Tips to Secure Your Home While On Spring Break

Family holding houseYou pull into the driveway, eyes drooping from a full-day’s journey. In the backseat, the kids have been asleep for hours. You exit the car, approach the front door, and turn the key. Flick! The lights reveal what looks like a hurricane scene. Your belongings litter the floor, rifled-through drawers are left open. The clean house you left has been ransacked.

Quite the way to end a vacation.

It’s the sort of scene that only seems to happen to “other people.” After all, you live in a safe neighborhood. But the reality is, uncommon though they may be, break-ins can happen to anyone. While you’re gone, you’re nearly powerless to stop it.

The good news is you don’t have to be Kevin McAllister to defend your home. Take some simple precautions before you leave, and you’ll go a long way to prevent breakins.

1. Illusions!
The house least likely to be broken into is the one with people in it. If thieves don’t know you’re gone, they won’t target your home. Use this checklist to create the illusion that you never left.

Mail — While you’re gone, envelopes, newspapers, flyers, and boxes pile up by your front door. This is the most obvious, clichéd way to recognize an empty home. One fix is to ask the post office to hold your mail until you return. This is an easy solution, but doesn’t solve the problem of independent Chinese take-out menus stuck to your doorway. Consider asking a trusted neighbor to collect your mail while you’re away.

Blinds — Most people close their blinds while they’re away and leave them open while they’re home. Intuitively, this makes sense. But there’s one problem — this makes “closed blinds” a tell-tale sign of an empty home. Consider closing your blinds for the few weeks leading up to your trip — when you’re obviously home — to not create any signals.

Lights — A dark house is an empty house. Lamps can easily (and cheaply) be set on a timer, to give the illusion of people in the living room.

Lawn — How often do you mow the grass? Imagine how obvious it would be if you missed even a couple weeks. Consider hiring lawn care for the time you’re gone, or getting a friend to do it.

Garbage — Once a week, everyone’s trash cans go out to the curb. Don’t let your stick out like a sore thumb. Ask a neighbor to move your can on garbage day.
Sitter — The easiest way to make a house look lived-in is for it to literally be lived-in. Get someone to housesit while you’re away — an added benefit is someone can take care of your dog and water your plants!

Stay off Instagram — We all love posting pictures from our vacation, but wait until you get home to brag about that view of the beach. It’s surprisingly easy to find out where someone lives, so make it a #lategram and don’t tip your hand.

2. General Safety

Sometimes, your illusion will fail and thieves will try to break into your house anyways. Don’t make it easy on them, but take some simple precautions to fortify your home.

Deadbolts — If you don’t have deadbolts on every door, add them and be sure to lock everything when you leave. It sounds obvious, but sometimes the simple careless mistakes are the worst.

Garage Door — Electric garage doors are easy to hack. Disconnect the door opener before you leave, so that a universal opener can’t set it off.

Doggie Door — Movie break-ins 101: enter through the doggie door. Don’t let this happen in your house. Secure the doggie door.

Secure Vault — So you keep your valuables in a safe. Great, but is there anything stopping a thief from just taking the vault and dealing with the lock later? While you hope it never reaches that stage, a vault isn’t much use if it’s not secured to the ground.

Hide Valuables — This is a last-resort guideline. If you have something truly irreplaceable, don’t keep it in an obvious place. Hide it someplace no one would ever look.

3. Weatherproofing
Home safety goes beyond preventing break-ins. If you travel during the winter, an empty house could be at risk of various weather-related problems.

Gutters — Clean the gutters before you leave, to ensure proper drainage, should a rainstorm come in while you’re away.

Pipes — If the weather freezes, your pipes could too, causing expensive damage. Be sure your pipes are properly insulated, or give a neighbor a key and ask them to turn your faucets to “drip” when the freeze comes.

Spare Key — Regardless of your pipes’ insulation, it’s wise to give a trusted neighbor a spare key, in case someone needs to get into the house and fix something.

Final advice — be sure you’re properly insured. Despite your best efforts and precautions, sometimes break-ins still happen. Check with your insurance agent or let Kuznieski Insurance Agency review your policy to make sure you are covered for both structural damages and loss of property. Don’t be caught without coverage!

