As a baby boomer growing up 

in a much simpler time, my parents would send me out to play ‘until it got dark.’

We lived in that small town where I knew, if there ever was an emergency, I could just knock on the nearest door and that person would call my mom. Nobody had a burglar alarm; perhaps just a barking dog or, in our case, two. They were protection enough, merely by the deafening sound of their barks when a stranger approached our door. Of course, there’s nothing scarier than two adorable miniature schnauzers, threatening to lick you to death! 

When Grandpa and I moved to Discovery Bay in 1990, it was small like my hometown, and we never had an alarm system. If we ventured out on the boat for the day, we would leave the back sliding door unlocked for easy access upon our return.

As time went by and the town grew, some folks felt the need for a security system, and when we moved to Brentwood a few years ago, we decided to investigate these systems for our new home. Times have changed, and with people traveling out of area and posting their pictures on social media, the idea of an alarm system made sense.

Shopping for a service that fits your needs and your budget can be a tad overwhelming, and kudos to Grandpa for doing a lot of homework. He continues to monitor the different options and keep tabs on pricing. Although it can give you great peace of mind, getting the right system in place can be a headache. Pricing is all over the board, and certain contracts are long and binding.

Basic home security systems are typically wired to a central control panel in the home that will activate when windows or doors are opened while the system is armed. The keypad to turn them on and off is usually placed by the front door or the door from the garage to the house, depending on your normal mode of entry. More advanced systems add fire and carbon monoxide alarms, motion sensor and glass-break detectors, and some also have automation options, such as controlling home lighting and temperature.

Remote access from a cell phone is very common, so you can turn the system on and off remotely and check to make sure it’s armed when you are away. This is Grandpa’s favorite feature, since in the beginning, we would ask each other in the car if we turned the darn thing on.

Seniors who either live alone, travel often or just feel the need for this service should get several price quotes for both system installation and monitoring. Start off with either a referral from a friend or look at what Consumer Reports has to say about ratings. Check for complaints against individual companies with the Better Business Bureau and weed out salespeople who try to intimidate or pressure you into a quick decision.

The inability of salespeople to explain how the system works is another red flag. In a recent report, Consumers’ Checkbook found prices vary widely and, according to them, have no real relationship between quality and pricing. They found some of the lower cost places rated very high and some of the pricier ones didn’t rate as well.

Three basic things to investigate while considering a system are the price of the installation and initial unit cost, the monthly fees to monitor it and the length and terms of the contract. The extras that can be added should also be reviewed and considered before signing on the dotted line.

Keep tabs on ads. Even if you have an existing service, don’t be afraid to ask for a loyalty discount or to have them honor their new advertised pricing when it comes time to renew. They don’t want to lose you as a customer for a few dollars a month. 

Basic safety, with or without an alarm system, should always start with locking your doors and securing your windows before you leave the house. When you’re on vacation, put lights on timers and have someone pick up newspapers – or place them on vacation hold, along with your mail, which is easy to do online at or at your local post office. If you are home, keeping those doors locked is wise as well.

I love my town and my wonderful neighborhood, and for the most part, I feel quite safe, but having a little extra security and that sign in front of my house gives me a bit more peace of mind – that and my sweet neighbor, whose two dogs will let me know if danger lurks. Thank you Rambo and Jenny!

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at