BURLINGTON, N.C. - Your house is your safe zone - where you might feel most comfortable. But, especially this time of year, it could also be the next target for burglars.

Thieves don't bust in, on a whim. Often, the job is well-planned and your valuables are gone in a matter of minutes!

It starts with a car ride, and a stake out. Any neighborhood could fall victim to burglars on the hunt -- but police say you can help make sure your home doesn't get targeted.

“Thieves watch people's habits, and that if they come back into the neighborhood, they get inside the home,” explains Sgt. Shane Brown with the Burlington Police Department.

Once they've found a house, the clock starts ticking, and the thieves know exactly what they're looking to take: things that will sell quickly - like guns or electronics.

“We always went in with a stopwatch saying we've got 3 1/2 to 4 minutes and we are gone,” said one former burglar.

“In just a matter of seconds, they could be inside, taking a flat screen off the wall, or whatever else - laptops and iPads,” said Brown.

Before they strike, Brown says thieves might do one final check before going in.

“We have seen in some cases where they go and ring a doorbell. If somebody does come answer them at the door, they may make up a story as to why they are there or say that they have the wrong home,” said Brown.

During this time of year - BPD says it's sees an increase in residential break ins. There have been more than 450 reports this year, which is more than 100 break-ins higher than last year.

Here's how you can protect yourself, your home, and your valuables:

Turn on lights, secure locks, and arm alarms systems, or even just put a sign out in your yard to make it look like you have one. Dogs are also a major turn off to thieves.

If a burglar ends up getting into your house, and taking your stuff, there is help. Burlington Police says it's part of a system called "Leads Online" where Pawn Shops need to report all the items they get...so if something turns up stolen, police will know.