If you have a large, vulnerable home or priceless possessions inside it, it makes sense to consider installing a home security system.
There are do-it-yourself home security options, such as an exterior perimeter alarm that will shriek when your home is broken into.
However, this type of home alarm system has you relying on your neighbors to take action should a break-in occur.
The sound might scare off some burglars, but thieves today are hip to the fact than many law-abiding people, jaded into complacency by the daily wail of false car alarms, tend to turn a deaf ear more often than they pick up their cell phones to call the authorities.
Professional home security systems, on the other hand, call you moments after your alarm is triggered; if you don't respond, most companies will immediately dispatch a call to the local police.
Besides, installing a do-it-yourself alarm system can require technical know-how, though virtually all come with detailed manuals and technical assistance via the Internet.
If you're handy, you might want to give installation a go. You can find alarm systems online and at home-supply stores.
Just buying a new dead-bolt lock or adding a few nails to your sliding glass door may be the cheapest safety measure, but home security systems are far more effective.
And while self-installed system may be less expensive than professional home security systems, they're also much less effective. A fully monitored system is the best value for your safety dollar.
Today's improved technology and competitive marketplace has made such systems more affordable than ever. And what do you get if you do decide to bring in the security pros?
Most systems include magnetic door and window contacts that trip the alarm when separated, a control keypad, and a siren alarm.
In these systems, the central feature is an around-the-clock monitoring station that responds to any security breach to calling you.
If you don't answer the call and provide your password, the police will be sent to your home.
Should an intruder break in while you're there and force you to turn off the alarm, you can key in a special code that will send a silent call for help.
An alarm-system professional can also install handy features such as fire alarms and motion detectors, and panic buttons near your door or bed that silently summon police or medical help.
Most alarm systems are simple enough that a visitor or school-age child can learn how to operate them. Some systems allow you to assign temporary secondary codes so that a house guests can use your security system without knowing your master code.
Ultimately, the decision to install an alarm system in your home will hinge on how much security you need and whether you think the peace of mind that you stand to gain is worth the cost of professional home security systems.
If you're ready to take the plunge with a security professional, you can contact a crime prevention specialist at your neighborhood police department and ask for a list of qualified companies in your area.
Friends, neighbors, and insurance agents may also be able to give you names of a few reliable security companies.
Before scheduling an appointment to have your security needs assessed, make sure the company and its employees are trustworthy.
Ask each company how its employees are trained and certified, and whether the company has the appropriate state or local licenses. As an added safety measure, consider scheduling the appointment for a time when another adult will be home.
Ask for the name of the person who will be calling on you, and ask to see that person's company ID before admitting him or her into your home.
Once inside, the representative will inspect your home and ask questions about your schedule, your kids, and your pets. Your answers will guide the person in creating a system customized to your needs.
During the visit, be sure to point out any valuable or irreplaceable items that bear special consideration: Great-Grandma's jewelry, the wine collection in the cellar, a child's baseball card collection.
After completing its survey, the company should provide you with a written description of the system it recommends that you install, and a price quote for installation and monthly monitoring fees. Installation costs are usually based on the number of door and window contacts you have requested for your home.
Ready to get started? This guide to compare and review home alarm security systems from Consumer Affairs can help.