The holidays are coming and you’re looking forward to the good food, the gifts, and the quality time with family members you don’t see often because they live far away. But one thing’s nagging at you amidst your excitement: you’re worried about leaving your home and stuff vulnerable while you’re away. So, to keep your home safe in your absence, you have two main options to consider: find a house sitter or let the robots do it for you (muahaha…wait, wrong holiday?) — that is, use home security tech to monitor your house.
Your Home Security Tech Options (and Their Costs)
As the smart home market explodes, you have a mix of new smart home safety products and the more familiar options that have been around for a while. If you’ve already started to invest in tech to make your home smarter, many of these options will connect to smart devices like Alexa and Google Home:
- Home security systems – Home security systems sound an alert when someone tries to enter the house without knowing the proper code. By drawing unwanted attention to a robbery in progress and alerting local law enforcement, they can work as a strong deterrent. But they often come with a high price tag, costing anywhere from $300 to over $1,600 just for installation, and another $15-$60 a month for ongoing monitoring.
- Surveillance camera – A camera will record anything that happens in your absence so you have evidence to show police if a robbery does occur. Smart security cameras can alert you at the moment a break-in is happening so you (and law enforcement) can react faster. Expect to pay at least $100 for the most basic camera you install yourself and over $1,000 for a multiple-camera system (plus monthly monitoring).
- Smart lighting – Trick people into thinking you’re home by turning smart lights on and off from an app. There’s even a smart light that turns on automatically when the doorbell rings that costs around $50. If you want to add smart lights to multiple rooms, you can get a starter pack for smart lighting for around $200.
- Smart locks – Remote access to your locks can both save you from accidentally leaving your home unlocked on a long trip and allow you to monitor if someone enters your home while you’re away. They cost around $300.
- Video doorbell – A video doorbell will alert you on your mobile device when someone’s at your door and let you see a video feed of what they do. A basic model costs less than $200, but some versions cost up to $500.
And in addition to being able to lock your door or turn lights on and off when you’re out of town, you can do so with voice commands to your smart home assistant. If compatibility between devices is important to you, you can get a rundown of what works with Alexa here and Google Home here.
Pros of Going with Home Tech vs. a House Sitter
Keeps you connected: Many of these options allow you to check in and know what’s happening in your home (or even control what’s happening) while you’re away.
Offers constant monitoring: As long as the tech is connected to a power source, you should be able to count on it to do its job 24/7.
You could save on insurance: Some home insurance companies provide discounts for homes that have monitored security systems and smart technology.
There’s evidence it works: There are lots of anecdotal examples of security tech doing its job. About six months after installing home security cameras, homeowner Lewis Scott told us, “Our street experienced a barrage of break-ins. Almost every house on our street was hit except ours.”
Security cameras capture videos of break-ins being stopped in progress, like the below one of a burglar in Idaho caught and arrested because of the homeowner’s smart security cameras. And in a survey of burglars, many said they’d leave a home immediately if they encountered an alarm or saw a security camera (although notably, not all of them).
And the Cons:
It costs a lot: See above re. prices and monthly fees to stay connected.
It’s not enough stop all thieves: In the aforementioned survey, some burglars said they weren’t deterred by the tech they encountered. Security systems can be disarmed and security cameras suggest the promise of valuables inside. In addition, you’re still dependent on how quickly the cops can get there to stop it. If you live in an area where police response times tend to be slow, a thief could feasibly get away with a lot in the time it takes authorities to get there.
That said, the robbers in the survey weren’t asked about smart tech, and many suggested that signs of someone being home were deterrents, so tech like the video doorbell and smart lights could potentially make a bigger difference than more traditional security tech options.
It can be hacked: Hackers have found vulnerabilities in smart home devices. In theory, someone could hack into your security tech and start controlling your home. But so far, there have been more stories about how it’s possible to hack these devices than examples of it happening.
Option 2… Call Up a House Sitter
A house sitter can keep an eye on things for you while you’re gone, but you have to find the right person for the job.
- Friend or family member – If someone close to you will be staying in the area for the holidays, they’re an obvious choice.
- Neighbor – Ask someone who lives nearby (and is trustworthy) to swing by your house periodically to check in.
- House sitting website – Websites and apps like Trusted House Sitters and Rover (not just a dog walking service!) let you browse profiles for house sitters in your area and see reviews and ratings from past clients. While it means letting a stranger into your home, the reviews provide some peace of mind that the sitters are trustworthy.
Pros of Going with a House Sitter vs. Home Tech
They can also water plants, get your mail, and take care of pets. These folks will often do more than just protect and monitor your home. And if they do take care of your pup, that’s an added thief deterrent, as many burglars say hearing a dog will keep them from breaking in.
Many thieves knock first. Many of the thieves surveyed said they consistently knock before trying to enter a house and if someone answers, they make an excuse and leave. For all the tricks to try to convince someone you’re home, having someone actually be home is proven to make a difference.
They’re cheaper than most tech options. Some house sitters are happy to do it for a free place to stay, and even the ones that charge will usually cost you less than having expensive new technology installed. (But hey, even “free” family/friend sitters would welcome a lil thank-you gift.)
And the Cons
You have to trust your house sitter. A bad house sitter can mean big trouble. They could trash your house, break things, steal from you, or invite someone over that does. Stories of house sitters turned robbers are rare, but there are some cautionary tales of bad apples out there, like this one whose date stole the family dog.
They won’t be there all the time. Tech can monitor your home 24/7, but a house sitter will likely leave the house to go to work, hang out with friends, or run errands. You can’t reasonably expect them to be there all the time, and when they’re gone, the home is less protected.
In short, either option will likely make your home safer, but both have their unique risks and benefits. You’ll have to figure out which option makes the most sense for your particular needs, home, and budget. Whichever you choose, let it take a load off so you can enjoy your holidays without the worry.