Home Security Systems: How to Find the Right One (IF You Need One, That Is)

Is a home alarm worth the money?

home security
Here's hoping a home security system would keep Harry and Marv at bay (Image: kinopoisk.ru)

Most of us think of our homes as a safe space. The idea of a thief violating that space is as troubling as any concerns about loss of property. That’s not to say loss of property isn’t a big deal too. The FBI reports a combined $4.6 billion worth of property lost in 2 million burglaries in 2010 alone.

On average, families lost about $2,000 worth of items, along with any sense of security they had before the theft occurred. To avoid that fate, many homeowners turn to home security systems.

Is a Home Security System Right For You?

Most home security systems cost somewhere in the range of $600 to $1200 for installation, with monthly fees anywhere from $15 to $100 on top of that. If you’re going to spend that much, you want to know what you’re buying is really worth it.

Pros: 3 Benefits of Home Security Systems

  1. Protecting your property against theft

A home security system won’t ensure you’ll never be robbed again, but studies have confirmed that having a home alarm system makes a house less likely to be targeted. And because it alerts the authorities more quickly, burglars leave faster and get away with less in the rush.

  1. Emergency alerts

And home security alarms aren’t just good for reducing theft, they also alert authorities faster to other emergencies like floods and fires, reducing the amount of damage likely to occur before authorities arrive.

  1. Insurance discounts

Home security systems are valuable when it comes to home insurance as well, notes Neil Richardson, licensed insurance agent for The Zebra.

“The industry-wide figure for homeowners insurance companies that offer a discount for having a monitored home security system is 20%.”

And it makes sense. If you have a home security system, you’re less likely to be robbed, and therefore less likely to file a claim regarding theft with your homeowners insurance company, so those insurance companies incentivize that proactive behavior with a discount. So you save money on insurance by spending a little on home security.

For most people considering a home security system, the most important benefit is simply peace of mind. If you know it will help you rest easily at night and exert less energy worrying, then having a home security system is worth it.

home security sign
Photo: Reuters

Cons: 3 Limitations of Home Security Systems

  1. They may malfunction or turn off (when you need them)

Before making an ongoing commitment though, it’s important to have reasonable expectations. To start, don’t expect your home security system to work at all times. A natural disaster may be when you feel you need your security system the most, but if your power goes out for a while during a storm, your security system will go with it. Some systems have a backup battery that lasts about a day, but for a serious storm that may not be long enough.  

  1. They serve to alert – not act

While owning a home security system means the authorities are alerted faster when there’s a problem, it doesn’t do anything to speed up their response times. If response times in your city for a robbery are usually slow, your security system won’t change that.

  1. False alarms and charges

And there’s always the risk with home security systems of false alarms. In some cities, police charge homeowners for each false alarm, so the cost of your home security system could potentially end up being higher than your monthly rate.

How to Find the Best Home Security System For You

If you decide a home security system is right for you, know that the industry includes some bad players. The FTC warns that some home security systems, particularly those sold by door-to-door salespeople, are scams. And even with companies that aren’t outright scams, lengthy contracts or faulty systems can leave customers unhappy.

home security system

1. Talk to your insurance company

If you’re hoping for a home insurance discount, don’t make any decisions without talking your insurance provider first.

“The main thing for homeowners to keep in mind is that simply having a security system installed in their home will not result in a discount,” Neil says.

In most cases, you’ll need a system that’s monitored (which means a monthly fee). Take a few minutes to give your insurance company a call and learn how their discounts work, so you don’t end up paying for a system that doesn’t qualify.

2. Get multiple quotes

For a long-term purchase like this, it’s definitely worth taking some time to compare a few different providers. Identify several companies offering home security in your area and request quotes from each.

Review both the different pricing structures, and the details of how their home security systems differ. Saving money on installation or fees could mean your home isn’t as well covered, so don’t assume the lowest price will be the best option.

3. Read reviews of each company

If a company has a reputation for bad customer service, frequent false alarms, or contracts that customers feel are unfair, you want to rule them out early. Check the reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, and Angie’s List (which requires a paid membership) to see what other people say about the company.

In an industry like home security where there’s a huge gap among the companies people are happy with and those they feel cheated by, this simple step can make a big difference in how satisfied you’ll be.

4. Make sure you understand the agreement

A lot of home security companies push long contracts that are hard to get out of. You want to be careful not to trade a better price for a worse deal. If your home security system doesn’t work properly or you have a terrible experience with customer service, you don’t want to feel stuck (or put your home at risk).

Actually read the contract and ask questions about anything remotely unclear to you. The companies that are worth working with usually won’t try to push for terms that make you feel uncomfortable.

5. Ask about a warranty.

Ask what kind of warranty the company offers on the system’s technology. Many will offer a warranty of a few years and some even offer lifetime equipment warranties. A system with a strong warranty will likely give you fewer problems over time.

A good home security system from a company with a solid reputation can make you and your family be and feel safer. One from a disreputable company is likely to add new stress to your life for a purchase meant to alleviate it. Do your research to rule out the scammers and find the system that’s right for you.