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Six tips for picking a home alarm system that’ll fit your needs

Q: We have had a series of break-ins in my neighborhood in the last few weeks. We don’t have an alarm but I think we need to get one. How do I sort out the advertising claims to know how to pick the best system for us?

A: According to an Academic Study of Home and Business Security by Temple University, the Electronic Security Association says that homes without security systems are about three times more likely to be broken into than homes with security systems. (Actual statistic ranges from 2.2 times to 3.1 times, depending on the value of the home.) Losses due to burglary average $400 less in residences with security systems than homes without alarm systems.


When selecting a company, the first thing to do is to forget the advertising claims. They are designed to lure you into a quick decision. Instead, start by making a list of what your needs actually are concerning security and then research what each company offers to meet those needs.

Choose a professional installer – Ask for a recommendation from the insurance company that covers your home. Deal only with reputable firms and check out the company with the BBB before deciding.

Contact at least three companies before selecting an installer – Make sure they are properly licensed by the California Department of Consumer Affairs,

Ask about all charges up front – Prices for home security systems will vary, based on the level of protection and type of technology used, so be sure to compare apples-to-apples bids on similar systems. Do not forget to factor in the initial installation charge, as well as monthly monitoring charges. Also, talk to your insurance agent; some systems may qualify you for a discount on homeowner’s premiums.

Know your contract – If your alarm system will be monitored, either by your installing company or by a third-party monitoring center, find out the length of the contract. Typically, monitoring contracts are between two to five years in length. What is your recourse if you are not satisfied with the services provided? Can you cancel the contract? What are your rights if your monitoring company is purchased or acquired by another alarm company? These are the types of questions you need to consider before you obligate yourself to a long-term contract.

Insist that the installer “walk” you through your system – You should fully understand how it works. This will help prevent the most common problem: false alarms. False alarms are an indicator of the quality of the alarm installation and user education.

Ask for a complete inspection of your property and an itemized written estimate – Review the sales contract closely to ensure you understand exactly what equipment and protection you will be provided.

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or