on your insurance company. For a very big loss, most insurance companies may send an adjuster to your home to gather more information. For our loss, USAA initiated a bank transfer for the claim a few minutes after I uploaded all the information.
7. Fortify your home
It’s now time to start strengthening your home against repeat invasion. If the thieves entered through a weak door or window, replace those points of entry with more secure options. Window and door grates are certainly options, though some might not find them aesthetically pleasing.
If the entry point was via the side or back door, consider adding a deadbolt to these doors. You can also remove anything around the perimeter of your house that allows for easy access to windows or other entry points.
In our case, we changed the locks to the garage side door, changed the frequency of the garage door opener, and reinforced the door that had been kicked in.
8. Install a security system
I’d considered getting a home security system for the Palm Springs home ever since we purchased the property. But it was one of those things that was just inconvenient enough that I let it slide. This means that we unfortunately we had no video footage of the break-in.
There’s really no excuse nowadays for not having your home under video surveillance of some kind. Video technology has become both cheaper and higher quality. A video system is both a deterrent to crime and a powerful piece of evidence in the event of an incident.
After some preliminary research, I chose the Ring security system for my vacation rental. I purchased and installed these items:
- Ring security system (keypad, motion sensors, door and window sensors)
- Ring “Stick up” security cameras (battery powered)
- Ring floodlight video camera (motion activated)
I also plan to install a Ring doorbell camera once we are done upgrading the electrical system.
Home alarm systems can be purchased through providers like ADT, but there are lots of budget options nowadays like Simplisafe and Ring. I can only speak for the Ring system, but I found it exceedingly easy to install. Also, the app on my phone is very user friendly. The video quality is good. The Ring app also doubles as a sort of social media, where users post notices and videos about various crimes happening around your neighborhood.
Motion-sensitive lights are great for outdoor areas like backyards and driveways, while doorbell cameras are fantastic for monitoring who is going through your front door. Since we will be using this property as a short term rental later on, we’ll only leave the interior security system, the doorbell camera, and the floodlight camera that is pointed towards the driveway. It’s important to give guests their privacy.
In the meantime, the video system is providing me with a lot of peace of mind.
9. Take time to process the robbery
I want to make sure to acknowledge that for many people, a robbery is a very traumatic event. If the event took place in your primary home, there is a good chance you feel personally violated by the event. One of the most important things to do in these situations is first release yourself from any guilt. It’s not your fault that your home got robbed.
You can’t change what happened, and in most cases you won’t recover what you’ve lost. But you can take steps to make yourself whole and reduce the risk of future home break-ins.
It’s also okay to feel jittery and on-edge in your own home. If the feeling doesn’t fade with time and starts interfering with your day to day, it’s important to reach out for help. Your primary care physician can point you in the direction of a mental health professional to help you process things.
I’m still paranoid that our home will get robbed again. I obsessively check the video footage from the home and scour it for signs of ill intent. But I’ve done what I can to make the home less of an easy target. After going through these 9 steps, I feel a lot better about the situation. We’ve been made whole financially via our insurance company. We’ve put in appropriate security measures.
It’s our opinion that either the thieves were casing the house for some time or it was an “inside job.” In any either case, we now have measures in place if they try to strike again. Not that they’ll find much. We now keep almost everything in a nearby storage facility.
Stay safe out there!
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