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If you are adequately insured, being burgled is one way to monetise possessions that you don’t need or know what to do with. It’s like eBay, but without the hassle. 

But until 12 minutes past nine last Wednesday evening, I never appreciated just how traumatic it is to have your home broken into. I was alerted to an alarm activation by a text message on my phone. While getting in touch with my neighbour to apologise for another probable false alarm, I received a second alert, indicating another alarm zone had been activated, then another. There was someone in our house. This was not a false alarm.

The burglars knew what they wanted. They had the tools to get the job done and were in and out in five minutes. They were also brazen: it wasn’t even dark, but they gained access by smashing a full-height toughened glass window, shattering it into a thousand pieces. The noise must have been immense. Neither did they have the manners to take off their boots, leaving muddy footprints on the carpet. 

Did these people know what they were looking for? They went straight to the room where the safe was located and smashed the innards of a cupboard to wrench the box from its bolted fittings. Just time to grab a few other bits, shove them in a Gladstone bag they assumed I’d left for them, and they were off. 

They even asked neighbours if they could come through their property to make their escape. In turn those neighbours noted the registration plate of the getaway vehicle and raised the alarm, bringing police within 10 minutes. Of course, there’s little that can be done other than to clear up the mess and begin the long and laborious process of getting repairs done and liaising with insurers to make the necessary claims. We were not there at the time, so the other half travelled to London to deal with the police and I organised getting the house boarded up. 

Lockdown initially reduced the number of break-ins as the “stay at home” rules applied to criminals too. Anecdotally, organised crime is now on the up. We all know that if someone wants to break into your home they will. Now this has happened should we beef up our insurance cover? Upgrade our security? Or flash the cash and do both? 

Before you say anything, I recognise that the stable door is flapping in the wind and the horse has long gone. Whatever I do now it’s for our sanity and the hope that it will never happen again.

In 1970, my mother marked my arrival to this world by giving my dad a pair of Cartier gold cufflinks. For a few years he wore them every day to the office (remember those?). When I was gifted them, I wondered why the fasteners were different. It was because they had been repaired on a number of occasions. When my dad gets cross, he bangs his fists on the table. Bang! Cufflinks damaged. Off they go to Cartier for another expensive repair job. 

I know I’ll miss those cufflinks. I love the fact that he found them “too ostentatious”. Not if I wear them when driving the Bentley, Dad. There’s history, family dynamics and a funny story. Now that they’re gone I just hope I have a photograph somewhere.

Then there’s the Breitling. It was fashionable in the 1990s but I’d never wear it again. Am I sad to see it go to a new home? Well, I would have preferred to make the decision for myself. I bought it with my first bonus. Similarly, if I want a replacement Rolex or Patek Philippe I can always go and buy one. But they won’t be the ones my grandfather gave me. 

It’s not a physical thing that’s been stolen. It’s the memory. When people talk about a knot in the pit of your stomach because memories have been interfered with or violated, that’s what hurts. No amount of insurance cover will bring those back.

In the middle of a pandemic there are more important things to worry about than a break-in — illness or death, lost jobs and ruined businesses, to name a few. That’s why we weren’t staying in London. My parents are staying indoors. So, before lockdown was introduced, we chose to be near them to make sure they were safe and their shopping and chores were done. Whatever the reasons, properties up and down the country have been left unattended for longer than usual during this period. Our criminal friends have been watching.

For years I had a top-notch alarm system that was monitored 24/7. Fortunately I had never been burgled. Thieves tend to go for the houses with no system or one they know is generic. And when we moved last year an upgrade wasn’t at the top of my list. It should have been. So, the generic alarm is out and Banham is back — this time with all the bells and whistles of CCTV and a full monitoring and keyholding service. Yes, it will cost thousands to upgrade the systems and a grand or two a year to service and monitor. A safe home is about doing everything you can to make the life of a criminal as hard as it can be. 

It has proved somewhat troublesome dealing with repairs and insurance post-lockdown. The bespoke window unit has to be manufactured in Poland, at a factory which only recently restarted work so there’s a six-week wait. An altogether more complex task is providing details of items of which I have only hazy memories. I should have taken photos — but I didn’t. I should have listed everything that I owned — but I never had time. I should have had the alarm upgraded. And, and, and . . . 

I need to do this to prove that the items I’ve said have been stolen have actually gone. I must find serial numbers and receipts, photos and credit card statements. Yet many of the things were gifts or keepsakes. What’s the value of a crisp one-pound note that I saved from 1983? Or a 1977 Silver Jubilee coin that we were given as schoolchildren? Or, even more recently, some £5 notes with “aa” serial numbers?

I haven’t been entirely remiss. A few years ago, I took the watches to a reputable service centre to have them cleaned, serviced and valued at great expense. They were returned to the original manufacturers for verification and I have all the confirmation details. Phew! 

Fortunately, my insurers have been amazing. Yes, the stuff that has been stolen is covered. But just as lockdown comes to an end, our lives are on hold again as we separate to make sure our home is secure, and it won’t be left empty again until the new systems are in place. Will all this prevent it from happening again? Maybe not. But if you want a good night’s sleep in your own home, peace of mind is worth paying for.

James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at richpeoplesproblems@ft.com

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