Columnists sound the alarm

#544 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2008, Hills Newspapers

Twice in the last few months our office has been broken into. It was at night, no one was there, a window was broken both times. Nothing was taken the first time and the only damage done was a shattered quarter-inch plate glass window pane in some beautiful old French doors.

Because the thieves found not a single item they wanted, we have to assume it was new people the second time. Otherwise, why bother? Same break-the-glass entry system, although this time the deadbolt key was not conveniently left in the lock and so the lock was disassembled and the lovely old lock spindle broken.

The second time we got a call from the next door neighbor, my tenant Susan in the downstairs apartment of a duplex I own. Her apartment had been broken into, she’d just arrived home to find, and she wanted me to know what was going on. The police were there, damage to her back door made it impossible to re-lock, but someone had been called to board it up for the night.

Also, she said, it looked like “they” had broken into our office again. We didn’t go until the next morning. On the phone Susan said she was fine, her cat hadn’t gotten out, she didn’t think anything had been taken. Susan would stay the night with a friend and we’d talk the next day.

It must have been kids, several of them. They’d gone through the whole house where our office is, both floors and the attic. Every drawer and closet had been opened, there were a couple of beer bottles they’d brought and left behind. It was not long before Christmas and they’d opened hand-addressed envelopes — Christmas cards – then thrown them down. Were they hoping for money?

Bank statements and canceled checks were flung about. Photos of floor refinishing and painting at listings were pulled out of envelopes and left. It did seem strange. In this house we use for an office are computers and a TV – but old ones, not sexy new ones. We have tables and chairs and rugs and lamps. Whole rooms of pillows and quilts and mirrors that are used for staging houses. But nothing else.

There was one item taken, oddly, an electric clock, worth maybe $10, a clock we bought once because the time is announced by a laser beam written out in on the air. It’s neat but it’s not rare or valuable.

Anet suggested that we find out what it would cost to have security systems installed. I said I thought it would be expensive, maybe $5,000 for my duplex – no idea where I got that number, probably some distant time memory heard from a client.

Our current listing has a security system Anet likes. Not once have we set it off accidentally, which is certainly in its favor, plus it is monitored by actual living people. It is not, that is, the type of alarm that simply squeals loudly in place; we all know no one pays any attention to those anymore. So, just to get more information, Anet called that company, Monitronics.

Although it was Saturday, the man who answered the phone suggested that we meet at the properties. I called Angel Gomez, our trusty glass and window man, and he would meet us too. We went to survey the damage and see what we could do about preventing another break-in.

All good news, even impressive. Angel would replace the thick glass immediately and, within the week, repair or replace ruined wooden doors at the duplex. The Monitronics representative we found intelligent, courteous, well informed. Security alarm systems have changed a lot in recent years.

They don’t run wires through walls any longer. No drilling of holes in doors or windows. By using small, wireless motion and movement detectors, appropriately chosen for the spaces and situation, it takes about 3 hours to install a system. The cost is about $250 to install and about $30 per month for monitoring.

I think what we like best about our systems, which we had installed in our office and in both units of my duplex, is that there is a live person monitoring all of the time. When you enter the house, you punch a code into a keypad (that part is familiar to me; it looks pretty much like all keypads). If you do not put in a code, over a small speaker comes a live voice to prompt you.

If your answer is not recognized, the police are called. There is also a fire alarm system offered, and I understand, some specialized add-ons such as a panic alarm and even email to a working parent to let him or her know that their children have arrived home after school.

As with cell phones, there is a contract involved, 3 years in our case. Whether the Monitronics system is better than, or comparable to, that offered by other security companies, we don’t know. We never got any further after our initial meeting because we found the service and care of such high quality, and it was extended through the installer who spent the entire following day, a Sunday, installing all three systems in the house and duplex.

We had contacted an alarm company because we were looking for equipment that would secure our buildings. But we got more than that. Good service always comes down to the individual people who provide it. It’s the people who work – at the bank we go to, the lunch places we like, the painters we call – that make all the difference.

May we all be fortunate to find and hire competent and caring people throughout the year.

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