Educational Consumer Tips


Author: Better Business Bureau

The installation of a home security system is much more accessible to today’s consumer than in years past. In fact, many newer homes come already equipped with them. Not only can a security system provide a line of defense against intruders, it can help lower insurance premiums and provide a way to monitor the safety of family members. But before you jump in and sign on that dotted line, there are a few things you know about.

Before you choose a company, verify their licensing. Alarm installation and monitoring companies are required to be licensed by the Department of Public Safety’s Private Security Bureau. Call 512-424-7710 to check a company’s licensing status. You should also verify that a company has a satisfactory report with the BBB.

If your home is not already equipped with a system, you need to determine whether you are going to purchase the alarm or lease it. If you purchase the system, you’ll own the equipment outright. A leased system may cost less initially, but it won’t belong to you and could be removed from your home once you discontinue your service or switch companies.  

Most alarm systems are linked to a central monitoring center. With a monitored alarm, you and the police will be contacted by the monitoring center in the event of a break-in. Systems that are not monitored rely solely on the siren as a deterrent. The monthly cost of monitoring can vary anywhere from $20 to $30 per month for homes with an existing system.  

Since alarm systems are available in a wide range of prices and technologies, consumers have a number of options to choose from. The most economical systems usually include a control panel, keypad, door and window sensors, and a siren.  More advanced systems may include the basics plus advanced keypad options, glassbreak sensors, heat sensors, carbon monoxide sensors, strobes, and even video surveillance cameras. Some households only need the basics while others want the works. Consider which options best suit you.

Sales teams are frequently sent to canvass neighborhoods in search of new customers. If you happen to be solicited at your home, be wary of sales representatives wearing shirts displaying the logos of actual manufacturers. Manufacturers do not solicit consumers directly, nor do they permit retailers to bear their logos. If you already have a home security system and the sales representative tells you that your service is about to expire, don’t take their word for it. Contact your alarm company and verify the expiration date of your contract.

In recent years more and more households have switched from traditional phone lines to cell phones and internet-based lines. Making a switch midway through your contract may affect your alarm service. Ask the sales representative what your options are in the event you decide to discontinue the use of a traditional phone line.

It’s also important to know that most companies will require you to sign a 24 to 60 month contract for monitoring. This is especially true if they installed an alarm system for you. Consumers who cancel before their contract expires are often subject to hefty cancellation fees. Before you sign up, know how long your contract is for and what the cancellation policies are. In discussions with your sales representative, also ask what would happen if the company were to be bought out.  Don’t rely on oral promises. Get everything in writing.

Furthermore, it is common practice within the industry to use “evergreen contracts.” If proper notice has not been given, an evergreen contract automatically renews itself upon expiration. Companies often require consumers to give notice of their intent to discontinue service at least 30 days in advance. It is the consumer’s responsibility to know when the contract expires and to give notice by the cut-off date stipulated in the contract. If you end up signing an evergreen contract, you can place a label in a visible area near the alarm to remind you when the contract expires and when the cancellation must be made.  

After you have narrowed down your selection of providers, take a step back and compare each written offer. Review prices, features and contract terms. Then decide on which company best fits your needs and offers you the best value.

When the day comes that you decide to cancel your existing service, be proactive. Send the letter by fax, email, or even certified letter before the cut-off date. Then confirm that the company received your cancellation and have it put in writing. Should a discrepancy arise, you’ll have your bases covered.