Spending Millions To Keep A Home Safe

Dated: March 7 2017

Views: 408

Spending Millions to Keep a Home Safe

From an article in Trends on Realtor.com  

In the Hollywood Hills, where musician and studio owner Jed Leiber lives, his imposing 12,000-square-foot house is known by some locals as “the Fortress.”

The walls are made of concrete. High-resolution security cameras monitor activity. Each room requires a key fob for access. And the master-bedroom suite includes a safe room, built into one of two dressing areas and hidden by a bulletproof plate that slides down from the ceiling.

Mr. Leiber, son of the late songwriter Jerry Leiber and owner of NightBird Recording Studios in West Hollywood, bought the house in 2012 for $7.2 million, primarily for its Bauhaus-style architecture and a sweeping view of Los Angeles, which has moved him to call it “Sky Castle.” Since then, he has also come to value the property’s strong security and has further upgraded it.

“I just want to make sure that anyone is safe within the walls of my home, Sky Castle,” says Mr. Leiber, who wants to spend more time traveling and touring and is seeking $50 million for the seven-bedroom, 12-bathroom house. He also owns a penthouse apartment in West Hollywood.

High-end homeowners are increasingly taking James Bond-esque security measures to manage threats ranging from burglars and kidnappers to terror attacks and civil unrest. Such precautions can cost millions, but as prices for home technology come down, sophisticated security systems are showing up in middle-class homes as well.

Home-security companies are seeing an uptick in sales. For example, Gaffco Ballistics, a Londonderry, Vt.-based security firm, says the number of residential projects it completed in 2015 grew by 60%, to 52 homes, from the year before.

“There is a higher level of perceived threat out there, and it’s growing every year,” says Tom Gaffney, chief executive of the company, which sells bullet-resistant doors, safe rooms and ventilation systems to deal with the effects of nuclear, chemical or biological attacks.

In the high-end housing market, protection is increasingly a selling point. Sotheby’s International Realty, which is launching an international marketing campaign for Mr. Leiber’s Hollywood Hills home, starting in China, is emphasizing its state-of-the-art security features. At a minimum, real-estate agents say, discerning buyers expect a so-called smart home, where security systems, lighting, climate control and energy consumption are all managed with a phone or computer app. Video surveillance is in particular demand in the residential market, says Tim McKinney, director of custom home services for ADT Security Services in North America.

“If someone is doing small household work, I can let them in, turn off the alarm, unlock the door, follow them through the house with cameras and then lock the door and reset the alarm, all without leaving work,” says ADT customer Jeffrey Starkman, a periodontist in Parkland, Fla., who lives in a six-bedroom house with his wife, pediatric dentist Sharlene Starkman, kids Mia, Maxwell and Mason, and their schnoodle Ponyo. Mr. Starkman, 42, also receives an alert when a visitor sets foot in the wrong room. The 5,000-square-foot house, which the Starkmans bought in a gated community for $950,000 in 2008, has keypads at the doors, cameras in the garden and smoke detectors that tell the air-conditioning system to stop circulating air in case of fire.

ADT says the cost of installing its Pulse wireless home-security system varies with complexity, but for a 4,000-square-foot house, installation costs between $1,800 and $4,500. Monthly monitoring fees range from $60 to $80.

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At their home near Portland, Ore., Andy and Laurie Teich are taking video surveillance to a higher level. Of the 16 security cameras installed around their six-bedroom house, three are thermal cameras that detect the body heat of humans and animals—avoiding false alarms triggered by sun, rain or leaves swirling around the backyard.

“You know it’s real activity and not just bugs flying in front of the camera at night,” says Mr. Teich, chief executive officer of Flir Systems Inc., a Wilsonville, Ore., manufacturer of thermal-imaging technology that started in the military but is finding its way into residential security.

Mr. Teich, who is 56 and recently announced plans to retire, initially installed the cameras to test them for work but found that they make his wife and kids, Alec, Carter and Taylor, feel safer during his frequent business trips.

“If my wife calls in the middle of the night because she heard a noise, I can immediately put eyes on that house and pretty much understand what’s going on around the property,” says Mr. Teich.

The Teichs bought their house, which sits on a 5-acre lot that was formerly a Christmas tree farm, for $930,000 in 1999 and remodeled it for $1.5 million in 2012, enlarging the home to 10,000 square feet.

Mr. Teich says the property has several layers of security: a safe neighborhood, a conventional alarm system, the cameras—and what he calls “the Labrador layer”—dogs Fenway and Laci. So far, the cameras have triggered one alarm—but the unannounced visitor turned out to be a coyote.

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When David and Barbara Miller bought their house in Wainscott, N.Y., for $1.7 million in 2002, it came with a garden, pool and poolhouse, but it lacked a place to safely store Mr. Miller’s collection of antique guns and other firearms. So as part of a $2 million renovation, the couple enlarged the property and added a fortified vault in the basement. With 6-inch-thick concrete walls and a steel door by firearms maker Browning Arms Co., the room is big enough for the guns—and for Mr. Miller, who is 6-feet tall, to comfortably move around in. Mr. Miller, 51, equipped the door with two locks: an electronic lock with a keypad and a combination lock, like the one typically found on a safe. The room, completed in 2011 and slightly larger than a closet, has air conditioning and could shelter several people if they needed a hiding place for a limited time.

“It could work in that manner but, thank God, we’ve never had to use it that way,” says Ms. Miller, 50. In late 2013, the couple, now both farmers, moved into an 1852 farmhouse in Barboursville, Va., to live in the country. The six-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot home in the Hamptons is on the market for $3.39 million, and security is a selling point. The property includes an alarm system and cameras that monitor the 1.2-acre lot.

Safe rooms, also called panic rooms, are evolving as well.

Increasingly, they aren’t separate rooms with one function, since families dislike giving up space for a room they never want to use. These homeowners reinforce existing rooms with fortified walls and doors, install secure communication systems and connect independent power sources. Those features blend in with the décor, as to avoid detection or scaring the kids.

“Every client should have several places in their home that are going to protect them for the length of time that it takes for the police to get there,” says Christopher Falkenberg, president of New York firm Insite Security.

At Scott and Maria Jensen’s 4,500-square-foot, five-bedroom house in Arizona—the exact location has been withheld at their request—the safe room is hidden behind a fireplace. Mr. Jensen, 47, said a series of break-ins in the neighborhood and the experience of a colleague whose safe was stolen contributed to his decision. Creative Home Engineering, a Gilbert, Ariz.-based security company, installed a secret switch on the mantel that, when touched with a magnet, opens a door to a concealed space. The cost: $15,000.

The company also builds bookcases, brick walls and staircases that can open to reveal secret spaces. The Jensens’ safe room is big enough for two adults standing in it, but they primarily wanted a hiding place for valuables, not for themselves. If they felt personally threatened, Mr. Jensen says, “we would rather just go outside.”

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