If you buy a system, Homesecurity.org says, costs start at $400 to $500 for a 1,200-square-foot home. If you lease a system, start-up expenses range from zero to $99, plus the costs of a monitoring package.
State Farm insurance describes monitored systems as those in which a private company keeps watch 24 hours a day, every day, alerting police if something goes wrong and you cannot be contacted.
Monitoring subscriptions can run month to month or up to 36 months, Homesecurity.org says, and it recommends that you obtain multiple quotes "to ensure you are getting the best value." The website offers tips for assessing the type of system that's best for your house, as well as for comparing prices of alarm companies.
If you sign a contract, make sure you know the financial costs of early cancellation if you are not happy. Many security companies place limits on their liability if a break-in occurs, even through their negligence.
There are less-expensive ways to deter burglars, too, such as do-it-yourself alarm systems that aren't monitored, but instead have on-site sirens and flashing lights that alert your neighbors to a break-in. The neighbors then contact police if you aren't home.
In some communities, you can notify the police that you will be on vacation and ask that they check on your house when they patrol the neighborhood. No matter what, it's a good idea to have a trusted neighbor or two look in on the property while you're away, walking around the perimeter of the property periodically to see, for example, if windows or doors are ajar.
Even if you're not planning to be away for long stretches, it's a good idea to give a set of house keys to a trustworthy neighbor, in case a problem arises. You can volunteer to return the favor. The result: a safer neighborhood.
There's no guarantee that any precaution will keep burglars out of your house, but the more you do make it look as if the house is occupied, the less likely it is to be targeted. Among the experts' suggestions:
- Lock doors and windows. Dead bolts are preferable — push-button locks on doorknobs are easy for burglars to open. And special locks are available to better safeguard against entry through sliding-glass doors, which can be vulnerable. Most windows can be "pinned" for security by drilling a hole on a slight downward slant through the inside window frame and halfway into the outside frame, then placing a nail in the hole to secure the window.
- Install motion-sensitive lights in your backyard, and trim trees and shrubs so they can't be used as hiding places. Connect some interior lamps to automatic timers that turn them on in the evening and off during the day.
- Keep garage doors closed and locked, including doors leading into the house. Lock garage windows, as well.
- Arrange with the U.S. Postal Service to hold your mail. You can do this by asking your letter carrier for a card to fill out or by going online. If you have a newspaper delivered, either interrupt the service for the duration of your vacation or have a neighbor take it in for you.
- Arrange for your lawn to be mowed if you are going away for more than a week or so.
- Do not leave keys under doormats or flower pots, or in mailboxes or other "secret" hiding places. Burglars know where to look.
Other precautions are less house-centered, but still important, such as keeping a detailed inventory of your valuable possessions: a description of the items, date of purchase, original value, and serial numbers. Keep a copy in a safe place away from home — this is a good idea in case of fire or other disasters, as well.
And consider making a photographic or video record of valuable objects, heirlooms, and antiques. Your insurance company can provide assistance in compiling the inventory and keeping it up to date.
Finally, avoid doing dumb things that might make even a secure property vulnerable.
Prime example: Posting photos of your trip to the Grand Canyon on Facebook while you're there, even if only a limited number of "friends" can access your page. That's really asking for trouble.
Wait till you get home. The Grand Canyon isn't going anywhere.
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.