Most homeowners will consider a home security system at some point, but in this industry it is very easy to get taken advantage of by the very companies that offer to protect you. Here is a summary of items to consider when installing a home security system and choosing a monitoring service provider.
Monitored or non-monitored system?
The first question to ask is whether you want your system monitored. The primary advantage to a monitored system is that a third party can notify you and/or law enforcement when the alarm is activated. Additionally, having a monitored system usually qualifies you for a discount on your homeowners insurance policy, which can offset most or all of the cost of the monitoring service. Monitoring service fees vary widely but can range from $10 to $40 per month depending on the provider and services offered.
The primary advantage to a non-monitored system is that you don't have the ongoing monitoring fee. The disadvantage is that you don't have a monitoring service to alert you of an active alarm, although some systems can send a text message or email to alert you. Also, non-monitored systems typically don't qualify for homeowners insurance discounts.
Is that free system really free?
Many companies will offer you a "free" security system with a lengthy monitoring contract, however the free system they offer is probably inadequate for your home. If you want more than a single keypad, two door or window sensors, or a single motion detector, prepare to pay for that additional equipment. Also note that with most of the national home security providers their systems are not compatible with other monitoring services, locking you into being their customer. Their contracts also state that the equipment installed isn't even yours and that they may take back the equipment installed in your home if you cancel service.
Many locally based monitoring companies and independent home security installers can install a system that is compatible with most alarm monitoring services. While home security systems from these companies may seem to be more expensive, you truly own these systems and you are free to choose lower-cost providers and change services if you aren't satisfied. If you are handy, there are also do-it-yourself home security systems that provide more configuation options.
Beware of monitoring contracts!
The dirty secret of the national home security system providers is the monitoring contracts. National companies typically require a three-year monitoring agreement at a high monthly rate. The penalties for breaking these contracts are severe. Many of these contracts are also "evergreen" contracts, meaning that if you don't cancel within the time period specified in the contract it will automatically renew for an additional term.
If you are currently locked into a contract with a national home security company, be very careful in your dealings with them. Read your contract carefully and at the first opportunity to cancel send a written notice by certified mail requesting cancellation at the end of your contract term. While you may not be able to use the system the national company installed, another installer will likely be able to use any wiring and sensors left behind which can save you money.
Home security systems are a great way to protect your home and family. Just be careful in choosing the companies you deal with and read all documents thoroughly before signing.