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HDB owners go high-tech for home security
They're spending on biometric locks and peephole cameras that tell who's at the door
By: Desmond Lim
There is no fumbling for her house keys when analyst Jean Tay returns to her Bishan flat each night.
To open the door, she swipes her index finger on a $950 biometric lock.
It can be unlocked by four other people: her husband and maid, through their fingerprints, and her parents, through personal identification numbers (PINs). No more worries about losing their keys.
The 37-year-old mother of two is one of a growing number of HDB residents who do not mind paying up to $3,000 for high-tech security devices such as digital locks, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and peephole cameras with motion sensors.
'It is to safeguard my family,' said Ms Tay, who helped organise the bulk purchase of the locks for about 30 residents in the estate seven months ago. A normal lock would cost about $100.
Eight companies selling these products told The Sunday Times that HDB residents now make up at least half of their customers, up from just 10 per cent three years ago.
Like Ms Tay, Pandan Gardens resident Kelvin Tan feels safer after investing $800 in two digital locks a fortnight ago. They can be unlocked only by a PIN.
The impetus came from recent thefts in his neighbourhood.
'Even kids can pick locks these days. It's a security measure and long-term investment,' said Mr Tan, 22, a bartender who lives with his parents in a three-room flat.
Home owners have become more conscious of security, and with more travelling overseas and working longer hours, such devices are in demand, said Mr Salim Mohammad, regional general manager of ADT Security in South-east Asia, which provides security systems for homes and businesses.
Mr Chua Kee Peow, 33, executive manager of Kaplen IT Services, which sells electronic peephole viewers directly and through computer stores, predicts they will become as much a part of a home as 'a kettle or an oven'.
A viewer costs about $260, and automatically takes a photo through the peephole of anyone standing outside the door when a motion sensor is triggered.
Mr Chua said some 90 per cent of his customers are HDB residents, though he did not have an estimate of how many gadgets have been sold.
Another retailer, Mr Federick Chong, 39, from The Gadget Home, said such devices are well within the budget of home owners.
'People change cellphones every year and some of these locks cost the same as a phone, but last seven to 10 years,' said Mr Chong, who has sold about 600 locks to HDB residents in the last three years.
Some security experts say, however, that such high-tech gadgets are generally unnecessary, and that safety is better served by common- sense measures.
Mr Shane Shim, 46, an operations manager at private security company Westminster Investigation and Security Management, said most break-ins occur because residents are careless about locking up properly.
'The main point of entry for most break-ins is not the main door but the windows, which can be pried open with a simple screwdriver,' said Mr Shim, who felt that window grilles are enough of a deterrent.
'Biometric locks are fine if you have the budget, but a good traditional lock will still do the job,' he added.
Figures from the police show that home break-ins fell from 896 cases in 2010 to 705 last year.
Still, it is not just security that these gadgets provide.
Mr Andre Shori, 38, bought a biometric lock primarily for the convenience of going keyless.
'I hated fumbling for keys while holding my child and bags,' said the IT security specialist, who has a one-year-old daughter.
The five-room flat owner added: 'Also, my friends think it's the coolest thing because it beeps, lights up and looks really nice.'
WHAT'S ON THE MARKET
The electronic peephole viewer fits over the traditional peephole in the door.
It offers a clearer and bigger picture of a person standing at the door on an LCD screen.
Some of these devices take a photo automatically when a motion sensor outside the flat is triggered, so home owners will know who came by the flat when they were not around.
The devices are also useful for the elderly, who may find it hard to look through a traditional peephole.
Digital locks can be unlocked with PINs, radio-frequency identification chips or a fingerprint. Many come with a mechanical key override in the event of a malfunction.
Some home owners are hesitant about buying these because of the risk of a breakdown. Suppliers, however, say breakdowns are rare.
Closed-circuit television enables home owners to view real time images of their homes remotely on their computers or smart phones through cameras installed in the house. Residents also use it to monitor their maids, children or the elderly from their workplaces.