A home security system can provide protection and peace of mind. However, it can also take a large chunk out of your wallet, especially when you encounter unexpected costs. The advertised cost is rarely, if ever, the amount that you will actually pay. Let’s take a look at some of the ways costs can increase and how you can get the biggest bang for your buck.

The first thing you need to do is decide what you mean by “home security system,” says Lee Odess, vice president of solutions provider business at Allegion, maker of Schlage locks. “The old days of that meaning a panel, window and door sensors, a siren and monthly monitoring have changed,” he says.  “Nowadays you have the ability to define what that means to you – is a video doorbell enough? How about a smart lock? Fully integrated system where you hire someone to install and monitor it for you?”

You also need to determine the critical areas of the property that you want covered. “Take into consideration whether you want an indoor or outdoor system and if you want the cameras to be visible or hidden,” advises Maurizio Pejoves, director of P&O Global Technologies, which provides surveillance camera systems and other technology. “Lastly, consider the possibility that you may want to expand your system to add more cameras; choosing an expandable system that is capable of adding more cameras will cut future costs,” Pejoves says.

You also need to decide what you want to protect. “Traditional burglar alarm systems do a good job at detecting break-ins, but today’s smart home security systems offer much more,” says Thad White, director of product management at Ooma, which makes smartphones and security products. There’s peace of mind from knowing when people come and go from your home, such as when the kids come home from school,” he says. “There is protection against fire, water leaks and storm damage.” You have the potential to know what’s happening when you’re not at home. 

However, White says you also need to know your limitations. “Do you rent a home, or even an apartment, that might not allow for invasive security system installs?” After you determine your needs, you’re in a better position to determine which type of system you want and how much it should cost.

“Nowadays you have the ability to define what [home security system] means to you.”

Lee Odess, Vice President of Solutions Provider Business at Allegion

The cost of a basic home security system with two doors and a motion detector generally retails at about $850, according to Dave Sinclair, president of CEI Alarm in Reno, NV. “If a client chooses to add monitoring, the system install usually runs about $199, with $30 a month for monitoring.”

Sinclair says there should never be any hidden fees. “Users can expect to see extra fees when using different monitoring services, such as a cell unit for monitoring, mobile applications, such as using a phone as a keypad, home automation devices or cameras.” He says it’s important to review all of the extra services available to be aware of any additional fees.

And some of these costs add significantly more to the advertised price. “Any systems that require hardwiring or extensive installs require professionals to set up, so be cautious of what you’re paying for and keep in mind that installation could add anywhere from $500-$2,000 to the total cost,” White explains.

Some common fees and additional costs include:

  • Professional installation
  • Monthly monitoring fees
  • Cancellation fees
  • Add-on devices/services
  • Service calls/maintenance fees

You could also incur extra fees for breaking your contract, so you need to consider how long you plan to stay in the home before signing on the dotted line. “A home security system contract could be for one year or five years, although it’s usually for three years,” says Rebecca Edwards, senior safety expert at SafeWise. And she says some companies charge anywhere from 75% to 100% of the remaining contract amount if you break the contract. “There are also companies that provide monitoring on a month-to-month basis. Since you don’t have a contract, you can suspend the service without incurring a cancellation fee,” Edwards explains.

When searching for the best company and price for your needs, Pejoves says it’s important to research reliable companies and read customer reviews. “A reliable brand’s product will have been on the market for a substantial amount of time and will have positive customer reviews,” he says. “It’s very important to choose a brand that offers a warranty on your product and great customer service.”

If you want the best return on your investment, Sinclair recommends a basic system with basic monitoring. “However, I always recommend adding a lifetime warranty, so that you are covered for things like service calls.” He says that service calls can be quite expensive, ranging anywhere from $125 to $200 or more an hour, depending on the company.  “The cost of a lifetime warranty is small in comparison and offers users the peace of mind that they are covered — and a good company will even include batteries as part of their lifetime warranty.”

You might also want to consider a DIY security system.  “The best DIY systems, unlike traditional home security, have no mandatory subscription fees and no contracts,” says White.

A DIY system may sound intimidating, but he says they’re designed for easy installation. “Also, consider a solution that doesn’t require any drilling or wiring through walls,” White says. DIY home security systems can be installed by simply sticking sensors where they’re needed and connecting to your existing Wi-Fi network, then monitoring the system through an app on your smartphone.”  

If you’re installing a Wi-Fi-powered camera with no wiring, Pejoves says you’ll have to manually replace the batteries in the rechargeable power source. “If the batteries are not replaced, the system will not be able to capture footage,” he warns. And he brings up another issue. “In South Florida, for example, most houses are built to be hurricane proof and this factor can cause the Wi-Fi signal to be weak,” Pejoves recommends using a wired system because it ensures that your system is always charged and recording your property.

However, White offers a different view. “Wired systems are typically impacted by power outages since they are connected to power sources inside the home, whereas wireless systems will function in the event of a failure,” he says. “DIY security systems and smart cams on the market today are often equipped with a rechargeable battery, so a power outage won’t prevent your device from recording any incidents.”

Some police departments ask homeowners if they would like to register their security systems with local law enforcement. In the event of suspicious activity in the neighborhood, local police would contact them to view footage from their home security system. You should also check with your local government to see if there are registration requirements to consider. Home security companies can also factor this in as they work with you to create a package, but it doesn’t hurt to double check.

A home security system can make you feel safe, but choosing the right one can be confusing. Establish your objective, and then research companies. Also, understand that the advertised price may be the starting amount. Some people might prefer professional installation, while others take the DIY route. Carefully evaluating your needs and options beforehand can help you make the right decision and potentially lessen the impact on your wallet.