Typical property owners don’t spend much time pondering the nuances between burglary and theft when it comes to insuring their property. Their only concern is, they just want “it” to be covered if or when they make a claim with their insurance company. We’ve all heard the phrase, “the devil is in the detail,” and when it comes to a property insurance policy, this is very much the case.
Consumers, as a whole, tend to equate theft and burglary as being the same thing. In reality, the words carry different meanings when applied to property insurance contracts. Theft and burglary will also be defined slightly differently when applying a legal definition. This can further confuse the public’s understanding of the meanings of each. For the purposes of this article, we’ll confine the explanation of each through our insurance lens.
Burglary is defined as forced entry into another’s premises with felonious intent. The key words in this definition are forced entry and felonious intent. A homeowner who lost their house key might be forced to “break into” their own home if no other options are available. This may be an example of forced entry, but there is no felonious intent. On the other hand, a criminal may kick in a back door and in a matter of minutes makes off with some valuable jewelry and artwork. This is obviously forced entry with felonious intent.
Another related term is robbery. Robbery is the taking of property from its rightful owner by using violence or the threat of violence. If a criminal breaks into a home and holds the homeowner at gunpoint while his accomplice gathers up valuable jewelry and artwork, they are committing a robbery.
Theft is stealing or removing property from its’ rightful owner, without their consent. Theft encompasses both burglary and robbery.
With a clearer understanding of these terms, they can now be applied to property insurance coverage and how it works.
There are two issues to keep in mind, exclusions and coverage sub-limits, when discussing burglary and theft coverage. Exclusions are causes of loss, exposures or conditions listed in a policy for which benefits will not be paid. Sub-Limits are dollar limitations that limit the amount payable on certain types of property if a claim is made. Each limit is specifically listed within the insurance contract so there is no ambiguity. Sub-limits can differ between insurance companies, so the policyholder needs to be aware of the limits as they are stated in their policy.
Most modern-day homeowners’ policies cover burglary and therefore theft even with their most basic coverage. However, there are limitations to burglary coverage generally based on vacancy of a home. If a home has been vacant (no contents, furnishings or occupants) for a period of 60 days or more, burglary coverage will generally be excluded. That means any claim arising out of a burglary is no longer covered. A home that is unoccupied (has contents and furnishing in it but not being used or lived in) can still have coverage maintained as long as the insurance company is aware of the situation. An example of this might be a couple who overwinter in Florida (aka “snowbirds”). Their home is unoccupied, but it is not vacant. For a vacant or unoccupied home, always keep your insurance agent informed of the situation to make sure that the appropriate coverage is in place to meet current insurance needs.
We thank guest author Greg Holton, owner of Kendall Inventory Service, LLC in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a retired insurance agent with 25+ years’ experience in the industry. He is also an instructor for Insurance Career Training, Inc. The Hidden Risks of Undocumented Personal Property is a seminar presentation popular with estate planning attorneys, financial planners, and insurance agents as a lunch-n-learn or client workshop event. Contact Greg at 317- 509-8138 for more information
Before we answer the question the title poses, let’s look at the terms robbery, burglary, and theft.
Robbery is when someone takes something from another person by force (i.e., a gun, knife, or other threat).
Burglaries are crimes of breaking and entering into a building with the intent to commit a theft. The victim does not have to be present.
Theft is when items that belong to you are taken from your home, business, storage facility, or other structure.
Now that our vocabulary lesson is over, let’s answer the question posed in the title of this article: If you are the victim of a burglary, will they return?
Unfortunately, once you have been burglarized, there is a good possibility that it will happen again. The police and victims of these crimes have found that it is not uncommon.
Reasons for a repeat burglary can include the following:
- They know there are additional items of value in a home and view it as an easy target if they cannot see any obvious improvements in the security of the home.
- Some are a “trial run” where they grab what they can quickly, but the intent is to learn the layout of the floor plan, what type of security system is in place, and how long it takes for the police to respond.
- They often return within six weeks of the first burglary; by then most or all of the items have been replaced and the burglars know exactly where everything is.
- Sometimes they return just a few days later, assuming that no new security has yet been installed, and they now get what they want – and get it quickly.
- On their first burglary, they take a quick inventory of what you own, only taking a few easy-to-sell items. Then once they have a buyer, they return to steal a particular item or items.
- If you have other buildings (a storage shed or detached garage), they return to “finish the job.”
Having an inventory of your belongings will benefit you in many ways:
- You will be able to remember everything that you owned that is now gone.
