Confused about which panel to buy and who to deal with ?
There can be a great deal of information to deal with after getting several quotes from suppliers! Remember, in Ontario, unlike every other province in Canada, or state in the USA, this is a totally unregulated market !! There are no regulations governing who can operate a security business, so just about anything goes !! It is very much a “buyer beware” market….
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Following are some guidelines to help you wade through the mess of conflicting facts and pricing schemes:
1- Before you even start your shopping, you must make a basic decision as to HOW you wish to purchase; then investigate within the ranks of those companies who’s business model mirrors that pricing structure. For example, the two extremes in the marketplace are:
|Full-Priced Install, Fair Monthly Fee, No Contract including free service, 100% warranty, monthly term only, and a 5 year rate guarantee. This can be the least expensive way to buy over the long term. However, it is not reasonable to expect major up front cost breaks on the equipment when buying this way. Anyone doing so is probably just entering the market, and is “buying” your account at a loss, hoping for your ongoing monitoring business over the longer term. Often companies operating like so offer some form of warranty, and are clear about their service fees.||Nothing-Down, Nothing Up-Front (“Free” Systems) **, megabucks a month in excess of $50 per month under a long term non-cancelable contract for from 3 to 5 years. Usually minimal equipment coverage without extra upfront costs. Often, warranties cost extra and service calls are not cheap. Note that in most cases, after the initial term of the contract has expired, the high monthly price remains. At that point, you may wish to shop for a small or medium dealer who will “takeover” your future monitoring, service and warranty requirements at significantly lower cost to you.||** “Free Systems” systems are a perfectly legitimate way to buy any product. However, alarm companies that advertise “free systems” are being deceptive; this is basically a dishonest way to market, and should always put any potential buyer on high alert…..|
Most alarm companies market within the middle ground, including a contract term of some length for monitoring services, and with or without no cost after sales service and warranty. Here you must shop around, since prices vary all over the map !!
Caution: Do not believe the line handed out by large companies (mass marketers and others) that no one except small unstable dealers will market services without a long term contract. This is simply their way of justifying maintaining a decidedly “consumer unfriendly” status quo !!
Remember the one rule of thumb in this and any other business….” You only get what you pay for” !!
2- Do not buy on price alone. The lowest price is not always the truly lowest price over the long term. You must compare costs over a five year period based on initial cost, cost of monitoring, cost of service calls, and cost of warranty. If you do decide on the “zero down” option, know beforehand exactly what you are locking into by way of total cost, service, and contract length (you should always ask about your options for early termination of the contract – this can be quite an eye opener !!) While price is always a major consideration, too much preoccupation with price alone can blind you to other equally important concerns. Again, I emphasize, understand fully what you are locking in to, and what your commitments are !!!!!
3- Do not allow yourself to be locked into a monitoring contract in excess of one year if purchasing your system outright. Remember, a contract does not in any way serve your interests, and is there solely to protect the dealer’s monitoring revenue stream ,or to pay for the “free alarm system” equipment and labour. The argument that it guarantees you long term price stability is just not so with most alarm company contracts. A contract length of one year is more than sufficient to ensure longevity of service from a dealer perspective. You WILL have to shop around though to find a more progressive company that does not lock you in to a term contract of some length.
4- Shop for your dealer with the same care you shop for your system. Look very closely at the person or firm you are dealing with. Will they be here tomorrow when you need service (this is especially important here in the Ottawa area, where people enter and leave this business on a monthly basis). These amateur “trunk slammers” are responsible for a lot of poorly installed systems purchased by people too quick to purchase on price only. My partner and I often comment on how we rarely see the same faces at distributor sponsored events from month to month). The smaller the dealer, the more you should examine his qualifications to do the job, ie: number of accounts, years in business, backup service capabilities etc. Remember, there is currently no licensing requirements or background check required to set up a security business in Ontario.
On the other hand, dealing with a large corporation guarantees you very little as a consumer, other than most certainly costing you more, with generally a far less personal level of service, and having to sign a binding contract which can and often does get sold as these larger corporations swallow each other up. (For example, Brinks / Broadview Security has just been purchased by the largest alarm company in the world (who’s name I am legally blocked from even mentioning on my website….another long story !!)
5- Be just as careful dealing with large companies as you would in dealing with smaller companies – maybe more so !! Often, being a large corporation, they can not or will not be as flexible on price or unique requirements that you may need or ask for. This seems to come about due to a certain level of “institutionalized bureaucratic stupidity” ingrained in most large corporations today!! Often too, that dealer who represents himself as the large national is in fact an independant dealer linked to the national through a largely un-supervised “authorized dealer program”, and who sells that account to the large national, largely bowing out of any further involvement in after sales service.
While I admit my bias in this respect, I happen to personally believe that the best providers of residential security are usually small to medium sized companies. Large companies excel in large industrial security applications.
If purchasing one of these so called “free” systems, you will be contractually bound for from $30 per month to as high as $50 per month for a period of time. If at the end of the contract period, you do not request your fee to go down to pay just for the monitoring (now that you have finished financing the system), they will leave your monthly payments at the higher level. The ethics of this situation I will not bother to comment on !!…. At this point, shop around for monitoring from another source and do not pay more than $20 monthly (monthly term contract).
