Home Security Systems: Total Cost and the Fine Print

While leafing through the Sunday newspaper the insert appeared again. The headline grabbed my attention, and this time I decided to grab a magnifying glass to read the tiny print at the bottom.

The headline “Notice: Homeowner Safety” is an attention grabber. I mean who isn’t interested in homeowner safety—particularly families, single women, and older folks. We all want to protect our loved ones. The ad is in letter form then goes on to say “we are in your neighborhood looking for homeowners who are interested in receiving a FREE WIRELESS HOME SECURITY System (an $850 value) simply for displaying a small security sign in your front yard.” The installation fee is only $99 and they even throw in a $100 Visa gift card for the first 20 callers. After seeing this same insert during the past year, I would have thought they would have received 20 callers by now!

The Fine Print and the Whole Picture

Upon reading the fine print—and it is a tiny 5 point font—it says “36 month monitoring agreement required at $36.99 per month” which equates to $1331.64. The free security system includes a motion detector, window sensor, door sensor, keypad, and an alarm. The fee to install this is $100. Is this a good deal?

For some it may be. But those of us who require more sensors, this requires more labor and equipment to be installed. Own a dog or cat? The motion detector may not be the way to go. Do you have more than one door and one window? Prices can escalate quickly, which is why it is always a good idea to secure two other quotes for the same home.

Canned or Custom?

In my case I had a small, local security company named Bernstein Security handle my security system installation. Since I used him for my prior security systems at other properties for the past twenty-five years, I was well aware that the equipment would be of high quality and state of-the-art, resulting in few if any false alarms. Bernstein installed several window magnets, several door magnets, a couple of glass break sensors, and a cellular modem for me. The reason for the cellular unit is to thwart thieves who arrive at a home, then cut the phone or cable wires, preventing the system from being able to call out to contact the central monitoring station. Any line cutting with my system, and the cellular unit immediately contacts the central monitoring station. The cost to install my system was $1500, quite reasonable considering the high quality components, and the fact that it is a custom designed, state-of-the-art system.

Recurring Costs

The biggest portion of an investment such as this is to look at recurring or monthly costs, including maintenance. I pay $30 a month for central station monitoring, but that includes the cellular service, and fire service. If I receive a low battery or other warning on the keypad, Bernstein always comes out promptly, and never charges me for service calls. My system can easily be evolved, and the additional keypad I had installed is wonderful.

Hailing Local Sales and Installation Pros

So when it comes to Homeowner Safety, do you really want to go with a one size fits all who offers a free install, or would it be wiser to go with a local pro who can provide a custom system, with high quality components, for your piece of mind?

For those of you who need to decide everything on price, here is the comparison over the period of 6 years, with additional installation work required:

ADT Dealer: Install fee $100 + $1400 for additional work 6 Years of monitoring @ $2664 6 Service Calls @ $100/each Total = $4764

Local Company: Install fee $1500 6 Years of monitoring @ $2160 6 Service calls @ $0 Total = $3660

So in six years, the “free” system actually ends up costing over $1,000 more, without any of the benefits of my custom, higher end system. Sometimes staying local and going professional is just better.


Call 215-493-7191 or e-mail