- You will be able to prove ownership (itemized lists should include manufacturer, serial numbers, and model numbers) in case the police recover your belongings.
- You will be able to prove value if there are questions from the insurance adjuster.
- You will be able to complete your claims process faster.
- The home or business inventory will help you receive a more equitable insurance settlement.
- Even if you never experience a loss, this document will give you years of peace of mind.
Evaluate your security, and make any improvements that would be helpful. If you don’t have an inventory of your home or business personal property, possibly now you have the information you need to make that decision.
When it comes to an insurance check to replace the items you need to replace after a loss, don’t expect to hear your insurance company say “the check is in the mail.” There are some steps you need to take before that happens.
OK; so you think you did everything right. You have sufficient coverage. You have a yearly review with your insurance agent to discuss any changes that have taken place on your home or the contents. Now you are facing a major loss due to a theft, fire, or natural disaster and … what? … they are not going to just send you a check?
The check isn’t in the mail
There are reasons for that. They can’t send you the total amount of your insurance coverage if you don’t have a total loss. Your insurance company doesn’t know the real value of your loss until you provide the list of items to them. They also don’t know the value of each individual item. Without a list of each item that needs replaced, they don’t have any idea how much you need to get back where you were before the loss.
You’ll need to list each item. Yes, every single item! Listing furniture and other large items will be easy enough. However, you will also be required to list clothing, tools, toys, CDs, DVDs, books, shoes. But that’s not all. You’ll also need to itemize all bottles of perfume, bathroom toiletries, bottles of laundry soap, bars of soap, paper products, food items, bottles of nail polish, tubes of lipstick, tubes of chap stick, razor blades, cleaning supplies, extension cords, holiday decorations, kitchen utensils, decorative items, picture frames…this list will go on and on. Every single item!
Many ask why they should bother with these little items. Once they add up the cost of every-day consumables, they realize how easy it would be to face a substantial financial loss. Have you priced a tube of lipstick lately?
You’ll be working with an insurance adjuster to settle your insurance claim. Having proof of ownership will make the process go much faster, and with a lot less stress. One of our clients experienced the difficulty of trying to remember what used to be in a now-empty building.
Create an inventory prior to your loss
Tom and Kathy (not their real names) own a family farm, and unfortunately had a lot of power tools and many types of hand tools stolen. They were told to create a list of each item that was missing, the manufacturer, and model and serial numbers. They didn’t have an inventory of these tools, but did the best they could to remember and record what they used to own.
Since the tools were used frequently, they always purchased high-value, proven brands because they learned that farm work required excellent quality. When the adjuster reviewed the list Tom and Kathy created to submit their claim, he asked for proof that all tools were top-of-the-line. They went back and forth over the value of these items for more than three months. At one point, the adjuster stated that if they had a model or serial number, he would be able to approve the claim more easily. He told them he had a difficult time believing that everything they owned was in the high-value range.
Having an inventory, created prior to the theft, would have given Tom and Kathy the information they needed to submit a claim quickly and thoroughly. Be proactive and be prepared. The time and frustration you’ll save is worth the effort now. It’s also worth the investment if you choose to hire a certified inventory professional.
Over the past 30 years of full time occupation in the electronic security profession, I have seen my share of wrongs and rights. Most folk I come across feel things are getting worse rather than better.
One only needs to watch the nightly news for five minutes. Home invasions, stabbings, break-ins, hold-ups, murders, and physical assaults, on and on – many at an all-time high. What’s a prudent person to do?
Practice the 5 P’s…as my father would often spout (often adding a 6th P which I shall not repeat).
We can’t do everything but we are fools if we do nothing. One great thing about technology (unlike our bodies) is that it generally gets better and cheaper over time. This is certainly the case in electronic security. It’s simpler and more affordable than ever while much better performance.
Video Surveillance helps us see and hear better, 24/7 – as it never sleeps or goes off duty. We are often placing cameras to cover the driveway, front door, back yard and beyond. They are handy for seeing who is at the front door without having to get up or be seen inside the home. It is great for monitoring help around the house. Did the UPS driver slam down that package? Or who took it off the porch? Or what happened with so and so? A great thing is the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) has a tremendous memory built-in. It ‘is what it is’ as ‘Ignorance is bliss’ only to a certain extent.
Modern alarms are wireless, more reliable, AND affordable than ever. You can easily incorporate lights, locks, video, garage door control, and so much more. And it’s generally easy to include medical alerts, fire, carbon monoxide, water detector, and so forth. It’s great to be ‘in the know’ whether you are home or away.
