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8 Great High-Tech Tools for Home Security

08/21/2019 Alena Savchenko

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Smart devices can secure your home and make life easier. For example, there’s no need to juggle groceries and keys, with a Bluetooth-enabled or voice-activated front door lock.

The apps and voice recognition technology homeowners use to open doors, turn on lights and watch the front door is continually advancing, especially around home security. It’s an exciting time, as consumers face a rapidly changing marketplace, with new tools and tricks becoming available almost weekly. For example, users can now ask Alexa to arm the Ring Alarm, and later this year Google Assistant will enable voice access to authorized brands.

Most smart tools are integrated with existing Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit, Google Nest Hub and IFTTT platforms, although some are standalone products.

Here’s a rundown of high-tech devices, tools and apps that can help secure your home:

1. Smart Locks

With smart locks, you’ll skip hiding the front-door key under a rock for a pet sitter, a contractor or grandma. Instead, a shareable digital “key” can be created and deleted by the homeowner — and even provided to others — using an app. Smart lock extras include touch-to-open technology, remote locking, door-ajar notifications, voice control and even visitor logs.

Review smart lock options with Consumer Reports, which includes household names such as Kwikset, along with newer players, such as August Smart Lock, which works with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. The smart lock industry is rapidly changing, and new locks debuting this year will contain energy-efficient Wifi chips.

2. Smart Garage Door Openers

While remote openers have long been on the market, the newest generation offers benefits such as a single smartphone app to control multiple garages, LED lighting, compatibility with voice-activated Alexa and Siri, multiple users and user tracking, geofencing (which detects when your phone enters or leaves a virtual geographic zone) and notifications upon opening.

Many garage door openers work with smart home systems and can trigger the lights to come on inside your home as you park. Other Bluetooth-enabled gadgets can open the door for you as you approach. Reviews of smart door openers are available at Tom’s Guide.

3. Smart Lights

Burglars look for empty homes to raid when owners are at work or on vacation. Smart lights can operate on a preset schedule, mimicking your daily patterns, or get turned on and off remotely, via an app on your phone. Outdoor lighting helps increase exterior security. Smart lights can be integrated into a security system, or purchased separately either online or at your local home supply shop. Read reviews and decide which bulbs will brighten your day.

Additionally, smart home blinds and shades can lift and lower according to your command, and reinforce the perception that someone is active inside the home. Read reviews and consider the options — even IKEA will offer blinds.

4. Smart Mail

Mail theft is a growing concern. Home mailboxes can be outfitted with battery-powered wireless devices that detect motion when mail is delivered, then send an alert via in-app notification, email or text. As well, some apps such as MailHaven can be integrated with Amazon Alexa to deliver real-time updates about packages en route.

One brand new product, Parcel Guard, is a large, advanced mailbox and contains a motion-activated camera, motion sensor and alarm to keep your deliveries safer.

5. Security Cameras

Smart cameras, like Blink or Arlo, can detect motion inside and outside of the house, and record up to a week’s worth of video surveillance via a camera that can be mounted on the wall or nestled on a bookshelf or other flat surface. Additional security features include loud noise and motion-activated recording, zoom tracking, infrared night vision and two-way talk capabilities.

Special extras sometimes come with an additional price tag. For example, Nest Aware’s monthly plan provides alerts when dogs are barking or familiar faces appear, and offers special zones for attention (such as a baby’s room), as well as 24/7 recording. Compare camera prices and features at PCMag, and review functions and data privacy with Consumer Reports.

6. Smart Device/Speaker

Yes, the devices you already own can even listen in and alert you to potential problems. For example, Echo’s new “Alexa Guard” feature sends a smartphone notification if she detects a loud noise such as breaking window glass; Echo’s speaker could even be used to startle intruders or talk to others visiting your home. Alexa Guard also allows you to turn on and off lights, to mimic being at home.

The Alexa “Calling” and “Drop-In” features can let you listen in on a room using the Echo, and the Echo Show can display a room.

7. Video Doorbells

Who’s at the door? Worry no more. Smart doorbells integrate features such as live-stream video through a tiny, wide-angle camera, alerts via a smartphone app and conversation capabilities with delivery personnel and visitors. Nest Hello partners with insurance companies in some parts of the country, while Ring Video Doorbell works with American Family Insurance.

Advanced cameras can recognize faces, announce visitors, detect motion, shine spotlights, record your greetings and share videos. Some, such as Altro Smartlock, are both smart locks and video doorbells, and as systems (such as Ring) are acquired by larger companies, expect more integration.

8. Self-Monitored Security

While you can boost home safety using the tools listed above (a video doorbell, cameras on ground-floor windows, motion detectors and smart lights), sometimes it’s easier and cheaper to buy a packaged DIY security system.

Self-monitored, wireless security systems can typically be installed by the homeowner and used with a mobile application. They typically include a motion sensor, keypad, windows and/or door locks, and a hub that connects all of the devices.

With self-monitored security, rest assured there won’t be any false alarms that bring the fire department, expensive contracts or time-consuming installs. Of course, there are drawbacks to such freedom. You would not be able to count on any automatic calls or external notifications, which could then leave you in lack of backup security and support. Most systems can have professional monitoring added on for a monthly fee. Read more about security systems at Consumer Reports and compare top options like Ring Alarm, Vivint Smart Home and Simplisafe at PCMag.com.

Keep Your Tech Tools Safe

While gadgets are getting smarter every day, so are burglars, identity thieves and others who want access to your home, its contents or your identity. Review safety tips for smart devices, along with ways to boost your router and hub security.

Be sure to guard your email against phishing scams, which use fake links intended to steal your passwords, account numbers, and other personal information.

Phishing can also be used to attack your home’s tech tools with ransomware, as demonstrated by security researchers Andrew Tierney and Ken Munro in 2016 at the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, NV. The two researchers were able to hack into a smart thermostat and download ransomware that gave them complete access to the controls of the device, locking the user out. This sort of hacking can allow a thief to demand a ransom for the user to regain control of the gadget. Such a demonstration shows just how important it is to be wary of any attachments you may receive, even from friends or other seemingly familiar sources. The smartest rule to follow, as suggested by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): don’t open email attachments, such as PDFs, unless they’ve been previously approved or you’ve been expecting them.

If you’re considering boosting your home’s safety intelligence with smart-tech upgrades, consider completing your purchases all at once to ensure tools work together on a similar platform. Doing so can save you time and money, helping to avoid the need to update any incompatible equipment to accommodate the latest gadgets added to your smart home.

At PennyMac, we understand the value your home brings, and the peace of mind it gives to protect your investment and your family. These smart devices add the extra protection and convenience we all seek to make home a safe haven. Should you decide it’s time to upgrade to a new home that can accommodate the best and latest smart technology, we are here to help you make the smartest decision possible. Contact a PennyMac Loan Officer to go over your options, or apply online now to get started.