DIY Home Security Systems Alarming the Pros

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Angie’s List cautions consumers to be smart about home safety.

If you’re buying a security system just to get a discount on your premium, then you’re buying it for the wrong reason. If you’re going to buy one, buy a good one that works well. There are plenty of price points on monitoring to make it all affordable

Do-it-yourself home security systems are becoming more popular with recession-weary homeowners who continue to search for ways to save, and that’s causing bells to ring in the professional home alarm industry.

Consumer interest in DIY systems may be caused in part by increased worries about crime due to the troubled economy. Even before the economic slide, FBI statistics showed a home burglary happens every 15 seconds in the United States, and the average loss to homeowners in a single burglary is approaching $2,000.

Angie’s List (http://www.angieslist.com) – the nation’s leading provider of consumer ratings on local service providers, including home alarm companies – went to the security experts, asking how they’re responding to the DIY trend. The company also went to top insurers to determine what consumers need know to get the most from their homeowners’ policies.

Among the greatest concerns raised was of aggressive, door-to-door sales forces that prey on neighborhoods where burglaries have been a problem. These companies use scare tactics to get homeowners to sign long-term monitoring contracts and may not properly install the systems.

“Sales tactics like that should be seen as alarms themselves,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. “If you’re pressured to buy right away by a stranger at your door, end the discussion and look for a service company that has an address and a reputation you can check out.”

One service professional said some DIY products don’t offer substantial protection and usually are stolen along with other goods in the home.

“When it comes to keeping your family safe, you shouldn’t cut corners, but you also shouldn’t spend more than you have to,” Hicks said. “Consumers need to be smart about the system they need; realistic about their abilities; and unashamed to ask for help.”

Properly installed and used home security systems – whether DIY or professionally done – have proven effective. Studies show that about two-thirds of burglaries attempted on security-armed homes will fail, Hicks said.

“Of course home security professionals are leery of DIY systems -- it’s a trend that could cut into their profits,” Hicks said. “Several companies were happy to report they’ve gotten work fixing what some consumers had started but didn’t finish.”

“The bottom line is consumers need to be careful about what they buy, how it’s installed and monitored. Some of us are perfectly capable of installation projects. Some aren’t. The key to keeping your home and family safe is recognizing your abilities and acting accordingly,” she added.

Having a quality home alarm system can save on home insurance costs, too, but insurers will require proof your system is installed and monitored properly. The steepest discounts are for systems connected to centrally-monitored – 24/7 – response centers, Hicks said. Far lower discounts are available for local alarms – those that blast sound but don’t alert the police.

One insurer who considered any non-traditional alarm system unworthy of any discount cautioned homeowners about putting cost savings above all else.

“If you’re buying a security system just to get a discount on your premium, then you’re buying it for the wrong reason. If you’re going to buy one, buy a good one that works well. There are plenty of price points on monitoring to make it all affordable,” she said.

Home security systems range from the basics to the highly complex and prices range from $100 to more than $1,000. Monthly monitoring fees average between $20-50 depending on the level of service options. Most insurers offer discounts on homeowner’s premiums, ranging from 2 to 15 percent depending on the reliability of the system.

5 Steps to Professional Home Security:
1.    In-home assessment: Ask your potential supplier to visit your home and recommend specifically how to best protect your home. It’s not something done best over the phone.
2.    Details: Get a written, detailed quote covering things like installation, equipment, monitoring fees and warranties.
3.    Check it twice: If you sign up for monitoring services, you will likely be asked to sign a multi-year contract. Read the contract carefully. Ask for clarification if it’s confusing. Ask if you can transfer the service if you move before the contract expires.
4.    Installation: Most security services rely on telephone service, but some now are activated through cellular and internet providers. Be sure your security system is tailored to fit your needs based on the type of service you have. Basic systems should not take longer than one day to install, but some new phone systems require additional equipment. Determine how invasive the installation process is – will it be wireless or hardwired? If the company makes a mess, who cleans up?
5.    Insurance: Talk to your agent about what your insurer requires and what discounts are offered before you finalize a home security package.

5 Steps to DIY Home Security
1.     Coverage: Call your insurance agent to determine what discounts you may qualify for. Some companies may not give discounts for systems that alert only you – rather than the authorities.
2.     Don’t guess: Read the manual, map out your home security needs and get any questions answered before you even start the installation. If you doubt your abilities, call in a professional.
3.     Ground control: The farther the distance away from the main control unit, the weaker your wireless coverage is, so be sure you put both the main unit and sensors where they will allow for complete coverage.
4.     Battery power: Wireless systems run on battery power, not on electricity. You’re covered in the case of a power outage but not if your batteries are dead, so monitor their power regularly.
5.     Hard-wired: Wired security systems are generally much more complex than the less expensive wireless options, and they may also require special tools and expertise. Often savings can be had from professional installation because they’ll give you equipment and forgive installation fees if you also use their monitoring service.

Angie’s List is where thousands of consumers share their ratings and reviews on local contractors and companies in more than 425 different categories. Currently, more than 750,000 consumers across the U.S. rely on Angie’s List to help them find the right contractor or company for the job they need done. Members have unlimited access to the list via Internet or phone; receive the award-winning Angie’s List magazine, which includes articles on home improvement and maintenance, consumer trends and scam alerts; and they can utilize the Angie’s List complaint resolution service. Get more information about Angie’s List at http://www.angieslist.com View the latest Angie's List News Releases in our Press Center and read Angie’s blog at http://www.angiehicksblog.com.

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