Of course, they are not fool-proof, so it’s always a good to idea to have a back-up plan like quality insurance and a home inventory to protect the replaceable. Like the old saying, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’.
Kirk Booher has provided alarm, security, and surveillance systems for most of his adult life. OnGuard Security Solutions custom designs security systems based on needs and budget. Headquartered in Metro Indianapolis, OnGuard also has locations in Terre Haute, IN; Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus, OH; Chicago, IL; and Louisville, KY. ~ Kirk Booher, Owner/Operator of OnGuard Security Solutions (317) 572.5777 www.WeAreOnGuard.com
Emotion! Why is that word used so often when people talk about the loss the experienced after a loss? Whether it is from a fire, theft, or natural disaster, realizing what has been destroyed can be devastating.
The emotion felt is raw and immediate. It is an unexpected event in your life that you didn’t anticipate. When it’s a theft, you feel violated that someone entered your home or business and dared to take what you own! When the loss is from a fire or natural disaster, many state they feel “why me?”.
The financial loss
And soon after, the victims of this loss realize the financial loss that will most likely occur, adding more stress to their lives.
A theft investigator relayed the story of a man who was burglarized. Alan (not his real name) was so distraught at the thought of being victimized that he could not even remember the brands of his televisions when the police asked for the information.
A month later, he still had not filled out his police report or insurance claim. Alan stated that he became so overwhelmed with negative emotions when he thought about the burglary that he just couldn’t force himself to fill out the paperwork! Therefore, the police had no information to help them even attempt to recover the stolen items. His financial recovery was being delayed.
The final result
What was his financial recovery from his insurance company? Zero dollars! He found out the theft was facilitated by a family member, and the additional emotion he felt because of this encouraged him to do only one thing – just buy new and put it behind him. He just gave up trying to remember the information that the insurance company and police needed.
Imagine how much easier Alan’s experience would have been if he had an inventory of his belongings created prior to the theft. He would have been able to provide the manufacturer, serial number, and model number to both the insurance company and the police. His claim would have been settled quickly, which would have provided the funds to purchase new.
(Since hearing Alan’s story, we have talked to police and found that it is more common than one would think that a burglary is committed by someone the victim knows.)
I was speaking with a woman recently who had a burglary. We talked about the emotion you go through when you know someone has been in your house, pilfering through your stuff and pulling things out of your drawers while looking for your valuables. She said it will take a while before she can walk into the house without a bit of hesitation…always wondering if she’ll find the same mess she did on the day of the burglary.
She then switched to the financial loss she experienced. The total loss was in the thousands. We talked about the detailed list she was asked to complete – for both the police report and her insurance claim. They asked for serial numbers and model numbers. They wanted to know the manufacturer of the electronics.
The police and insurance adjuster asked for photos. She had neither a prepared inventory or photos of her belongings. When discussing her jewelry, all she could tell them is whether each item was gold or silver. She often couldn’t give more detail except that there was a stone. Unfortunately, she was unable to offer details of jewelry she received from her mother and grandmother, details such as what type of stone, and whether it was man-made or a valuable gem. When asked for pictures, she had none that were close-ups, so they were of little help. Having photos would have helped, as the police would have been able to distribute them to the pawn shops.
“I have homeowners insurance,” she said. “I just didn’t know I’d have to list everything!”
Unfortunately, we often hear that or similar remarks. Take it from this burglary victim – you DO need to know what you own if you want to receive an equitable settlement from your insurance agent! Don’t wait until it’s too late.
In the United States, one in every 36 homes will be burglarized this year. According to the FBI, that means that there is a burglary every 15 seconds! There are no statistics available to show the percent of how many are repeat break-ins, but our discussions with burglary victims and police indicate this is on the rise.
These statistics prove the importance for homeowners to have an inventory of your belongings. If you are the victim of a burglary, these statistics also stress how essential it is to update your inventory as soon as you purchase the replacement items. Indications are you just might need that information again in about three or four months.
So what is the reason for this specific timeframe? This is the normal time it takes for someone to complete their list of items stolen for the insurance company (you do know you will need to provide a detailed list to your insurance company, right?), receive their insurance settlement, and purchase replacement items.
Burglars have found that a second burglary is much better for a few reasons. There is no question about what is inside, so they know it will be a worthwhile “visit.” It will be a much faster in-and-out, since they know exactly where everything is. And, they know, going in, exactly where the “good stuff” is, based on the first theft.
According to A Secure Life, in addition to cash, there are common items commonly targeted: electronic equipment, gold, silver, jewelry, and guns. These are items that are easy to sell to pawn shops or on the street. In addition to stealing items they can readily resell, they also steal items that are easy to carry from the home.
