Each year, about 1 in 50 U.S. homes gets broken into. Although the incidence of burglaries is fairly low, over time, the odds can turn against you. And given the financial, physical and psychological damage that can result from a burglary, it makes sense to do what you can to become more secure.
On the one hand, having a home security system will reduce the chances that your house will be burglarized, but on the other hand, the price of the systems and monitoring costs can be expensive, so hard to use that residents turn them off anyway, and lead to false alarms that unnecessarily burden police and fire departments.
Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook and Checkbook.org advises that before deciding to install a security system, homeowners take basic, less costly precautions. Because most burglars enter homes by simply opening unlocked doors or windows, or pushing and kicking locked ones until they open, even the most basic measures of protection will improve your security. To start, get good deadbolt locks on all your doors and secure all accessible windows.
Checkbook has some other suggestions to prevent break-ins:
- Ask the police department to give you a security audit, most will, to identify weak spots.
- Participate in Operation Identification, which involves engraving an ID number on your valuables and putting a decal in your window.
- Keep valuables out of sight. Place articles of ostensible value out of the view of anyone at your front door or anyone looking through your front windows from the street.
- Neighborhood watch groups are effective, at the very least, get to know your neighbors and share information on your not-at-home schedules and vacation plans.
- Make sure your house always appears occupied. Leaving lights and a TV on helps. If you go on vacation, work with neighbors or friends to prevent mail and packages from piling up.
- Keep up with your landscaping, doors and windows hidden by garages, bushes and trees are attractive targets for intruders.
- Keep track of keys.
If you decide that you want to install a home security system for extra piece of mind, keep in mind that even if you spring for all the bells and whistles, the system needs to be installed and monitored properly. Choose a firm carefully, Checkbook collected customer ratings of local home security firms and found dramatic differences. For example, some firms were rated “superior” for “doing work properly” by at least 90 percent of their surveyed customers. But others received such favorable ratings from less than 50 percent of their surveyed customers.
It’s also worth the trouble to get multiple price quotes. Gathering quotes gives you a chance to compare recommendations and gauge staff knowledge. And you can save a bundle. Checkbook’s mystery shoppers collected prices for carefully specified security system installation and monitoring jobs and found big firm-to-firm differences.
For one installation job, including three years of monitoring service, prices ranged from $1,847 to $4,420. Monitoring-only costs can also vary widely. For three years of landline monitoring a system in one home, prices ranged from $1,035 to $1,719.
Once you choose a firm, read the contract carefully. In particular, some firms make it very difficult to change monitoring services to another provider. Ask the firm to provide programming codes upon request. In addition:
- The contracts used by some alarm installers specify that installed equipment remains the property of the installation company. It’s preferable to deal with a company that will sell you a system you’ll own.
- Avoid auto-renewal provisions, some companies frequently increase their monitoring rates, and if you fail to cancel, the company will automatically renew it.
- Ideally, arrange to hold back at least half of the payment until two weeks or a month after the system is running.
Finally, don’t forget to tell your home insurer and inquire about discounts. Discounts typically average around 5 percent (for systems with central station monitoring).