London Portrait Magazine 12-1984
While concentrating on stocks and shares, are you neglecting your more valuable assets? asks CHRISTOPHER LONG
Many of us spend a great deal of our time anxiously watching the performance of our investments. Amazingly, however, most of us show a lot less interest in the security of our assets at home. Only those who've returned to find the front door open and a curtain blowing in the wind can really describe that sickening first sight of the devastation a burglar can create in a matter of minutes.
Of course, it's hard to think of a family silver tea-pot as an investment. It was probably given to us and we would never dream of selling it. The same goes for furniture, paintings, porcelain and jewellery. So much of what we possess has a sentimental value far higher than its purely capital value. Nevertheless, when you find everything you treasure thrown around, picked over, smashed, stolen or desecrated, you may well feel a grievous loss.
Britain's average semi-detached family him, her and their 2.4 children have home contents valued at £8,000. Hardly surprisingly, Central London's typical Property & Investment reader can reckon to have personal belongings valued at anything from £39,000 to perhaps £139,000 or more. You may not believe you come into that category! Think again and take a look at our illustrated example (see page 28). This picture of a hallway in a fairly typical Kensington flat comes from the photographic files of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. There's nothing in it to set the Paul Getty Museum's pulse racing, but get out your calculator.
A fairly typical Kensington flat
In the Heal's buffet (c. 1919 and highly collectable today) valued at around £800 is stereo equipment that would cost about £600 to replace. On top on the Victorian satinwood chest of drawers (£450) is an assortment of English and Chinese porcelain which is valued at around £500. The Regency armchair might cost £400 to replace and the Victorian mahogany hall table and the mahogany Pembroke table beyond it might now sell for about £300 and £450 respectively.
Multiply the 10 water-colours on the left by about £100 each and do the same for the 17 early prints on the right. Now put a price on the Georgian clock: an assortment of small trinkets and other items and you might end up with a total so far of about £8,000.
And that doesn't include the contents of the drawers which a burglar would certainly investigate (working from the bottom drawer upwards each time). Nor does it include a couple of early 19th century French paintings which could be worth as much as all the rest put together. What's more, we haven't even begun to look at the contents of a drawing-room, a couple of bedrooms, a kitchen or a study.
That's how you can quite quickly reach figures like £100,000 without much trouble but with a bit of a shock to many owners. One thing's for certain, the owner of this flat probably has more invested in household contents and personal valuables than he ever has, or is ever likely to have, invested in stocks, shares, life policies or building societies. Furthermore, this "investment" has almost certainly far outstripped the capital growth performance of normal institutional investments over the past 30 years or so.
So, what do you do to protect this in-house investment? The best answer is to observe good military principles attack, defence and strategic withdrawal.
Under attack comes the positive action you can take to protect the value of your belongings should they be lost stolen or destroyed whether at home or from your car or while abroad, for example. There are quite enough insurance companies begging to do business with you and equally anxious that you have a real idea of the true value of what you own which very few people have.
The problem is that most of these companies offer packaged policies such as "all risks" which are geared to the needs of Mr & Mrs Average and their 2.4 children. Such policies generally assume that you'll have a few items of jewellery which each constitute more than 10% of the total contents value and that the bulk of the other items will be things like modern furniture, stereo systems and video recorders that depreciate in value. Good in their own way these policies are usually quite inadequate for those with a lot of jewellery, silver, antique furniture, collectable paintings, ceramics and Persian rugs.
Where the contents' value and number of items is considerable you may be much better advised to consult one of Britain's 250 non-marine insurance brokers to arrange a policy through Lloyds underwriters. Bearing in mind the specific items, the particular risks, security precautions taken and with expert knowledge of the increase in values, they can negotiate a tailor-made policy to suit you. A Lloyds policy may or may not be competitive with a company quote but it's more likely to achieve what you want with more flexibility and a greater chance of getting an eventual claim settled easily and honoured in full. But, whatever you do, shop around.
Another important step to consider under the heading of attack is a written inventory of possessions and a photographic record to go with it. The tragedy is that we often don't even know that we're missing something till it's too late particularly in the chaotic aftermath of a burglary. Making the list can be tedious but may come in useful when arranging insurance, composing a Will or as evidence of possession after a burglary. Combine it with photographs of particular items and a comprehensive selection of views of particular items and of each room, and put them into safe-keeping at the bank or with a solicitor.
Under this heading come all the more obvious precautions including locks, alarms, bars and property marking. But let us be under no illusions here; a serious and determined professional burglar will always find a way of getting into any property if he really wants to. They aren't daunted by a couple of mortice locks either.