Most likely, they are watching your house, planning the second break-in. Take precautions by not putting the boxes of your newly purchased items at the curb, so they aren’t aware that you’ve already replaced the stolen items. Place jewelry and other small items in a different, less obvious, location. If you have an alarm system, be sure to always have it activated.
And, of course, be sure to have an updated inventory!
Other times, they choose a house to burglarize at random. A common ploy to learn if anyone is home is to just knock on the door or ring the bell. If no one answers, they proceed to enter and help themselves to your belongings.
The more sophisticated thieves, who target their victims, learn when the house will be empty. They often even know for how long! Here are a few real examples how:
- A man posted on Facebook, announcing that he was going out to dinner, naming the restaurant. Within minutes of the post, this person was burglarized. The police assume it was a neighbor who saw the dinner announcement on Facebook.
- A family shared vacation photos on social media sites, only to return home to an empty house. Burglars backed up a truck and emptied the house while they were hundreds of miles away.
- Even more disgusting, a growing trend is to watch the obituaries, noting the times of the calling hours and funeral service. Easy enough for the burglars to know when no one will be around. Additionally, relatives of the deceased are also listed, giving the burglars a few hours to hit more than one house.
- A woman stated she was leaving for work, saying goodbye to her Facebook friends. A burglar broke into her home later that day and stole all of her jewelry.
The timing of these burglaries could be coincidences, but it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. Law enforcement officers state that most burglaries are committed by someone the victim knows. Maintain some privacy by not posting your itinerary each day on the various social media sites. Vacation photos are fun to share, but if your house is going to be empty while you’re away, wait until you return home to upload them for all to see. It’s not just social media – be cautious about discussing your plans when in a crowd. You never know who is listening to your conversations, learning when you’re going to be away for a few hours or a few days.
You certainly don’t want to spend your summer days filling out insurance claim forms (which would be easier if you had an inventory of what was stolen.) Enjoy your summer, and be safe!
Common answers when I ask people that question are that they:
- have a home inventory
- make sure their insurance is sufficient to replace the losses (proven by your home inventory)
- have the collectibles, artwork, firearms, etc., scheduled
- have a security system
- keep their high-value items in a safe at home or in a bank safe deposit box
Other viable actions taken, but often said with smiles on their faces, are that they:
- live near a fire hydrant or a police station
- own a gun
- have a big – very big – guard dog
Some even decide to sell their items.
An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, John Havlicek’s 1960 Ohio State basketball championship ring among items up for auction, discussed the reason behind the basketball great’s reason to sell his championship rings from his years as a Buckeye and a Celtic. There are many other memorabilia that he also sold at auction. His explanation? According to the article, “Havlicek said he is so worried about something happening to some of his memorabilia that he would rather sell it now and get it into the hands of people who want it, rather than risk losing it.”
Guess it’s time to start marketing our inventory service to those who are the recipients of these auctions, because someone wants these items. Once the purchase these collectibles, they will want an inventory of these valuables to prove ownership so they can protect their assets and ensure their financial future. After all, it’s not the sentimental value – these purchases are strictly a financial decision. An inventory of these collectibles is certainly a document they will need!
I hear a lot of comments regarding insurance company policies and procedures after someone experienced a loss from a fire, burglary, or natural disaster. These conversations happen at parties, open houses, networking events – you name it, these conversations come up. Why I’m involved in so many is because I own a home and business inventory company.
So, what is not uncommon that people are talking about regarding insurance companies?
- You’ll be asked for serial numbers.
- You’ll be asked for model numbers.
- You’ll be asked for the name of the manufacturer.
- They will expect you to list what you paid for each item.
- They will want to list the fair market value of each item.
- You’ll be asked when you purchased the item/how old each item is.
- You’ll be required to provide a detailed list of what was damaged, destroyed, or stolen. And the means every single item you want to be reimbursed for. That includes food, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, decorative items, in addition to your large ticket items.
How do I know this? In addition to providing an inventory service for disaster preparedness (creating the inventory now, before you need it), we also assist with after-loss inventories. We have listed items for replacement that include the number of
- tubes of lipstick
- rolls of toilet paper
- bottles of laundry soap
- pods of dishwashing detergent
- bottles of nail polish
- boxes of cereal
- cans of food
The list can go on forever, as you can see. So, when people express what they had to go through to list their losses before receiving reimbursement from their insurance company, our reply is, “This is not uncommon.” I just wish more people realized the importance of having an inventory prepared while everything is still in one piece!