Easy Ways to Add Instant Value to Your Home

Happy Couple Dream New HomeWhether you’re getting ready to put your house on the market or your home just needs a little updating, consider trying some of these easy ways to add value to your home. Most of these tricks are inexpensive yet they can make a big difference.

 

First Impressions

You can’t sell your home if you can’t get anyone inside of it, so make sure it has the all-important curb appeal, or buyers may keep driving.

Paint is the easiest and most cost effective way to give your whole home a facelift and make it look well maintained.  On the exterior, replace rotten boards prior to painting if necessary, and make the front door stand out with a pop of color or fresh stain.

A new coat of interior paint hides a multitude of sins — dirt, scuffs marks, scraped wood — and makes everything look clean.   Remember to go with soft neutrals, because everyone’s tastes are different.

Just before putting the house on the market, freshen up the landscaping. Nicely trimmed shrubs, a neatly mowed, edged lawn and fresh mulch around colorful flowers make a home look inviting.

 

Eye Catchers

The most important rooms in any house are always the kitchen and the bathrooms, so you want to make the biggest statement possible in those spaces. High quality appliances add enormous value, but if you can’t afford to replace them, make sure they work properly and have all the necessary knobs, switches and handles.

If the cabinets are in good condition, changing out the hardware is an easy way to bring them up to date. New energy efficient lighting and modern plumbing fixtures offer another inexpensive wow factor.

Lastly, for better or for worse, give your flooring an update. Existing carpeting should be cleaned and stretched or replaced if necessary and tiled surfaces and grout should not look dingy.

 

Personal Stuff

Box up photos and unnecessary knick knacks for storage, and place toiletries and personal care items out of sight. Then de-clutter the home in general, particularly closets and cabinets. Overstuffed storage areas make them look small.

 

These easy updates to your home add value. Value you want to protect from possible damage. Make sure your home and belongings are secure by having proper home insurance coverage. If haven’t reviewed your policy lately, Kuznieski Insurance Agency is happy to provide you with a complimentary review of your current policy.

 

General Home Safety Guidelines

When you leave your home, whether it is for work or for vacation, you trust that your home and your valuables are safe and protected. These guidelines may seem like common knowledge but they’re often forgotten. Try taking these precautions to help fortify your home and keep your possessions secure while you’re away.

  • Deadbolts — If you don’t have deadbolts on every door, add them and be sure to lock everything when you leave. It sounds obvious, but sometimes the simple careless mistakes are the worst. Deadbolts make it much more difficult for intruders to enter your home.
  • Garage Door — With modern technology, electric garage doors have become easy to hack. Make sure you lock your entry door from your garage into your home to add another barrier of security.
    hands holding paper house with lock
  • Secure Vault — While keeping your valuables in a safe is a great protective measure, there is nothing stopping a thief from just taking the vault and dealing with the lock later. Make sure your vault is secure to the ground so that intruders are unable to take the safe with them. They are less likely to exert the extra energy it takes to remove a vault that is secured to the ground.
  • Hide Valuables — This is a last-resort guideline. If you have something truly irreplaceable, don’t keep it in an obvious place. Hide it someplace no one would ever look such as a false container in a kitchen cupboard or hidden inside a pair of shoes.
  • Home Security System — If you have it, use it. It can sometimes be a nuisance to have to remember to set but it is an added precaution that can deter most intruders. You can even have alerts sent to your phone if there is a breach of security.

Tips for Creating the Perfect Guestroom for your Holiday Guests

The holidays often mean full hearts and full guest rooms as family and friends arrive to spend this special time of year with you and yours.  The trick to making guests feel at home in your home is to anticipate their needs and accommodate them in advance. It’s what the best hotels do, and you can do it too.

