MONEY MAGAZINE Real Estate: Value Added

Home security for less

With the economy down, burglary is up. But you can get solid protection at a reasonable price.

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By Josh Garskof, Money Magazine contributing writer

Josh Garskof, Money Magazine contributing writer
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(Money Magazine) -- The combination of a deep recession and widespread law-enforcement funding cuts will most likely spell a banner summer for burglars. If your house makes a good target - it's upscale, off the beaten path, and in or near a city - an alarm system is your best defense, according to Temple University economics professor Simon Hakim, who studies security and policing. Installing one will reduce your risk of a break-in by two-thirds. To determine what you really need, follow the guidelines below.

Don't overequip

A top-shelf security system that includes a detector on every door and two on every window could set you back thousands. But unless you have Picassos hanging on your walls, it isn't necessary, says Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, a trade association dedicated to reducing false alarms.

For the most part, a basic package that secures all exterior doors and includes a handful of well-placed motion detectors will stop the average thief. Also get smoke, carbon monoxide, and flood-alert devices (about $250 each), which operate even when the burglar alarm is disarmed.

Vet the companies

Alarm installers will drill holes in your walls and woodwork - and will know how to bypass your security system - so you need them to be honest as well as skilled. Collect referrals from friends, neighbors, and trusted tradesmen, and verify that the companies are members of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association.

Compare long-term costs

Get price quotes from at least three companies. A basic system should cost $1,500 to $2,000, says Martin. You'll also need a monitoring service, which will send the cops to your door when an alarm is tripped. Monitoring ranges from $20 to $50 a month, plus $10 to $30 more if you get cellular backup, which ensures a distress signal will come through even if your phone line is cut. Since alarm companies make the bulk of their profit from monitoring, some offer discounted or free installation of a basic system when you sign a contract.

Consider a few extras

Make sure to get keypads with digital readouts (about $100) that clearly identify which detector has tripped, so that you and the monitoring center know immediately if the problem is carbon monoxide or an open dining room window.

If you have plaster walls, consider wireless detectors, which require no drilling or snaking of lines (the cost is about the same as for the standard models - and battery replacement comes at no extra charge). And if you have or would ever get a dog or cat, ask for pet-immune motion detectors (an extra $50 to $100 each).

Of course, a canine can make a pretty good alarm of its own, with no battery replacement necessary. Just daily walks - and a treat every time he barks at a passerby.  To top of page

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