You may be holiday-ready, but what about your home?
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By Dominique Bowen
For many of us, the beginning of December marks the moment when we can start daydreaming: about kicking back poolside with a drink in hand, spending valuable time with the family making memories, or hitting the road with friends on a good ol’ South African road trip. For many, it’s also one of the only times in the year when we can truly relax for days on end, with no need to keep time or worry about work obligations. Unfortunately, one thing that can rudely jolt you out of this dreamworld of braais, beach days and beers is that phone call from your neighbour or armed response provider bearing bad news: there’s been a break-in. Or, perhaps you have an uninterrupted break, only to return to a burst geyser or leaking pipes that have caused permanent damage to your ceiling and walls.
The good news is that you can lower your risk of any of these ruining your holiday, or your finances, by taking some measures – many of them without costs attached – to get your home as ready for the holidays as you are. Put these on your getaway checklist to ease into your vacation stress-free.
Don’t help the thieves
In the eyes of a burglar, seemingly innocuous items like a rake, spade or other lawn equipment is the ideal tool for house break-ins. Don’t make it that easy for them. “Store and lock away these and any outdoor furniture so they don’t attract unwanted attention or provide tools for a thief to break into your home,” suggests Deirdrie Grové, director of Status Insurance Brokers. “Lock away any ladders, as they can be used by thieves to gain entry into your home.”
If you have a housesitter, ask them to frequently remove any post that is delivered to reduce signs that you are away for an extended period. If you haven’t got someone booked, ask a neighbour or friend who lives close by to help out.
You could even go one step further, says Lizo Mnguni, a spokesperson for Old Mutual Insure, by installing a timer switch: “This will ensure that lights are switched on for intermittent periods while you are away, creating the impression that someone is at home.”
Reinforce your existing security
If you’re going away for an extended period, it’s wise to give your existing security measures a second thought. Now is the time to beef them up to help your home stand the best chance against criminals. “Ensure your sliding doors have additional security measures such as pin locks or security gates, as criminals use them most often as entry points,” says Grové. “Take out any keys inside your door locks,” she adds.
Don’t assume that your alarm will work hiccup-free for the entire time you’re away. If yours has a back-up battery, which would provide power in the likely event of loadshedding, now is the time to check and replace it if necessary. “Ensure that your alarm is tested and in working order,” suggests Mnguni. And if your alarm system doesn’t cover the storage area where you’re keeping all your lawn equipment and furniture, Grové offers a smart tip: “You may also want to add your storage area to its detection function - in other words, add an alarm ‘eye’ or door detector.”
Prevent damage from within
If your home will be unoccupied, turn off electrical appliances that won’t be in use, including your geyser. “Also switch off your water mains before you leave to prevent any damage from a burst geyser, leaking pipes or pressure surges in your absence,” says Mnguni. As a back-up, ensure a trusted neighbour has your contact number so they can alert you to a burst pipe sooner than later.
“We have had large claims due to a pipe bursting and the homeowner only finding out a week later when a friend did a weekly drive-by to ensure all was well,” says Grové. “Had a neighbour known, they could have reached out earlier and prevented large losses.” She adds that most insurers offer free emergency assistance for your home, so make sure your neighbour has this contact information for the time you are away.
Optimise your cover
Now is the perfect time to contact your insurer or broker to review your existing cover and make any changes to it based on developments over the past year. Maybe you had renovations done to your home, or new valuables like appliances or jewellery haven’t yet been added to your insured inventory. Perhaps you sold an item that was on your inventory, and your current premium doesn’t take this into account. Don’t skip an annual review, as it can become a costly mistake.
“By not checking your insurance regularly, you can end up overpaying for it if you’re over-insured,” says Mnguni. “Or, if your insurance cover does not cover the full replacement value of your house or contents, you might find out you’re underinsured and will suffer losses in the event of a claims event,” he says.