10 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Home Alarm System

home security control panel

Buying a home security system is a lot like shopping for groceries—you’ll be better off if you go in with an idea of what you need. You should approach the task with a set of criteria to better determine which security system is right for you. The process can be overwhelming; between equipment, monitoring packages, contracts, and all the other choices you have to make, it’s a lot to take in.

To make the process easier, this article will walk you through the questions you should ask when you’re choosing a system. Asking the right questions will make your home safer and will also make home security more affordable by preventing you from purchasing something you don’t need.

  • Top-notch equipment
  • Home automation
  • Best mobile app

1. Who is the best home security provider?

A lot of factors contribute to a security company’s quality; our list of the top security companies considers these factors in its rankings. Vivint is our top pick based on a wide range of criteria, but you may have specific wants or needs that Frontpoint doesn’t cover. If you’re only looking for something to monitor a close area and you don’t need 24/7 monitoring, you may want to consider one of our top self-monitored systems.

2. What kind of equipment do I want?

Some home security companies specialize strictly in that: security. They offer equipment like motion sensors, security cameras, and door and window sensors. Other companies have a wider variety of options in terms of flood, smoke, and freeze sensors. A growing number of security companies offer home automation packages. Another consideration is whether the equipment is customizable; certain companies allow you to choose only the equipment you need. We recommend deciding on your priorities before you begin the shopping process.

3. How much does home security cost?

You may think that all home security systems are expensive, but the truth is that security costs as much as you want to spend. If you’re on a tight budget, you may only be able to get a few security cameras or a motion detector, but a professionally monitored plan is the better option whenever possible. Pre-packaged equipment plans sometimes provide savings for bundled equipment, but customization options allow you to select the sensors most relevant to you.

You have to determine whether the cost is comparable to the cost of a break-in. Most people lose just over $2,100 of property from a break-in, but the sense of violation can be much worse. Take the time to evaluate how much your home security system will cost, accounting for the monthly cost, equipment cost, and any other additional fees (like activation fees, installation fees, etc.).

4. Should I go DIY or professionally monitored?

We highly recommend security systems with professional monitoring. Through 24/7 monitoring, your home is better protected; the monitoring station will automatically notify you and the authorities any time the alarm is triggered. If you use a self-monitored system and your phone is dead, off, or in another room, you could miss the notification and give the burglar that much more of a head start. However, having a self-monitored security system is better than not having any security. If you’re on a tight budget, a self-monitored system may be a more affordable investment than professional monitoring.

5. What is the warranty like?

No matter how great a security company is, equipment sometimes breaks down. Know going in whether you have to pay full price to replace broken equipment. Most home security companies have a warranty length between two and three years. Some companies don’t include all of their equipment under warranty, and others have different guidelines for specific pieces of equipment, but Protect America and a few other companies offer lifetime equipment warranties.

6. Do I need to sign a contract?

Most home security companies require you to sign a contract, usually around three years. We recommend carefully reading the fine print of these contracts. Make sure you know whether the monthly price will change during the length of the contract, and look closely at the cancellation terms. If you prefer not to commit, look for companies with no contracts, like SimpliSafe or Scout.

7. What are the cancellation terms?

Some security systems are not transferable if you move. If you need to move because of work during the length of your contract, will you be able to cancel easily? If you cancel, do you need to pay the remaining cost of your contract or only a portion? Some companies, like LiveWatch, allow you to cancel at any time without penalty, while others require you to pay the full remaining balance.

8. Do I travel a lot?

If you’re away from home often, you’ll want to be able to get alarm alerts from on the road and arm/disarm your system for anyone tending to your home. Look for a system with a reliable and functional mobile app. You may also want to get a system with battery backup in case your home loses power while you’re away.

9. Do I need a landline?

Only a few security companies offer packages that require a functioning landline phone in order to work. The majority only require a broadband or cellular connection, so you really don’t need a landline for a security system unless you have absolutely no access to a cellular connection.

10. Will I be moving in the next few years?

If you plan to move in the next few years, make sure to get a security system that can move with you. For example, Link Interactive can be packed up and carried to a new location without penalty. Other companies may require you to break your contract before you move, which can significantly increase cost.

What’s next?

Home security is about more than placing enough sensors around your home to make Fort Knox jealous. Consider the level of security you need, your budget, and whether expansions to your system (like home automation) are important to you. Use the questions above as a guideline to make these choices, and then move forward from there.

What other questions have you found yourself asking during your search for home security?