  • Nothing is more inviting in a guest room than a cozily made bed and warm lighting.  Plush linens, fluffy accent pillows and throws, and the glow of a bedside lamp offer an intimate welcome.  Clutter-free tabletops give guests room to place jewelry and other items. Personal touches like a stack of favorite books, framed photos, scented candles or fresh flowers add charm.
  • hotel interiorA good night’s sleep can be key to a pleasant visit, so don’t skimp on the bedding.  You wouldn’t want to sleep on a springy mattress, lumpy pillows or scratchy sheets and your guests don’t either.  Consider these things an investment. Buy the best you can afford.
  • In bathrooms, large, soft, fluffy towels and well-appointed toiletries are a treat.  It’s also nice for visitors to not have to ask for a hair dryer, extra TP, or a night light, so stocking the cabinets with these and other essentials is always appreciated.
  • A great way to determine the comfort of the room is to spend the night in it yourself. Does it have everything you need? A place to sit (besides the bed,) somewhere for luggage and hanging clothes, a clock, extra blankets and pillows, a reading light?  Do you see dusty fan blades or corner cobwebs when the sun comes through the curtains? And how early does the sun shine through? Should you add a liner or shade?
  • A few finishing touches make guests feel extra special.  Prepare a basket with bottled waters and easy-to-eat snacks, so guests don’t have to sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and rummage through the fridge.  Share codes for wifi access and security systems (just in case,) as well as how to operate the dreaded remote control, which seems to be different in everyone’s house.

Knowing you’ve anticipated their every need will help your holiday guests feel truly at home.

Farmers Insurance Nancy Kuznieski Agency wish you a very Happy Holidays!

Holiday Lights & Safety

The winter holiday season should be a joyous time of year. However, certain types of fires and injuries associated with holiday decorating are much more common during this season.  According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA),
 
Christmas tree fires
U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 230 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees. Home Christmas tree fires caused an average of six civilian deaths, 22 civilian injuries, and $18.3 million in direct property damage per year.

Although these fires are not common, when they do occur, they are unusually likely to be serious. On average, one of every 40 reported home structure Christmas tree fires resulted in a death compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home structure fires.

Similar shares of home Christmas tree structure fires were in December (43%) and January (39%). Christmas tree fires are more likely after Christmas than before. For example, none of the ten dates with the largest shares of home Christmas tree structure fires were before Christmas.

Electrical failures or malfunctions were involved in one-third (32%) of the home Christmas tree structure fires. One in six (17%) occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree. Decorative lights on line voltage were involved in 12% of these incidents. Seven percent of home Christmas tree fires were started by candles.

Twenty percent of home Christmas tree structure fires were intentionally set. Half of the intentional Christmas tree fires occurred in the 20 days after Christmas.

The risk of fire is higher with natural trees than artificial ones. Researchers found that dry natural trees burned easily but trees that had been kept moist are unlikely to catch fire unintentionally.

Fires involving holiday lights or other decorative lighting with line voltage
Holiday lights and other decorative lighting with line voltage were involved in an estimated average of 150 home structure fires per year in this same period. These fires caused an average of nine civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $8.4 million in direct property damage per year. Two out of five (40%) occurred in December and 12% were in January. Fifteen percent of these fires began with Christmas trees. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in nearly two-thirds (64%) of the fires involving holiday or decorative lights.

Falls related to holiday decorating
In a study of fall-related injuries during the holiday season, Stevens and Vajani estimated that an annual average of roughly 5,800 fall injuries related to holiday decorating were treated at hospital emergency rooms between November 1 and January 31 in 2000-2001, 2001-2002, and 2002-2003. Sixty-two percent of those injured were between 20 and 49 years of age, compared to 43% of the population in this age group. With 43% of the injuries resulting from falls from ladders and 13% caused by falls from the roof, it appears that the majority of these falls occurred during outdoor decorating. Falls from furniture, typically inside the structure, accounted for 11% of the injuries. Some falls occurred when people tripped over or slipped on tree skirts or other decorations.

Entire article can be found at http://www.nfpa.org/research/reports-and-statistics/fire-causes/holiday/christmas-tree-and-holiday-lights.

Taking A Home Inventory

Guest Blogger: Hensley Law Firm

The time to take a home inventory is before you need it.  As much as we may not like to consider the many reasons for maintaining an up-to-date inventory of the contents of our homes, they are undeniable.  Weather disasters, fires and burglaries can result in catastrophic losses that leave victims in no frame of mind to account for all of their lost belongings after the fact.

Having this record in place prior to disaster makes verifying losses much easier, much less stressful, and may even help you get your insurance claims settled faster.  While this all makes sense, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), more than half of Americans don’t have an accurate record of property. Of those that do, 59 percent haven’t updated it in more than a year, meaning new purchases and gifts may not be included.

So how do you begin? There are lots of ways.  Read more at http://www.hensleylawfirm.com/taking-a-home-inventory/