When you're shopping for a home security system, here's what you need to know in order to protect your family and avoid getting ripped off.
Home cameras are a great option
There are some great self-install digital security cameras and home security systems out there. Here are a few to consider.
What used to be called the DropCam and is now called the Nest Cam retails for $199. This camera shoots in high definition and provides free live feeds via an app for smartphones, some tablets and on the web. You can also pay an additional monthly fee of $10 for DVR capability -- which is a great feature if you're a small business that wants to have tape to review from your workplace.
If you travel for work and an alarm is tripped at your home, you can look in on the security camera and see what's going on real time. If you live alone, it will send an activity alert if it senses motion or sound. And it has 2-way audio so you can voice-threaten an intruder. This thing even shoots in the dark!
Video Doorbell by Ring is another option. It retails for $199 and replaces your home doorbell. It has a built-in camera and microphone plus it’s wireless, so you can see the person ringing your doorbell no matter where you are. You could even grant access to your home to visitors using the Ring if you wish.
The Arlo is a wireless camera system for indoor or outdoor use. And get this: It requires no electrical hookup! It uses lithium batteries instead, just like electric cars do. That makes installation a breeze, not to mention re-installation... if you want to move the cameras around on a whim! With prices starting at $179, these things aren't exactly cheap... but it can definitely be worth the money depending on your needs.
With the Arlo, you get significant free storage of the video on a freemium business model. If you want more storage, you can open up your wallet for it.
The quality of the video is fantastic. You get a password-protected login to track the cameras on your phone. If the camera senses a problem, it sends you a message and you can dial into the cameras on your phone. Then you can watch the footage or even rewind it from your phone to watch.
The Arlo Smart Home Security Camera Kit (VMS3230) includes:
- Two HD outdoor cameras equipped with motion sensors and night vision capability
- Smart home base station that can also “talk” to other connected devices
- Four magnetic dome mounts – two for securing each camera wherever you need it, and two extra mounts to make moving the camera around the home super easy
- 200 MB of free cloud storage for videos
- Free apps for displaying and managing the cameras and video from iOS or Android smartphones and tablets
- Access via popular browsers on Mac computers and PCs
DIY alarm system
DIY alarm systems are also becoming a more popular option and they can be super easy to install. Take a look at SimpliSafe.com. Prices start at just $15 a month for monitoring on simple burglar alarm systems you install yourself. No technical know-how is necessary! Read an extensive review of the service here.
Beware of ripoffs
Unsavory players in the home security field have come up with a new way to rip you off. Here's how it plays: When you sign a contract, you're not given a physical copy. What happens instead is you sign on a tablet or smartphone. The terms and conditions are in tiny type and you sign with either your finger or a stylus.
That's bad for obvious reasons. They can promise anything and rip you off for multiple years and you signed your name to it! I know people don't like to deal with lengthy contracts. At the very least, skip past the legalese and read the part about what you're agreeing to at what price and for how long. The second part you must familiarize yourself with is under what conditions you can terminate the contract.
Beware of con artists
Some years ago, while eating breakfast at a fast food joint, I eavesdropped on a conversation at a nearby table. Based on what I overheard, it seemed two of the men were employed by a security alarm company and in the process of interviewing a young 20-something man for a sales position.
The young man was told that the job involved obtaining recent police burglar reports and then going door-to-door in those neighborhoods. The men told the young man that a good tactic was to let customer's imaginations run wild after showing them the police reports. Then, go for a monthly contract of from $24.95 to $39.95, whatever he could get out of them and pocket the spread.
Talk then ran to rollover contracts. That's what happens to contracts when customers don't contact the security company about their intentions at the end of the contract term. That contract simply renews on its own for another contract period.
Tips to shop for a home security system without getting ripped off
- First, ask if a potential company requires a contract. You never want to sign a long-term contract. If you do, you open yourself to the danger of hidden rollover provisions.
- Your second question should be about their monthly monitoring fees. You should be paying in the mid-to-high teens per month at most.
- Next, ask about equipment installation costs. You can usually get a preliminary quote over the phone by counting the number of doors and windows you have to protect. Consider adding an internal motion sensor as well.
- Initial equipment installation costs can be anywhere between $600 and $800 for a typical home. It's better to pay upfront for a system rather than getting it "free" and having huge costs built into the monthly monitoring.
- Finally, make sure your monitoring station is UL approved and also offers fire detection.
- You might also consider SimpliSafe.com, a company that offers $15 a month monitoring on simple burglar alarm systems you install yourself. No technical know how is necessary! Read an extensive review of the service here.
- Don't forget about the basics of home security. This article about 13 things a burglar won't tell you has some sobering reminders about the simple things we do that inadvertently invite burglars into our homes.