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Comparing Four Bids on Security Systems

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Getting bids for the installation of a professional alarm system can be a daunting and time-consuming task. And with an estimated 15,000 people licensed to install professional systems in California, it’s impossible to get bids from all of them.

To give you an idea of how much a system might cost to install in your own home, The Times contacted four alarm companies and asked them to give security recommendations for a two-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot Los Angeles-area house. A diagram of its floor plan accompanies this article.

To eliminate the possibility that any of the firms would intentionally “low-ball” their bids to get extra publicity, we didn’t tell any of them that their recommendations and estimates were part of a series on home security.

Representatives from each firm took about 90 minutes to evaluate the home’s security weaknesses, make their sales pitch and present their bids. All were courteous, punctual, nicely groomed and generally well informed about the security business.

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The four firms contacted were ADT Security Systems, one of the area’s largest alarm companies; Sears, Roebuck, which contracts its work to independent firms; Superior Security Systems, one of the Southland’s most heavily advertised companies, and Cal/Vada Security System, a small outfit headquartered in El Monte.

ADT

The system recommended by the ADT sales rep would do a thorough job of protecting the house.

He suggested putting magnetic alarm contacts on both the front and back doors, and a third contact on a sliding-glass door that leads from the patio to the guest room. He also recommended installing a fourth contact on a kitchen window that overlooks the home’s secluded back yard.

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The salesman also suggested using two motion detectors--one in the living room, and another in the hallway.

The motion detector in the living room would eliminate the need to put an additional contact on the French doors that lead from the living room to the patio, the sales rep explained.

The detector in the hallway would sound an alarm if someone broke in through the bathroom or master bedroom and tried to move to another room.

We were especially impressed that the ADT rep made several suggestions that would improve the home’s security but had nothing to do with the alarm system itself.

For example, he suggested that we put epoxy on the brackets of the louver windows to make it harder for a thief to remove the glass panels, and provided tips that would make the French doors less susceptible to break-ins.

The price for all this protection was reasonable: $880, including a smoke detector.

We did, however, have a couple of problems with the ADT bid.

First, we’d have to sign a contract agreeing to have the system monitored for three years. If we didn’t like the service, we would still be contractually obligated to pay the company $29 a month until the agreement expired.

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Worse, we wouldn’t actually own the equipment installed in the home: We’d only be leasing it. If we wanted to buy the equipment outright and forgo monthly monitoring, the sales rep said, the system would cost about $1,800.

We should note that ADT itself would do all the monitoring, instead of contracting the service out to other monitoring firms. In addition, ADT was the only company we checked with that had a local central station, and the rep welcomed us to visit the facility before we signed up.

SEARS

The system suggested by the Sears representative was nearly identical to that of ADT. There were two exceptions: The rep suggested we put a motion detector in the living room and a transmitter on the French doors that lead into it, but didn’t recommend putting an alarm on the kitchen window.

We felt that putting both a detector and transmitter in the living room was overkill. We also didn’t like the idea that a thief could enter through the unprotected window in the kitchen, even though he’d trip the alarm if he then ventured into another part of the house.

Sears bid $1,610 for the job, and we’d own our own equipment. We would get a 3% discount if we paid by cash or check.

Sears asked that we sign only a one-year monitoring contract. Although its $22 monthly fee was reasonable, we didn’t like the fact that our system would be monitored from a central station in Washington state--too far away for us to personally inspect it.

SUPERIOR SECURITY

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You’ve probably read or heard Superior’s advertisements that tout its $99 security package. Not surprisingly, it’s a bare-bones system: For $99, we’d get a motion detector for the living room and contacts on the front and back doors.

If we added all the equipment needed to get the same level of protection offered by the other companies, our bill would have totaled about $450.

To get the system we wanted for that price, we’d have to sign a contract agreeing to have the system monitored for three years at $29.95 a month. The monitoring would be done by a central station in Texas, so checking out the facility would be difficult.

If we wanted to skip the monitoring, Superior would charge about $700 for the equipment we wanted.

CAL/VADA SECURITY

The smallest company on our list, Cal/Vada also had one of the lowest bids.

The sales rep from Cal/Vada offered to provide the same amount of protection as the three other companies for $800. We’d also own the equipment instead of leasing it.

An important factor, the man who gave us the bid said he would be the person who would install the system.

He explained some of the wiring difficulties that we’d have during the installation process--which made us feel more confident that he wasn’t underbidding the job--and gave us additional insights the other three security firms couldn’t provide.

In addition, we’d only have to sign a monitoring contract for six months. On the downside, the monitoring would be performed by a central station in San Diego--once again making it difficult for us to check the facility out.

Security System

Basic protection package recommended by four firms ranged from contacts on front and back doors and living room motion detector to additional contacts and hallway motion sensor.

Times staff writer Evelyn De Wolfe contributed to this story.


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