The cost of burglary

Two weeks ago, I arrived home to find my home had been broken into and most of my computer equipment had been stolen.

Readers of this blog will know I’m partial to beating myself up over mistakes I’ve made but I’ll always try and take the positive out of the error and learn from it. You may also know I like to be as open as possible about how much things cost, hence me writing ‘How much does it cost to be a freelance web developer?‘; this burglary started out as a major inconvenience but has slowly escalated into a major financial loss.

Values of good stolen

The thieves, clearly Apple fan boys at heart, made off with an iMac, a macbook, a 5th Generation 80Gb iPod and an old Sony Ericsson W850i. This puts the cost of the stolen items at around £2200 give or take.

The good news

Thankfully the thieves had no interest in my Time Machine powered external hard drive so thankfully when I purchased a replacement iMac I was able to backup all my data to the new machine – the only things I lost were 3-4 days worth of MySQL data (not much) and the serial number for a piece of software.

I did however have to take time off from my schedule to meet Loss Adjustors, phone insurance companies, tear my hair out and curse the world. All in all, I lost around five days of production spread over two projects. Luckily none of my contracts included lateness penalty clauses and both my clients were very understanding of the situation.

The thieves also seemed to miss a lot of items including: credit cards, cash, jewellery and that was a massive relief. Quite frankly, these guys must have been wearing clappers – in and out in in less than a minute, had they took time to look around we could have been looking at losing everything we owned. Take away the Apple goods and most of our electrical items are pretty old and/or second-hand. They left our old school CRT television I suspect because it was a: too big/heavy and b: has no market value whatsoever. They even perused our stereo and decided it wasn’t worth the bother to steal it.

The bad news

Then came the bad news, my home contents insurers, or more accurately the third party loss adjustors, were turning the screws and were attempting to get out of the insurance for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a technicality on the policy triggered a massive £1,500 excess then the final blow came: it turns out if you have a home office, you need separate business insurance – regardless of whether your computers are used for personal usage as well as business usage – there’s a chance they’re not covered. The combination of the huge excess and the computers being removed from the claim took the value of the claim down to zero.

Currently we’re disputing the ruling. Who knows perhaps we’ll win and get some money back but at this stage who knows how it will go.

Damage limitation

Thankfully, this wasn’t as disastrous as it could have been. It sounds ridiculous but I was quite grateful that the burglars left the house in a relatively undisturbed state – they took the computers and left practically no mess (except the broken window). I’ve also been fastidiously saving a portion of my earnings since going freelance in case of such a rainy day therefore, buying a replacement iMac has set me back, left me out of pocket but fortunately, not destitute.

I’ve had my iMac fail before and not had Time Machine setup properly which resulted in me losing months of important data so I’d learnt my lessons with backups and upon seeing that the thieves left the backup drive made me weep with joy. Had I lost that data I would have been up shit creek – make no mistake.


Hopefully, this post doesn’t come across as a plea for sympathy; I got burgled: I should have put better security on my home; I should have realised that business insurance was needed for anything I use to work with regardless of its personal use; I should have hidden all expensive items away when I left my home unattended for the night; and I should have read and re-read my insurance policy and policy booklet from cover to cover and eliminated any potential for the insurers to wriggle out of paying up.

Much as I love to learn from my mistakes, this was a truly expensive one I could have done without but hopefully, someone reading this today will go and reread their insurance policy or investigate buisness insurance for their home office and I’ll have saved someone from the trouble I’ve been through.

18 responses to “The cost of burglary”

  1. Sorry to hear about the burglary, that’s a real pain in the arse.

    I’m interested to hear about the “business insurance” issue, though. I know that you technically need business insurance if you’re running a business, but how did the loss adjustors know? Did you tell them that you work from home? Surely just having a “home office” doesn’t render your computer uninsurable — almost everyone who owns a computer could be classed as having a “home office”.

    Or, were these computers technically owned by your company, and therefore not covered by your personal insurance?

  2. When we reported the burglary to our insurers they asked if the items were used for business and my girlfriend said yes. Later on we tried to backtrack when we realised this was probably a tad too honest.

  3. That’s horrible – I don’t know what I’d do if someone took my data too. Have you thought about off-site backups of your most critical stuff, via something like All of my critical data is backed up remotely every week, so if something does go absolutely tits up, I can get it back from the cloud…

    • I try to backup work files via SVN and FTP. It was fortunate that I had a local backup though because I was a week behind on my FTP/SVN updates and a week is a lot of code changes. Like I say, I’ve made the mistake of not backing up before (or at least not checking that the backup worked). I worked at places before where there was no data backup whatsoever.

      I need to investigate an online solution: someone on twitter recommended this:

      I don’t want people to read this and think that Apple’s Time Machine will save their lives. I often have problems with it so it was lucky it worked this time.

  4. That’s awful Phil, I hope they catch the people who did it, they certainly don’t sound like professionals!

    I’d expect you will get the insurance cash, if you can prove you used your computers for social and entertainment aspects such as keeping photographs, music etc on it then surely it can’t be classed as solely business?

    • Jordan, I like your optimism. I don’t however share it :) I hope we get something from the insurers – I appreciate their position but looking at it objectively (as much as I can) I think it’d be unfair if we got nothing.

  5. That’s terrible news, sorry to hear about that. It does serve as a reminder though, that we should really keep our valuables locked/hidden away when we’re out. I usually leave my MacBook lying around when I go out/go to sleep which is really bad.

    However, I do have a piece of anti theft software installed on my MacBook, it’s called Undercover (you may have heard of it). That gives me some reassurance that if my beloved MacBook were to get stolen, I would have some chance of getting it back.