6- Don’t pay much attention to companies telling you how their panel is better than everyone else’s. In this industry, every installer / company has a panel which they prefer and in their mind, everyone else’s choices are poorer. At security get togethers, this is always a point of lively discussion!! As long as you are buying professional equipment, and it serves your current and projected needs, all will serve your basic security requirements (DSC, Paradox, Ademco, Napco, Caddyx, ITI, FBI, Linear, Europlex, to name a few common makes – Radio Shack and Home Depot systems do NOT qualify as professional grade equipment!)
7- Choose a hardwired alarm system over a wireless system. Although wireless systems have come a long way over the last few years, they remain generally more prone to problems and false than a hardwired system of equal quality. They are also considerably more expensive. Some difficult locations may truly require wireless components, but the usual reason a company recommends wireless is because of the decrease in labour costs involved in not having to run wiring. This allows them to put in two systems a day rather than one, thereby generating more monthly recurring monitoring revenue. As well, it doesn’t require qualified installers to complete. Mass market companies heavily into the “free system” sales concept often specialize in wireless equipment. Avoid like the plague, companies that advertise two way voice services through high pressure television promotions. These people are NOT offering you value for your money for a multitude of technical and service reasons, too numerous to mention here.
8- Follow your gut instincts about the person or company you are dealing with. Do they seem honest in their sales approach to you, or do they exert high pressure to close the sale. Be especially careful dealing with a pure salesman who is not himself going to be involved with the actual installation- they can be tempted to say things to win your business which may not be accurate or possible to do. Many “security consultants” (translation – sales staff) are short term in this business (especially with the mass marketing companies out to sell long term contracts), and may not be fully knowledgeable about security specifics and alarm system design. (Doing sub-contract work for large firms, we experience by far the greatest problems when going in behind a salesperson who has promised impossible things in order to close the sale, and we then must break the unhappy news as to what realistically can and should be done).
9- Ask your friends for their experiences with their alarm companies. Did they come when service was required ? Did the service cost money, and if so, was the price reasonable? Did the company clean up after themselves? Smart alarm companies know that word of mouth is the very best advertising for security services. However, use that as a starting point only, but make your own decision. Most people (provided they haven’t experienced problems) will wax eloquently about their choice of firms. To do otherwise is against human nature!
10- Ask about the company’s “false alarm policies”. Reputable companies who care about their reputation will gladly pick up false alarm fees assessed due to failure of the actual equipment.
11- Discuss up front any special requirements you need to ensure your new panel has that capability. While you may initially purchase for reasons of theft prevention, you may later decide to add to the system to cover fire, heat, cold, gas detection etc. Avoid installing a panel which is at capacity from day one. Leave yourself room (at least one zone) to add on additional requirements which you may need in the future.
12- Insist that your company check all internal software settings via upload/download software after installation. Surprisingly, most companies do not check their panels via upload/download software !!!…..(Even being as careful as I am, I still make “finger trouble” programming mistakes in one out of five installations, which need corrective action via uploading). Also look for a company which programs in “cancel codes” and “recent close codes” for your protection against false dispatches which can cost you money.
13- When you make your final decision, don’t put any money down up front. That should never be required since the equipment costs are not in the same league as a furnace or air conditioner !! Smaller firms that do this are generally running their business on a shoestring budget, and this can be an indication of the level of service you can expect later on. It also makes it more difficult to withdraw from the agreement should you change your mind before the job has begun.
14- Discuss the design of your system with several companies and look for a design which covers all traffic areas inside the home. For example, one medium sized company in this area typically installs no motion detectors, relying solely on glass break detectors to provide inside protection. This is clearly defective design in that should the burglar pry open a window rather than break it – far more likely with heavy modern double pane windows – there is absolutely no protection whatsoever.
15- Insist on a guarantee that the equipment you are purchasing is not “proprietary” and can be monitored by any other company. Many larger companies especially are guilty of installing this type of equipment to prevent you from leaving them in the future. Insist that after the term of any contract, should you wish to go elsewhere for your monitoring, that:
a)- Your alarm panel can be serviced by any other monitoring station, and
b)- At no cost to you, the company will reset your installers code back to factory default, and unlock the board so it can be reprogrammed (this is vital – and get it in writing as part of any contract)
c)- NEVER sign any contract on the spot. Sit down and compare the three price quotes you obtained, and make your decision in the “calm light of day”. You will likely be with this company for some time, so make the correct decision up front.
And finally, one last word of caution – any salesman that insists that:
a- The deal is “only good for so long”, and that you “must make a decision now”
b – You should sign up for his deal immediately because “there have been a lot of robberies on your street”, etc should be shown the door in short order !!
Most importantly, remember that your alarm system can not be effective unless you have done the physical security updates needed first to keep thieves out to begin with – good locks, good strikes, patio door security, and window bars for all your basement windows (sorry… I feel I have to add this again because it IS every bit as important as your alarm system!!)