Best Home Security Systems in Austin
As Texas’s hippest city grows and changes, so do your needs for home security. We zeroed in on 9 local providers to see if they could compete with Frontpoint, our national recommendation. Then, we reviewed them based on contract flexibility, pricing, and home automation.
In the end, Frontpoint was still our pick for the best home security system in Austin thanks to its smartphone-friendly home automation technology and affordable startup cost of $100. But, if you don’t want to sign a contract, True Protection and Smith Thompson can oblige — as long as you’re willing to front $300 or more.
The Best Home Security Systems in Austin
True Protection is an all-around solid choice for flexibility and customer service, not to mention reasonable pricing that makes for good value. The company also offers month-to-month contracts and optional professional installation, leaving room for renters and DIY fans alike.
We couldn’t get an exact quote without a site visit, but the sales rep was willing to work with us to ballpark an estimate. He was also amazingly transparent about pricing. For example, taking $230 as the base equipment cost for a 2GiG control panel with cellular capabilities and app control, he told us each door and window would add $21, plus $100 for installation (again, optional.) Smoke detectors can be added for $56 a pop, and you can even throw in medical alert pendants at $25 each. No other company we talked to could be so clear with such itemized precision, thus racking up major customer service points in our book.
At $28 a month for cellular monitoring, True Protection is the second-most costly and significantly more than Austin All Star Security and Smith Thompson (both $17 a month.) But we see that as an investment because it comes with some unique services that we didn’t see anywhere else. First, it provides a lifetime warranty that covers all parts and labor to keep your system working, with the exception of replacing batteries and panel screens, and protects your investment. Next, False Alarm Protection comes through the monitoring service partner, Monitronics, to cover the first $50 of any fines for false alarms. (In Texas, $50 fines start after your 3rd false alarm in a permit year and become $75 after the fifth false alarm. More on this below.) Having that bit of wiggle room and could save you some frustration while you work out the kinks, and it’s a nice touch that makes us feel cared for.
More good news: True Protection serves not only Austin, but also San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, and they can move your system for free and work with existing systems. All that, plus great customer ratings on Facebook (4.4 stars), Angie’s List (A) and BBB (A+) make this a more grown-up choice for those willing to pay for quality.
Austin All Star Security
Austin All Star Security scored big for having the lowest monthly cost for cellular monitoring at just $17, a price shared only with Smith Thompson, our next in line. Our enthusiasm for the customer experience didn’t match the incredible pricing, but considerable flexibility and great learning resources put this company ahead of the other local providers on our list.
Like Smith Thompson, no contract is required, but AAS is more restrictive in service area (only Austin and surroundings), and there is no mention of the option to move your service to a new residence.
Another bummer: the customer service experience was a bit lackluster, in spite of an A from Angie’s List, A+ from BBB and 5 stars on Facebook. We were immediately up sold on the more expensive “Smart Home” package with $30-per-month monitoring, home automation, and a $350 base cost for equipment, which includes pretty much the same as elsewhere: three door/window sensors, one motion detector, and a cell control panel (it’s the same fancy 2GiG control panel also sold by True Protection.)
After asking for the lowest possible monthly price for cellular monitoring, the amazing $17 was revealed — but we were not told that this was part of a package with different equipment. And on top of that, the website doesn’t provide much help. In the “Standard” package (the $17 landline service) the following items are listed: “$300 Prewire/New Install”, “IP Datatel CATs Cell Unit $89,” and “BAT Cell Unit $129.” We do not know what that stands for, and received no clarification on the call. It would have been great if that would have been at least mentioned it when we showed interest in the lower monthly price instead of being pushed into the more expensive one.
There is also no DIY install option as with Frontpoint and True Protection, but you can add on other equipment to the packages such as carbon monoxide detectors and outdoor motion sensors in a la carte fashion. And what AAS lacked in our phone call experience, it makes up for in pretty great website layout — even despite the fact that it doesn’t readily display its cheapest plan. The three basic packages (Pre-existing system, Standard, and Smart Home) are easy to follow with features and price info listed nicely, and its blog has some great info related to security issues on Austin. AAS involves some give and take, but definitely of value of you’re looking to avoid a contract and one of the packages calls to you.