    You should perhaps look into getting something like that for your Mac products. It only cost me like £25 and if they don’t recover your Mac, you get your money back. I think it’s well worth it, considering the £830 price tag of my MacBook.

    • Abin, I have heard of Undercover but only after the burglary… I wish I’d known about it sooner but it seems ace. For those who don’t know Undercover is a piece of OS X software which if your computer is stolen can help you to recover it if/when someone logs onto it – it’ll even try to take a picture of the person using your mac and email it to you.

      I also wish I’d hidden my items a little better – the week before the burglary we were away in Rome for a whole week and nothing happened – consequently that led to a bit of complacency on our parts.

  6. Its funny coming accross this post because I stress about this on an almost dailybasis. A few times I’ve read my policy and then called the insurance people to triple check that my stuff is covered.

    Having had one laptop stolen already a few years back with over 5 years of data on it, it wasn’t the laptop that bothered me it was what was on it. Emails, work, photos, contacts etc etc. Its a killer.

    I now have 2 externals one of which I back up to ever few weeks and then put out of the way.

  7. When it comes to insurance, I prefer to have things covered twice if necessary.

    My business is covered through Direct Line Insurance, which includes cover for home office etc., plus PCs while travelling and so on.

    Home-wise, we’re covered through More>Than, who I can’t recommend highly enough. I had two breakins while living in rented property in Manchester, and they covered both. (including replacing the broken window, which the landlord of the property wouldn’t do, and which wasn’t actually part of the contents cover) In addition, they’ve sorted out an issue for us with replacing the mains water supply (not our fault) and sorted everything efficiently and effectively – to the point we could hand the plumber the cheque for the work on the day he did it.

    It might sound like I’m pimping for More>Than, but I’m really not – just a dead impressed customer.

    I can’t comment on Direct Line’s methods for claiming, as I’ve never had to use them, and hope never to have to.

    Hope things work out for you on all this – it’s certainly not sounding like much fun at all.

    • Thanks for the comment Ozbon. I’ll certainly be doubling up from now on.

      I’ve already got a business insurance estimate from my current (professional indemnity) insurer and the cost is only £5-10 a month.

    • Hello Steve

      My Professional Indemnity insurance is actually with Hiscox. My only experience with them so far is that I pay them money every month, I cannot say how they will be when the shit hits the fan. I went with them because someone else recommended them to me. At this point, I can’t really offer a public opinion (either positive or negative) on them.

  8. One way of finding out what Hiscox would be like is to call them, and explain the situation. See what they would have said, and whether they would have paid out etc.

    Of course, it still leaves it in the realms of the hypothetical, but it might give further reference points. I know when I went through the malarkey with Direct Line we went through some examples, primarily finding out what I needed to be covered and what not, but it was still an interesting – and relevant – exercise.

  9. Aw, Phil, what a bind, eh?

    It should be in the small print about the crossover of using your home as an office, but that doesn’t change anything, does it?

    A good article for folks to check out (UK only) is here:

    On a related note, I know you’ve written before on the joys of running your own business, but doesn’t it bug you – as it did me – that no-one’s willing to tell you *anything* about what to do or how to do it.

    Yeah, I could have gone out and bought a hundred Dummies books, or spent an arm and a leg down the accountants, or dragged myself through a web-based purgatory of dull documentation (all of which is terribly vague and occasionally contradictory), but it just isn’t straightforward. Business Link was about the best resource and I’m sure I read somewhere that the govt was pulling funding for it.

    “If it was easy,” an old boss of mine used to say (every day a thousand times), “everyone would be doing it”. But seriously, how were you to know you needed separate insurance for the home office? Of course, you had to learn the (disproportionately) hard way.

    By the way, though I love your simple design and your funky colour contrast (*very* industrial) and though I too noted its appearance on that Smashing Magazine site, has anyone else noticed its bizarre psychedelic powers?

    I find that if I really get into reading your blog (as I often do), when I look away again from the LCD screen the world looks ‘funny’.

    Whoa… I just looked up and, whoa, there it goes again…

    • Round our way there are a few council/government courses setup for new businesses, but for me, they’re not convenient as they take place at awkward times and in quite awkward locations. Personally, I read up a lot on everything and I’m of the opinion that if you want to find something you can’t wait for someone else to give you that information – you have to source it yourself.

      Yes, many people have noted the yellow, the derogatory emails have died down a bit now but I was getting a couple of emails a week detailing why they thought my website was crap – I’m not joking:

      Read the last comment here for a typical response:

    • Well, *I* like the yellow, it’s trippy and functional all at once. It feels pleasantly familiar, lived in, like old-style tax forms or something. But anyway, it’s *your* site, it has a highly accessible colour contrast ratio of 12.69, and I don’t see what right anyone has got to pollute your Inbox with their unsolicited opinions.

      You’re right about sourcing info yourself – I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that we should sit and wait for it to drop into our lap. Trouble is that you find the info you want *only* if you know what you’re looking for (or that you’re supposed to look for it).

      In this way, probably 50% of what I learned about running a limited company, I sort of stumbled upon it.

      We folks in this business *love* the unprecedented discovery of new dev techniques, lolcats or whatever, but not so much when we hit on some aspect of due diligence we didn’t previously know about ;-)

  10. Hi Phil,

    sorry to hear about the burglary mate, harsh times. I’ve just found your site by searching Manchester web design. Really like the simplicity of the sites design and the yellow and black are working in harmony! I’ll be coming back to see what you are up to next!

    Great stuff.