RESEARCHERS found as many as one in five homeowners regularly leaves a spare key close to the front door for their children, friends or neighbours to use to enter the house.
Under a plant pot or beneath an inconspicuous brick were the top hiding places, while many still put their faith in leaving a spare key under the doormat.
And the smiling garden gnome may well be the one entrusted with home security as hiding keys under a mini statue proved the fourth most common spot for a spare.
Despite leaving a key to the door close by, 45 per cent were unsure as to whether their chosen spot was actually safe or a good idea.
The research, which was conducted by Yale, found nearly a quarter of the 2,000 homeowners studied didn’t actually feel their local area was safe and a third had reason not to trust their neighbours.
Nonetheless the tradition of hiding keys in secret nooks and crannies is very much alive with a fear of being locked out the biggest reasons for hiding keys.
And with one in five home owners leaving a key right outside 715 billion pounds worth of property is left vulnerable across the country.
Yesterday spokesman for Yale David Herbert said: "There’s a long-honoured tradition of hiding a key under the mat and it’s something many of us still do in this country.
"The range of quirky hiding spots shows plenty of imagination goes into choosing a place for our spare keys but it still means that properties could potentially be exposed rather easily.
"It’s always worth considering how good a hiding spot is or if there’s a better way of providing easy access to those who need it, without taking risks.
"Whether it’s reassessing the choice of hiding spot or keeping track of just how many spare keys to your home are out there or even having great neighbours you can trust one with, taking measures to ensure peace of mind around your home is important.’’
The study also found hiding keys in the garden shed, buried in a flower bed or slotted away in the garage was common, while others carefully choose a nook in the garden wall or trust an old tree to keep their home guarded.
Placing a key balanced on the actual door frame is another commonly employed tactic, while others taped keys inside the letterbox.
Many homeowners play with fire by leaving their spare key in a barbecue lurking nearby.
Some even hid keys to their home in a child’s outdoor playhouse or under one of their little one’s toys.
The average homeowner had dished out four keys to their own house that they struggled to keep track of – either to nearby neighbours or spares that had gone missing completely.
David Herbert added: "It’s so easy to get keys cut and handed out and, whether it’s family members, neighbours or even previous tenants, it’s hard to keep track of how many people actually have easy access to your home.
"Taking steps to consider your home security and whether it’s as good as it could be can help to ensure that the only people with access to your property are family or friends, not opportunistic criminals.”
TOP 10 KEY HIDING SPOTS
1. Under a plant pot
2. Under a brick
3. Under the front door mat
4. Under a statue
5. In the garden shed
6. In a flower bed
7. In the garage
8. In a nook in the garden wall
9. In a tree
10. The door frame