Home Security 101: Alarm System Pricing Explained

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When you are shopping for reliable home security, one of the most confusing aspects of the process is figuring out what equipment you need, and then learning what it costs.

We’ll be addressing the design process in a future post, but before we get there, it’s worth taking the time to talk about the general topic of alarm system equipment pricing for the homeowner.

Equipment Pricing vs. Monitoring Pricing 

Let’s be clear from the start that we’re not talking about the monthly service charge you pay for monitoring – that’s a subject for a blog that will follow. Today’s discussion is strictly focused on the price of the equipment you are buying for your home. And while equipment pricing and monitoring costs are related, it’s logical (and important) to separate these issues. 

Equipment Pricing Confusion is Widespread 

There was a time when alarm equipment pricing was fairly standard across the industry – even with thousands of alarm companies competing for your business.

Those days are gone: today pricing is much more variable, and even that system that may seem inexpensive at the outset can end up costing you a bundle, by the time you’re done.

You really need to ask tough questions when shopping, and make sure you understand the answers, to avoid unpleasant pricing surprises.

Discounted Alarm Systems are the Norm 

Since the late 1980’s, and certainly into the 90’s, many of the larger nationwide alarm companies have offered significant discounts on equipment. It was actually Brink’s Home Security that led the charge in this direction: they realized that they could afford to lose money on the sale of the system, and make it back over time on the monthly charges (which is exactly what cell phone companies do today!).

Once the discount ball got rolling, the rest of the big companies joined in – including ADT (who later acquired Brink’s). Today pretty much all the major alarm companies offer a basic residential alarm system for $99. Some even advertise a “Free” system, with a $99 activation fee. But you’ll see $99 advertised quite often. 

Beware the “Teaser” Alarm System 

Ah, but here’s where you really need to pay attention. That “teaser” system is rarely adequate to protect your home – and may in fact be less than reliable when it comes to monitoring. And here’s why:

  1. Most of these basic systems do not come with cellular monitoring technology included, instead, these systems use a traditional phone line to communicate to the monitoring center, or an Internet connection. Traditional phones lines are rapidly disappearing, and the Internet connection is not only less reliable, it’s just as easy to cut with a $3 pair of wire. Cellular monitoring is the only truly safe solution, and it should be included in the equipment – not an expensive upgrade.
  2. The basic” teaser” system only contains a central unit and a few sensors. So while the $99 price looks like a real deal, just wait until you start counting your doors, add an additional motion sensor or glassbreak sensor, and throw in a smoke/heat sensor or two. All of a sudden the price has gone through the roof. That’s because the alarm companies offering the $99 “special” realize that you’ll upgrade to the level of protection you need – and those additional sensors will cost you plenty – as much as $800 or $900 in total by the time you’re done. One additional door sensor may cost as much as the $99 starter price, and a motion sensor or smoke/heat sensor can add $150 to $200 to your tab!

The Inevitable Upsell

Sometimes it’s the sales representative who explains that the basic system is fine for some homes, but that you really need more, to get the adequate protection you need. Sometimes it’s the actual installer, when he comes out to your home – and believe it or not, many of these installers are trained to upsell, and are paid a commission for selling additional equipment. Who can you trust?

What You Can Do 

The best way to protect yourself from sticker shock is to be prepared when you are talking equipment and pricing. Here are a few tips, gleaned from 25 years in the alarm industry:

  • Read as much as you can about how alarm systems work, why cellular is safer, and the details right down to the individual sensors. Blogs such as this one are great for getting informed about home alarm technology.
  • Once you know what the sensors do, consider what you think you need to provide adequate protection in your home. It may seem like rocket science, but it’s not. Then call a company that will happily do a virtual walk-through of your home, and ask you about how you intend to use the system, and the level of protection you are looking for. Good alarm companies have mastered this process.
  • Once you have an idea (even a rough place to start) on the list of items you want, you can start contacting companies for pricing. Give them your list of equipment, and ask for a written quotation, with prices for each additional sensor if you decide to add or subtract devices. Now you’re in control of the process – and you won’t fall victim to the teaser/upsell approach.
  • Additional sensors should not cost that much. An additional door should be less than $40, and a motion, glassbreak, or smoke/heat sensor should never cost more than $75. Why pay $900 for a fully functional system, when you can pay $400?

Shun Aggressive Sales Tactics

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s best to avoid the alarm companies who push the sale too hard. What you want is a completely consultative process.

If a company relies on pressure instead of its reputation and consultative selling to make the sale, that often tells you a lot about its service level, and its customer satisfaction.

With the help of a good alarm company, you too can figure out the pricing puzzle. But as I’ve said before, you really do need to be careful when choosing which alarm company to work with.

The best companies will take time to win your trust, and answer all your questions. And it’s no surprise that those are the companies you want to work with when making the important decision about protecting your home and family. The more you know, the better and the more prepared you will feel when it’s time to shop for peace of mind. See you next Monday!

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