Advancements in technology have been changing the shape of the home security industry for years. Today, we’re seeing a rise of security cameras that not only show you who’s at the door but also know who’s at the door, and this facial recognition tech isn’t stopping soon. In fact, there’s a chance your security camera will be able to detect certain threats or “suspicious” behavior in the future.
While already in full swing in other parts of the world like China, methods of ethical implementation are still largely up for debate — as are basic ideals about home security in general.
This emerging, perhaps dystopic, technology lends itself toward giving the consumer more autonomy in controlling the security of their own home (while also claiming to not sacrifice quality of the monitoring). With this, older conceptions about smart home security may start to fade — including lengthy contracts, as companies like Google (Nest), Ring (Amazon), and SimpliSafe have capitalized on this demand for more seamless technology and user autonomy. After all, younger consumers are starting to drive the home security market, and Generation Z — which basically grew up with a smartphone in its hands — can’t be forgotten in the equation, either.
With market shifts in mind and as home security grows more complex, here are three ways you can better navigate home security contracts.
First — Choose Between Professional and DIY
In your search for the best home security system for your lifestyle, you’ve probably seen that a lot of companies — like ADT and Protection 1 — still require you to sign a contract or place a higher premium on the more advanced products in the suite (like security cameras). This is (partly) how they make money and protect themselves from flighty customers, but it doesn’t mean they’re not worth considering. In fact, some of these companies that have contracts also have greater consumer protections, like offering insurance deductible reimbursements for break-ins or fires (like Protection 1).
One easy way to break it down is to decide whether you want a trained technician to install everything for you, or mix and match equipment and brands based on personal preference or budget. There’s not always a stark dividing line between these factors — even some of the most well-known professional home security companies like Brinks offer some crossover with room for third-party smart home integration and leeway when it comes to payment options. If you don’t want to sacrifice — don’t. There are companies that deliver a balanced blend between professional, hands-off monitoring and all of the smartphone conveniences you crave.
Next, Read Before You Sign
If you’re prone to changing your mind and don’t want to be tied to rigid contracts, some professional companies may not be for you. Perhaps you’re worried you won’t actually be satisfied with the service seven months in — in this case, you need to know what kind of fee you’ll be handed if you decide to terminate early. Our suggestion: Read the fine print first.
Here are just a few things to look for in a home security contract to prevent yourself from feeling the blow of any “surprise” fees:
Terms for relocation: If you have to move or relocate during your contract, know beforehand what kind of fees will ensue and what exceptions for any extenuating circumstances (even death) are available for you. For example, Protection 1 offers a $150 credit toward expenses related to its services (with a few caveats, including the stipulation that you have to be the owner of the new place and lived in the old residence for at least a year).
- Early termination fees: If you’re dissatisfied with the service on month two after signing, will you have to pay the price for the remaining 34 months left on your contract? If this is the case, you’ll want to really think about your situation and research the product before becoming too invested. If the wording is vague, ask questions. For example, Protection 1 says: “Upon early termination by Customer, Protection 1 may charge the balance of the remaining contract term.” The “may” implies some leeway — but you won’t really know until you ask.
- Warranties: What does the warranty language look like? Figure out what the company will do for you in the event something malfunctions.
- Guarantees: Guarantee is a pretty strong word — if a company “guarantees” your money back within six months if you’re not satisfied with the service, that can be reassuring. (ADT is a prime example of this kind of protection.)
Use the language in the contract to your advantage — it’ll come in handy, especially in the event you notice any inconsistencies with what customer service or the installation technician is telling you. Make flashcards, if you feel the need.
Finally, Know Your Rights
If you’re prone to feeling buyer’s remorse — here’s some good news: All is actually not lost after sealing the deal in pen. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Cooling-Off Rule” gives you the right to cancel certain sales made in your home (and other areas like the workplace, dormitory, hotel, convention center, among others). Even if the equipment has already been installed, you still have the right to break the deal, as long as it falls under these guidelines. One noteworthy item from those guidelines: If the sale was made completely online, you might be out of luck.
The Bottom Line
Just because a company requires a contract doesn’t automatically mean it’s archaic. It could still very well be the right choice for your home after conducting some thorough digging. As long as you pay attention to the details, you’re well on your way to making sure you can maximize the company’s security benefits in a manner that suits your everyday life.