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Is your home as safe as houses?

Updated: Feb 13

Does the security of your house / holiday home in France worry you? No? Perhaps because France is like the UK in the sixties – a time when you can leave your door unlocked and not worry about a burglar. One should really not be so complacent as the following tale will explain.

We hold the keys for some 30-40 properties, primarily because we need access for a variety of reasons but every now and then we get called for security reasons. One such house is a beautiful property at the end of a private lane, so isolated you would not know it was there.

Last Saturday was a wild and wet day when no one in their right mind would be outside but at 17h I received a call saying the alarm had gone off at this house. I assumed something must have blown open in the wind or at worst a tree had fallen and somehow set off the alarm.

I arrived at the house with my master set of keys (retrieved from our locked key box) to find a random man sitting in the garden – “who are you?” He asks. “No” I reply “not me, who are you and why are you here?”. He claimed to be from the security company but he was in everyday clothes and had no ID to show who he was. He claimed the gendarmes had been by and he was guarding the house until the owner arrived. Mmmm? Seemed a bit suspicious. However he promptly proceeded to tell me that a door to an outbuilding had been kicked in and, bizarrely, the front door was unlocked. Before we did anything I needed to check his story so I called the local gendarmerie to check if they had been by as he claimed. They confirmed that indeed they had and in fact they would need to see me during the following week to make a statement. I left them my number and proceeded to check the house.

At this point the guy's wife arrives in a car marked up with security company logo and his uniform and ID. It turns out he was shopping with his wife when he received the call and had arrived at the house just seven minutes later – not enough time to get home and get his uniform etc.

We searched the house together and tried to work out how someone opened the front door. As we retraced our steps the solution presented itself. Somehow this opportunist intruder has smashed the key safe off the wall and opened it – thank you very much – there was a front door key. His plan was thwarted as the moment he opened the front door, the alarm went off and his photo was taken.

The problem I now faced was the fact that as the intruder had let himself in with the front door key, I could not simply lock up and leave – as he still had the key! It was now 18h on Saturday evening during a time when France is under a night time curfew (no one is allowed out between 18h and 8h) and the shops were shut until Monday. Somehow I needed to secure the property for the rest of the weekend. Luckily Nicki had decided to tag along when we received the callout. She was able to return to our house and search out alternative forms of security whilst I stayed at the house which remained unlocked.

She returned with the necessary hardware, we secured the house, reset the alarm, exchanged numbers with the security guard and off we all set. In the coming days the locks will need to be changed, quotes organised for the broken gate and a visit to the gendarmerie made in order to make the aforementioned statement but that’s all part of the service.

So, think about this…..

You might be reading this thinking that this is an isolated case but in fact this is the third time this has happened to us at three different properties and, of course, I know this has happened to other keys holder too.

During the course of the three hours that this incident took place I had to speak on the phone to the security company, three separate calls to the gendarmerie and half a dozen calls to locksmiths as I tried to organise a callout (absolutely not a chance by the way). Not to mention the conversations with the security guard.

So ask yourself….

If the person you have entrusted as your key holder – perhaps a friend or neighbour - has the language capabilities to hold all those conversations in French. This is not about me boasting about how well I speak French, it is about the fact that I know many people who tell me their neighbour has the keys to the house and – as lovely and well intentioned the neighbour might be – they do not speak a word of French and would flounder in this situation.

Is your key holder also likely to respond to a callout at 17h on a Saturday evening (or any evening come to that). It is amazing how many phones do not seem to work at that time.

Is your key holder able to think on their feet and find an instant solution to how your property can be secured?

Where does your key holder keep your keys? In a draw in the kitchen perhaps. What if they are broken into and your keys are stolen from their house as they were not secured?

Is your key holder insured to hold keys for other properties?

Do you have regular property checks at your house? Is someone physically calling in to look around (both inside and outside) and reporting back to you?

And lastly, would you expect your friend or neighbour to give up an evening as we did yesterday. We accept this might happen from time to time and of course we will charge for our time. We do not charge a client for a key holding service – how can one justify charging a client to lock a key in a cupboard – but we do charge if we are called out. We do not differentiate as to why we might hold the keys: if we have them because we look after the garden only, we would still respond to this type of call in the same manner.

At Charente Assistance key holding is free. Property checks are carried out at a cost of just €45 per visit and visits to site are carried out at our standard rates.

This post was first published in March 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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