Raising the alarm worth the price

Wellington student Jonti Batchelor was enjoying a Saturday night out celebrating her friend and flatmate's 21st birthday. What was supposed to be an evening of festivity, however, turned out to be anything but.

Batchelor's flat was burgled. Her new, 2-month-old Macbook Air laptop was taken from under her bed - a spot she had assumed would be a good hiding place. Its accessories were swiped, including a charger and bag, at a total value of about $2000.

Batchelor's flatmates were also robbed that evening, with the loot all up including a wallet, two laptops, a handbag and an iPod.

The third-year marketing and management student was devastated by the break-in last month.

"The university didn't believe me and decided that my laptop got taken because I didn't want to hand in my assignment.

"It was the last thing I needed."

The four-bedroom flat on Wellington's The Terrace had no home security system installed, bar a lock on the front door, and the flatmates did not realise that for less than the cost of one of the laptops, the loss could well have been avoided.

This, Recon security consultant Peter Jones says, is typical.

"Ninety-nine per cent of our business is reactive, people will buy the new car, the new TV; alarms are an afterthought."

About 460,000 flat-panel televisions were sold in New Zealand last year. The average price of a television has plunged more than a third from about $1300 to slightly more than $800 in four years.

Jones says that although people will happily spent this amount on the latest gadget, few realise they can protect it and their homes for much the same price.

Even fewer do, until it is too late.

According to Consumer NZ, a certified alarm system can cost $1200 to $2500.

Jones has worked with Wellington's largest locally owned security firm, Recon, for the past 15 years. He estimates he has sold alarm systems to 5000 homes during his career.

His firm offers a fully installed system for $995 - complete with keypad, battery, two sensors, smoke detector, as well as an indoor and outdoor siren.

The key difference an alarm system offers homeowners is time, he says.

"If there's no alarm, they'll break in and they could trash the place and be there for whatever time they want."

With an alarm, however, a burglar's time is immediately cut.

"The alarm will go off and I've yet to see a burglar stay put, ever - they leave."

Batchelor says that before her flat was robbed, she had never really considered how secure her possessions were.

"We're a bottom flat so it's pretty ballsy to walk down the stairs into our courtyard and check if anyone's home because the lounge is right there . . . I was never really worried about it," she says.

According to New Zealand police statistics, 39,532 household burglaries were reported in the country in 2012 - about 108 a day.

In Wellington for the same period, 3579 burglaries were recorded.

Wellington city prevention manager Senior Sergeant Mark Buttar says from last July until the end of March, burglaries in the Wellington area dropped 13 per cent.

The region stretches from the airport to Johnsonville but does not include the Hutt Valley or Porirua, he says.

Jones says he is the busiest he has ever been. "I probably attend three or four burglary sites a day.

"I've been doing this for 15 years and I don't know a period where we were getting so many burglary calls, every day."

For many New Zealanders, however, the $1000 price tag of a professionally installed home security system may be an expense too far.

Batchelor says that in the weeks following her flat's burglary, the flatmates considered buying bedroom-door locks, but not a full security system.

"We wanted to get locks put on our doors, individual locks, but our landlord actually said no. We were all willing to pay for the locks."

For Batchelor and her flatmates, the option of a cheaper do-it-yourself kit, now available throughout New Zealand, is far more appealing.

"I'm actually probably going to get one of those, because living in such close proximity to the neighbours, an alarm, whether they come and investigate or not . . . would be enough to freak someone out."

Last month, the United States' top-selling DIY security brand, Doberman Security, was launched in New Zealand.

Doberman NZ marketing manager Kate Jacobi says the products, which are available at Bunnings Warehouse, were brought to New Zealand because there was a demand for cheaper alarm alternatives.

"In the past there's been a lot of these home security systems that go in that are expensive systems.

"People want an alternative where they can just put in the system themselves or they can just alarm certain windows or doors."

Jacobi says a lot of people cannot afford security systems.

The Doberman range of alarms can be fixed to any door or window for as little as $9.

The most expensive product is a $60 sensor that can basically be used on anything - tradespeople use them to protect their toolboxes, for instance, she says.

"They are just little standalone units that go on your door or windows, but they've got a 100-decibel alarm on them so they're going to frighten anyone off."

All the Doberman products need batteries replaced once every year or so. Jacobi says they are obviously not as effective as a fully monitored alarm system, but provide a cost-effective alternative all the same.

"So many people are renting properties so they don't want to put a full alarm system in.

"People are becoming more and more security conscious and just wanting to protect themselves, so there is a demand for it."

Recon's Jones says he could see a hole in the market for cheaper alarm alternatives.

"They'd be great for a little bach or campervan, something like that, but all a burglar needs to do is pull them off the wall.

"You get what you pay for."

When it comes to claiming insurance on stolen property, however, the cost of a professionally installed system may in fact be worth it.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton says professionally installed burglar alarms are an effective deterrent.

"The insurers recognise that by providing a discount on premiums for that, which can be between 10 and up to 20 per cent.

"Insurers would certainly encourage the installation of burglar and smoke alarms as well."

Jones believes the insurance market is a lot more controlled and regulated overseas.

Insurance companies would often ask, however, whether the alarm system had been professionally installed, which he says only certified security companies can provide.

Batchelor was fortunate enough to get insurance on her stolen laptop, but her flatmates were not so lucky.

Her insurance company told her there was an 80 per cent chance their flat would be burgled again.

"She said because it was tech-based we should be really careful because 80 per cent of the time they come back, because they know you would have claimed insurance on them.

"They know you would have got new computers and so they just come back to get the new ones as well."

Batchelor says she is surprised by how high this figure was. "It is interesting because it's made me really paranoid about my new one being taken as well.

"I carry it with me everywhere and I've got a new hiding spot for it and everything."

Buttar says short of spending money on any of the alarm options available in New Zealand, there are some steps homeowners can take to make them more secure.

Neighbourhood Support initiatives, social media precautions and even making sure doors and windows are locked were important, he says.

"A house burglary will occur anywhere across our area but generally in areas where the guardians, or the house owners, aren't taking good burglary prevention measures."

Precautions such as asking someone to clear your letterbox when you went away, or making sure you did not hide keys in obvious places were effective.

More recently, police had seen social media posts boasting of holidays lead to burglaries.

"It seems harmless enough but someone will mention it . . . The chance of that falling into the ears of someone who picks up on it with an ulterior motive and knows no-one is home for two weeks, that increases the chance [of burglary]."

Buttar suggests looking at two or three options rather than just rushing off to buy the cheapest alarm.

"And if you've got one, use the blimmin' thing."

Jones' rule of thumb for home security is that anything under $700 will probably be of poor quality, and anything more than $2000 is likely to be too much.

"It's a compromise and I always say, look, you need to cover your main areas, areas of concern.

"You can liken it to the cost of an appliance; probably not going to cost much more than a new fridge or new TV.

"You get what you pay for."