Nevertheless you will deter more than 95% of them by fitting good door and window locks, hinge bolts, bars and security gates. These deter the bulk of criminals who seek the line of least resistance.
Burglar alarms are a tricky subject. A bell-box may simply advertise a good haul. On the other hand, some insurers may insist upon them in certain circumstances. Whether anyone will answer them when they ring is a moot point (even the police have heard the wolf! wolf! call too often). More sophisticated alarms with delayed actions and connected to police stations or private security companies may be more efficient but at a far greater price. In the end, it may be a simple mathematical equation: cost of alarm vis-à-vis reduction in insurance premium. But don't rely on them!
What you most certainly should rely on is some good advice from your local Crime Prevention Officer.
Some people still feel wary of allowing the police to 'case the joint'. That view may occasionally have been justified but we have to trust all sorts of visitors and officials at different times and a good CPO can offer invaluable good advice and save you spending a fortune on unnecessary devices from security firms while pointing out all the vulnerable points as well.
One thing they'll tell you, for example, is that whenever scaffolding goes up on a Central London house there's a good chance neighbouring properties will get done over. It's true it happens with monotonous regularity! Another thing they'll tell you is that where there's a solid wall opposite a doorway, a portable hand-jack will make matchwood of almost any standard door mortice locks included.
Finally, they'll offer you a relatively new and very sensible property marking service. The principle here is to mark valuable items with the owner's post-code so that lost or stolen property can be returned. Die-stamps, diamond-tipped engravers and invisible ink Berol pens (which only show up in ultra-violet light) can be used to mark anything from a wedding-ring to a concert grand indelibly. If the property changes hands or the owner moves, an X is placed after the code to cancel it and the new code added after it.
Most police stations hold special surgeries to mark bicycles in an attempt to reduce the thousands of them stolen each year and some stations can offer to provide a free marking service for other belongings too. At the very least they'll all give you free advice on how to do it and where to get the simple tools to do it with.
Another important aspect of defence is normally only available to ground-floor or basement householders. Floor-safes, buried in concrete below ground level are probably the most secure method of storing smaller valuables, cash etc. The hardened-steel locking lids are set flush to the ground and are almost invulnerable. Next best is a professionally fitted wall-safe, followed finally by a large, heavy and very expensive free-standing model. But the floor safe may not cost more than a few hundred pounds and give you great peace of mind.
Of course there are other defence possibilities too. Dogs undoubtedly do deter many potential intruders. Safety chains and door-viewers are essential nowadays. You can go the whole hog and have video cameras and security firms checking round the clock if you want, but doing the simple things like not leaving the front door ajar and keeping windows closed when you leave will save most burglaries, I suspect. Women living alone still seem to insist on undressing without drawing the curtains or shutting the windows at night as many a late-night pedestrian knows. And the spread of Neighbourhood Watch schemes in Central London (sponsored by the police) is doing a lot to reduce crime and increase reports of suspicious activity.
Finally, however, it's important to know your enemy. Intruders come in three basic categories. First there is the largest group the casual, opportunist burglar or thief. He just happens to see a window open or finds he is alone in a room for a few minutes. Second, there's the professional burglar who chooses a property offering the least sign of resistance. He may have studied your movements, seen or heard about the contents and will make a thorough job, knowing circumstances are on his side.
Quite different from these both of whom can be deterred by good defence work is the selective specialist he knows precisely what you've got and how to cope with any locks, tricks, traps or resistance you put up. He won't hesitate to use force or violence in order to get what he wants.
There's not a lot you can do about him except take comfort that he's relatively rare compared with the others. But don't forget the opportunists include youngsters who'll defile and desecrate a property for the hell of it and that all of them can be vicious or combine burglary with sexual assault if cornered or surprised. Which leads us on the final aspect of property protection.
The fundamental question here is: Do you really need to keep all your smaller and most valuable items at home? Again there is the problem of balancing the desire to see and enjoy one's possessions, which may have a great sentimental value, against the prudent desire to protect a vulnerable asset.
There is no doubt that it is always the small items that gleam or sparkle which attract the burglar's eye first and that in the event of a fire or flood it is always paintings and vital documents that suffer most.
The growth of safe deposit centres in Central London has mushroomed in recent years to cope with the demand for ultimate security. Normally open 24 hours a day, these centres usually provide a range of different sized boxes at commensurate rental charges. Although much more expensive than the services offered by banks (at the discretion of your local manager) these boxes are just as secure and offer much easier access access which is restricted to you alone. It may be a great advantage to be able to deposit cash, jewellery, documents or even a few gold bars knowing that no-one else need ever know of their existence!
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© (1984) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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