This is the second installment of Property Pitfalls, a series where I discuss some of the hazards out there waiting to ensnare unsuspecting homeowners. Today’s topic: Security system contracts from the big name national companies.
Crime is all over the headlines, and if that wasn’t enough of an encouragement to install a security system for your home Brinks/Broadview Security and ADT, the two big national alarm companies, put out plenty of advertising to remind you just how vulnerable you are. But think twice before you sign a contract with one of those big companies, because you may have trouble getting out of it and may ultimately end up with nothing to show for it.
When I was young and stupid (about five years ago) I signed a contract to have an alarm installed and monitored by Brinks Home Security, which has since been renamed Broadview Security. The sales pitch sounded good: they would install a system in my home free of charge if I allowed them to monitor the alarm for a monthly fee, and a portion of that monthly fee would be offset by a discount on my homeowners insurance. So I stupidly signed a contract with them, and only later realized the many gotchas in the deal:
- By signing a contract, you are locked into a contract with them for three full years, and if you fail to notify them in writing that you want to cancel service your contract will be automatically renewed for an additional year at the end of the current contract term. This isn’t like your cell phone where you can go month-to-month after the contract expires, and trying to break the contract at any point will subject you to an avalanche of fees.
- The free system they offer to install is likely completely inadequate for most homes. What is included in the standard install is a single keypad, two door or window sensors, and a single motion detector. If you want other doors covered or motion detectors installed, it will cost you extra.
- The equipment you are “buying” isn’t really yours! You’ll notice in the fine print of the contract that the alarm system installed in your home is property of Brinks. If you cancel service, they can request that equipment back. Even if they don’t request it back, the control panel and keypads are proprietary and will not work with any other alarm system. If you want functioning alarm equipment, you’ll either need to resign with Brinks or pay someone else to install new equipment in your home.
- Alarm monitoring through Brinks is much more than you can get through other providers. Brinks current monitoring rates start at $31.99 a month. We found another highly rated provider in the Houston market that provides service for $16.99 a month with no contract, while some online-based providers charge as little as $8.99.
Your best bet is to find a locally-based company to install and monitor your alarm. You may pay a little more for the equipment, but you will ultimately have a functioning system without being locked into a single provider. While there is nothing technically illegal about what Brinks/Broadview and ADT are doing, this is ultimately a raw deal for consumers. Whatever company you go with, be sure to get recommendations from friends, research the company with your local Better Business Bureau, and make sure their monitoring service is UL certified (this is what qualifies the monitoring for a discount on your homeowners insurance). And please, please, READ THE CONTRACT IN FULL!