What I learned following our break-in

The editor of Moneybags, Angelique Ruzicka, relays her experiences after her home got broken into at 3am and reflects on the lessons learned when dealing with insurance companies and banks following the incident.

We’ve only lived in our home in Claremont, Cape Town, for a month but we’ve already had the nasty experience of a break in. It happened at 3am. Robbers broke in through the study door (one of the few doors without a sensor), stole all our computer equipment (Mac, Lenovo laptop, iPad, iPod, etc.) and happily found my handbag on the adjacent dining room table along with our house keys and my husband’s BMW keys.

For the robbers, it must’ve felt like Christmas. Our need to have everything in one place so we could scoop up the toddler and dash out the door to get to work on time played in their favour.

They made their getaway with all our loot in my husband’s car and we only woke up when we heard our electric gate opening up. My husband reached the window just in time to realise that there were people in his car. The car’s tyres screeched and the exhaust scraped on the driveway as they made their quick getaway.

We hit the panic button. We called the police then the banks as we realised our cards had been stolen. In the midst of all the chaos my two year old woke up in distress wondering what the wailing sirens were all about. It took a while to sink in (for me at least) and realise what had happened. Luckily none of us had been harmed – probably because everything they wanted was so easily accessible. Strangely, the dogs hadn’t barked even though they were sleeping in the kitchen. It was all so surreal.

In the end just over R52, 000 worth of valuables got stolen. Add in my husband’s BMW, and we were about a quarter of a million rand in assets down. Dealing with the trauma of the event was hard enough but the added slog would be going through the motions of claiming our contents back and for the damages made to the door where they broke in. While our broker and building insurance provider paid us within the standard allotted timeframes there were still several lessons learned here which I feel I need to share:

1. It is fine to go ahead with repairs to secure your home: After a break-in you will feel vulnerable as the point of entry could expose you not only to the elements but to unsavoury characters who will see the attractiveness of an already bashed in door. We fretted about how soon we could go about repairing the damage but the good news is you don’t have to wait for permission from your insurer. Just make sure you take adequate photos of the point of entry before you institute repairs. We did so with our mobile phone cameras and the images proved valuable during claims stage. Lizette Erasmus, head of insurance expertise at Integrisure, explains why acting swiftly when it comes to repairs is essential: “We would recommend that you embark on emergency repairs as soon as possible. The reason for that is that in policy wording it generally says you need to mitigate the circumstances to safeguard not only yourself but the rest of the property. You don’t have to contact your insurer before you embark on these repairs because, more often than not, break-ins occur over the weekend or on a public holiday and they (claims centre staff) are not available.”

2. Report the crime to the police: It doesn’t matter if you don’t have faith in the police services’ ability to catch the criminals – you have to report the crime. “When your home is burglarised, the first thing you need to do is notify the police as without a police report, your insurance company won’t recognise the incident as a crime,” points out Johan van Greuning, head of Standard Insurance Limited.

3. Be prepared. And be prepared for the wait: If you don’t know how long it takes to process a contents and buildings insurance claim then it’s best to find this type of information out beforehand. Mandy Barrett, manager of marketing and sales at Aon South Africa, says that most claims are settled between 20 to 30 days. It took exactly that amount of time in our case. The question is ‘how long can you live for without your essential electronic items?’ It’s essential to have spare cash in savings in the event of such emergencies so you can make purchases and pay yourself back once insurers approve the claim and pay out.

4. Keep proof of purchases in one place: We were fortunate in that we’d kept most receipts as well as the boxes that some of the items we’d purchased came in. The boxes had price tags and serial number details of the products – information that the assessor said was ideal when he came around to inspect our home. For some older items we had long since discarded any proof of ownership. Barrett says that the inability to provide proof of ownership is a common mistake that customers make. But while this didn’t impede our claim in the end, I am sure that it resulted in the claim taking longer to process.

5. Make sure you do a regular home inventory: We didn’t have a list of all our contents but it’s certainly something we’ll put together now. We also intend on taking screenshots of all our receipts and saving them somewhere safe in the event that something like this happens again. “A smooth and seamless process to your claim will depend upon the quality and quantity of the information you provide. Your insurer wants to be certain it is not being asked to pay more than necessary, and you will want to be sure you are being compensated fairly for your loss. For these reasons, the best time to prepare for a claim is long before you have to file one. If you are equipped with your police report and a list of goods, better known as a home inventory, your claim process can take as little as a week or two for payment to arrive,” says van Greuning.

The ultimate lesson that we learned is that it’s important to secure your home as soon as possible – and to also improve on that security, particularly after a break-in. Security upgrades can be expensive though so you have to make sure that you aren’t caught up in the emotions of the experience and blow your entire budget turning your home into Fort Knox as a result. We got several quotes from security firms to ensure that we weren’t being ripped off and got advice on what was necessary to install and what was not.

We invested money in: increasing the height of our wall, installing electric fencing, beams in the garden and replacing our small gates with scary looking galvinised gates with even scarier sized locks. We even had a slam lock gate fitted in our passage, which separates the bedrooms from the rest of the house at night. We no longer keep our keys and bags on the dining room table. At the time of writing, we are considering changing to a different armed response company as we weren’t satisfied with the service we got following our break-in from our current provider. But that’s another story and battle we still need fight, which we can dedicate our time to now that we’ve been paid out by our insurers.

When it comes to any insurance claim you’ve got to know that there’s a high chance that your insurer will increase your premiums after such incidents and that you’ll lose any ‘no claims’ benefits or bonuses. “An insurer will look at the risk profile of the property/client and depending on the insurer the review of that risk may occur immediately after an incident or at renewal/anniversary of the policy,” explains Hannes Oelsen at MiWay.

So make sensible changes to your lifestyle and security to prevent being hit too hard by these rises. For example, while security upgrades can give you peace of mind they could also help to reduce premium hikes. “Premiums will increase due to a loss of the no claims bonus. It is important to advise an insurance company on changes to security as this may result in a discount in premium,” points out Barrett.

If your insurer does penalise you in the form of premium hikes, know that you can always shop around and jump ship to another provider. Unfortunately, you can’t lie about what’s happened to you. Barrett recommends that you are honest about previous claims if you decide to go with another provider. “Otherwise any future claims of a similar nature may be repudiated on the basis of non-disclosure or misrepresentation,” she warns.

Insurance is a grudge purchase and it’s only when bad things like break-ins and thefts occur that you realise the value in having cover. While insurance can give you peace of mind, remember that it’s not a preventative measure against loss or theft. Van Greuning adds: “As any insurer will tell you, the most generous theft policy in the world won’t make your home more secure. The best way to protect your home and property from burglary is to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of a break-in in the first place.”