Home security guide: How to identify your risk level and finance the investment

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A home burglary occurs about every 25 seconds in the U.S., according to 2018 FBI statistics.

If that sounds like a lot, it is — but it pales in comparison to the burglary rates of years past. In fact, FBI data shows that burglaries have dropped by more than 45 percent since 2008, decreasing more than 11 percent in each of the last two years, according to preliminary 2019 bureau crime statistics.

But this decline didn’t happen by accident. One reason for the drop in property crimes is the increasing accessibility (and affordability) of home security devices. From self-installed video doorbells and phone-activated alarm systems to motion-detecting lights and even just better privacy fences, the number of home security options are now seemingly endless.

As these items can often improve both the value and appeal of residential property in today’s market, there are even more reasons for homeowners to explore available security options.

The value in home security

Obviously, the greatest benefit of installing a home security device is that it can better protect your home, belongings and loved ones. Security devices can also enhance your home’s value.

Significant security-related changes, such as upgrading to a taller, more secure fence or installing a full-scale security monitoring system, can do even more to increase your property’s worth.

As an added benefit, improving your home’s security might also qualify you for certain home insurance discounts, so check with your insurer.

How to determine if your home is at risk

All homes are vulnerable to break-ins, but some are at more risk than others. Crime statistics vary city-to-city and state-to-state.

Additionally, burglaries are more common in the middle of the day and during fair weather. Your home is most at risk for a break-in when you’re not in it. You might want to consider your neighborhood crime rates and think about the belongings in the home. If you live in a higher-crime area or keep cash, jewelry, expensive electronic items or other valuables at home, taking additional security measures is probably a good idea.

Physical home security measures

There are a number of easy, low-cost changes you can make to your doors and locks to make them more secure:

  • Installing solid wood or reinforced doors. These are your best choices for preventing a break-in. Make sure you use these higher-security doors at all exterior entrances.
  • Adding deadbolt locks. Unlike spring locks, deadbolt locks can’t be forced open. They’re typically affordable and fairly easy to install, but they’re more effective if they’re attached to a strong door.
  • Installing motion-detecting lights, which turn on automatically when someone enters their detection range. Light can be a simple deterrent to nighttime break-ins. Make sure you install them so that they’re pointing at walkways, driveways, doors and any other entry points.
  • Adding a storm door, which is an additional barrier to entry.
  • Adding a door-reinforcement plate, which help prevent burglars from kicking in your door. They’re easy to install (you only need a drill and some screws), and they’re inexpensive.
  • Installing additional window devices. Adding pin, key or wedge locks to your windows can make it harder for burglars to enter through them. You can also add sensors that chime when windows open, or insert a bolt or rod that blocks some of the window track, limiting how far it can open.

Technological home security measures

An increasing number of devices are designed to control and monitor access to your property. Many can be used remotely via a smartphone or tablet. Tech options you might want to consider include:

  • Video doorbells. These allow you to monitor who approaches your property and rings the doorbell. Many even allow users to speak through the device and record doorstep activity for playback.
  • Full-scale security systems. Some help safeguard all entry points, including windows, doors and garages. These are typically controlled by a keypad in your home, though many come with mobile apps, too. These kinds of systems are usually maintained by a central monitoring company that charges a monthly fee.
  • Camera systems. Cameras positioned at your front stoop, back patio and driveway can help deter burglars. There are motion-detecting options, live/24-7 systems and even fake cameras for those who want to save money. These can be part of a video doorbell device, or their own standalone system. Smart locks. High-tech locks can help you better protect your property by enabling remote locking and unlocking. Just make sure you choose those with deadbolts, so they can’t be picked or kicked in.

Outdoor security improvements

There are a number of exterior changes that can increase the security of your property, including:

  • Installing a privacy fence or wall. If your yard lacks a fence, or you have a low or easy-to-see-through-fence, upgrading to a 6- or 8-foot solid barrier can increase security at your property line. Higher fences are tougher to climb over, solid ones make it more difficult for burglars to scope out your home from the curb.
  • Getting creative with landscaping. Intentional landscaping can help keep burglars out, too. Consider adding thick shrubbery around windows and using tall trees and foliage to deter intruders.
  • Putting up an alarm-monitoring sign as a deterrent. If you’re not able to afford a full alarm system or central monitoring, a simple sign may make it seem like you have one anyway.
  • Getting a dog. If you like dogs, this might be a good option for you, especially if you’re home a lot. A dog’s bark or growl can be enough to send burglars running.

Financing your home security updates

Protecting your home and improving its marketability can be costly, but that doesn’t have to mean draining your bank account. There are many inexpensive ways to increase your home’s security, and there are financing options that can help you afford more substantial improvements.

For example, you can use:

  • Cash-out refinancing. If you have significant equity in your home, a cash-out refinance can help you tap that and use it toward your security efforts. Given today’s low mortgage rates, you may even be able to lower your monthly payment while still getting a lump sum to put toward security projects.
  • Home equity loans and lines of credit. Home equity loans and HELOCs are options, too, if you have equity in your property. Just remember that these are second mortgages and will require monthly repayment.
  • Personal loans. A personal loan can allow you to finance your security upgrades, though it will usually come at a higher interest rate than the equity-based options above. Personal loans are best for those with strong credit; the rates will be even higher if your credit score is low.
  • Credit cards. Credit cards can be a good option, especially if you use ones that offer cash-back rewards or discounts at home improvement stores. Those with no annual fees and low interest rates are preferable.

It’s important to choose upgrades carefully by weighing all the options, their expense and their relative value. Focus on ones that either improve your home’s marketability or increase its appraised value — or at least ones that answer your specific security needs. This will ensure a return on your investment when it comes time to sell the house.