What to consider when buying a home security system

Home security systems run the gamut from inexpensive, do-it-yourself options to sophisticated solutions you can monitor from afar. But before you weigh the pros and cons of different home security systems and their features, experts urge you to consider your behavior.

As many as 90 to 95% of people who have home security systems don’t turn them on every time they leave the house, according to Los Angeles security consultant Chris McGoey. A high percentage don’t use them at all after they’ve been installed for some time, he says.

“Many people say they don’t even lock their door every time they go outside, or they leave their windows open all night. Those are the same people who aren’t going to use an alarm system,” says McGoey.

Once you have an idea of your own behaviors, then you can start to focus on what to look for in a home security system. Here are some questions to consider when buying a home security system:

What type of home security system do you really need?

A system that simply makes noise when a door or window is opened is an effective deterrent in many cases, McGoey says. So are the window stickers and yard signs that come with many systems. Home security system features expand from there to include a broad range of sensors, video, automatic texting or paging services. Some systems have home automation features that allow you to adjust lighting or thermostat settings from afar, and options that allow you to provide temporary pass codes for cleaners or your children. Compare home security system features to the cost to determine the best fit for your needs.

Is the security system monitored?

Most systems sold by professional security companies bundle the cost of equipment and installation with a multi-year monitoring contract. Make sure you’re clear on what happens when the monitoring center receives an alarm. In many cases, they will call you or another designated contact before contacting the police or fire department. It is your responsibility to provide an up-to-date list of contact names and phone numbers and keep it current.

Who is doing the installation?

Wireless technology has made installing motion sensors and other components of security systems much easier. But, even handy do-it-yourselfers may miss some of the finer points of positioning sensors to avoid false alarms such as pets triggering them, McGoey cautions. False alarms can create headaches for homeowners for several reasons. In some areas, first responders may levy fines for excessive false alarms. Even if that’s not the case, constant false alarms can prompt homeowners to rely less on their system or stop using it completely. “What reduces false alarms is the quality of the installation,” McGoey says. Professionals have expertise in how to bring all the different pieces together and ensure that you’re making the best use of a security system.

How does the system fit into other plans to protect your home?

Don’t just rely on a home security system. Conduct a home inventory, write down the serial numbers of valuable items, save copies of important documents offsite, and make sure your renters or homeowners insurance meets your needs. There are also other steps you can take to help prevent home burglary.

How will you get the most out of the system?

“The bottom line is, if you’re considering a system, you’re going to need to make a commitment that you’re going to use it,” McGoey says. Make sure that neighbors, housekeepers, delivery people, and your kids are all aware you have a security system, which also can help spread the word that your home is secure. Train yourself to turn it on every time you leave the house and when you go to bed at night.

“The only way that works is if you make it a routine, like turning off the lights, locking the door, and closing the windows every time you leave,” McGoey says. “Then you don’t think about it.”

Make sure you’re protected. You may be eligible for a policy discount depending on the type of system you install. For more information about how to protect your home, visit Nationwide's Learning Center.

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