Looking at a Home from a Burglar's Eyes

They'll target a house they can get into and out of quickly, quietly and without being seen. And how do they choose that house?

Before you buy a motion-sensing light, do your homework, Conley said. Buy a good-quality light that will be triggered only by a significant presence, not by every raccoon or neighborhood cat.

Privacy fences are another feature that makes the safety experts wary. Solid stockade fences and dense hedges may shield you from the neighbors' prying eyes, but they will also shield burglars from view, the experts say.

Consider whether a well-placed tree or small cluster of shrubs might do the job just as effectively, without blocking the view entirely. The sense of privacy that fences and hedges provide might be nice, "but I hope you have a guard dog," Conley said.

He was only partly joking. An alert dog is a great deterrent, he said, but so is the suggestion of one.

If you do not have a dog, he said, put a dog dish outside the door and maybe a chain in the yard. A burglar who sees those clues is not going to take the time to investigate whether a dog really lives there. He is going to leave.

Before you go to that length, though, make sure you are not making what the experts say is a common exterior security mistake: leaving the garage door open.

"I can't tell you how many times people walk up the driveway and take things out of the garage," Rospert said.

It is also standard operating procedure among burglars to enter an unlocked garage and close the door, giving them complete privacy so they can take their time breaking into the house. That is why it is important to have a good lock on the service door between the house and the garage, and to use it, Rospert said.

Be careful not to give burglars other easy ways in, he said. Avoid storing extension ladders outside, and do not keep tall stacks of wood or other objects next to the house. Burglars might climb them to get in an upper window.

Some of the best exterior security options are the ones that exist beyond the boundaries of your property. They are your neighbors.

"We all had that nosy neighbor growing up," Rospert said. "But I'll tell you what: She's a police officer's best friend, and she's also a neighborhood's best friend." She knows the people in the neighborhood, she knows their routines, and she knows when something is amiss, he said.

Even neighbors with less curiosity are likely to keep an eye out for the people they know and care about. So introduce yourselves to your neighbors, he suggested, and then make an effort to get to know them beyond the occasional wave as you are pulling out the driveway.

Ask for their phone numbers. Offer to pick up their mail and newspapers when they are away, and ask them to do the same for you.

Consider that just a part of the whole security puzzle, Kelly said.

"No one strategy, no one piece of hardware, is going to keep people out of your house," she said.

But a little thoughtfulness and a series of good choices just might do the trick.