Smith Thompson rounds off our top 4 for Austin home security. Pricing still comes out as reasonable, though the start-up costs are a tad more overall.
As for contracts, none are required. All that’s needed is a 30-day notice in writing to cancel. But its website explicitly states “NO APARTMENTS.” This is a bit restrictive for our tastes, but at least the company is upfront about it.
Smith Thompson’s service area includes Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston, but it does not offer home automation services. Only the most basic equipment available (i.e. simple keypad control panel by DSC vs. high-tech touchscreen by 2Gig.) If you’re in a house with an existing system, though, Smith will attempt to work with it. If you choose to reuse an old system it will cost only $89 for a new transmitter. Then you can start enjoying that sweet $17 monthly monitoring rate.
Unlike with Austin All Star Security, however, that $17 is balanced out by higher costs elsewhere. It will cost you about $480 just to get started: $300 for the base equipment featuring a simple control panel, the standard three sensors, a siren, door signs, $90 for a wireless transmitter, and $90 for an activation fee. This is more than even the $350 for the premium package from Austin All Star Security.
As with Austin All Star Security, no DIY installation was offered, so no chance to cut costs there. We were also a bit annoyed to learn that cell phone control costs an extra $7 per month whereas that tends to be standard elsewhere with more advanced technology. Again, we’re glad the company is upfront about it.
Even at $480 to get started, you come out with a pretty great deal. You own the equipment outright and said equipment comes with a one-year warranty. For those looking for a way to buy the equipment outright, this could fit the bill. (That price jumps to $650 for a touchscreen pad and a mobile app home automation features.)
In the customer service arena, Smith Thompson is nothing to write home about. Being greeted by a phone tree menu put us on edge, and after we got to a real human sales rep, the conversation was unmemorable. Honestly, we got more direct information online, but an A+ on BBB and an A on Angie’s List give us hope, and we do appreciate all the transparency. All told, Smith Thompson is still solid value and may provide relief with simpler systems at an unbeatable monthly rate.
Permits and False Alarm Fees
Please be advised that the City of Austin requires a permit in order to have an alarm system in your business or residence. Permits are $30 for residential properties and $50 for businesses. They last 12 months to the date the application is filed or the date the alarm is first responded to, whichever comes first. Failure to secure a permit for your alarm system could cost you up to $100 or more in fines as well as an unspecified fee each time the un-permitted alarm is responded to – and that would undo all the great work we did in finding you the best deal.
The application (pdf) can be accessed here. The application itself is not too bad — it’s only one page, and you’ll need the name of the alarm monitoring company. That can be the provider itself, as is the case with Smith Thompson, or a third party, such as Monitronics on behalf of True Protection. Check with your provider to make sure you have the right information.
After that, you might want to take a quick look at the Austin city ordinances on alarm systems. For example, did you know that alarms are not allowed to sound for more than 15 minutes after being activated? Not following the regulations can result in having your permit revoked, so read up.
Also worth noting is that all alarms will be responded to, but there can be a penalty for false alarms. In the state of Texas, you get the first three false alarms for free, but after that, false alarm number four comes with a $50 fine. The same is true for number five, and the fines go up to $75 for six and seven. Then, it’s $100 for the eighth false alarm and beyond, all within the 12 months that your permit covers.
Keep in mind that other cities and counties of Texas have different permit applications and/or ordinances. Check out this list to compare regulations if you’re considering a move.
The Bottom Line
Frontpoint is the fastest way to get up and running for the least amount of money, plus it offers the best home automation technology in the area. The downside is that you’ll need to sign a 36-month contract. True Protection, Austin All Star Security, and Smith Thompson, on the other hand, offer month-to-month agreements as long as you’re willing to put a bit more money down.