Electronic Lockboxes - Securing your insecurities about them
Let’s talk about something that never gets talked about. Those little dangly boxes on the front door. Why? Because it is a topic that really, really needs to be discussed more.
Lockboxes have been used in the real estate industry for decades. The majority are an old-school mechanical design where a 4 digit code is required for the user to open the box and gain instant access to the key. Gone are the days when a Realtor had to drive around town picking up keys for the various homes they would be viewing and dropping each of them off later that day at the assorted offices. I think most realtors would agree when I say good riddance to this archaic form of entry.
With the speed of today’s real estate market, could you imagine if we had to wait until the keys were returned from the previous showing before our showing could commence? Yeah, that just wouldn’t work. I have been at listings where there are 15+ agent & buyer groups walking around a property at one time. This would need to be spread out over three to four days under the old school method of scheduling a showing.
Access to the home and convenience are all great attributes of the mechanical lockbox, but somewhere along the way we lost sight of one of our most important duties to our client - to ensure the safety of their home.
If the public only knew how insecure some of these mechanical lockboxes really are there would be hell to pay. Here are a few of my favourite lowlights:
Any combo will do
For starters, that 4 digit code I mentioned above… well, those numbers don’t even need to be pressed in the correct order. Yup, any combination of the correct 4 numbers will open the box and in most cases, these numbers are fairly identifiable as they tend to be easier to push and more worn down with usage than the other shiny numbers. Top-shelf security indeed.
Good ’til whenever
There is no expiry on the code. Once someone has the code they can enter the box at any time they desire without notification until the code is changed. This can be especially problematic with vacant listings. From my experience, Realtors have even returned without permission as they feel there is no need to request access when it’s vacant. Justified break and enter.
Same ol’ same ol’
Now I am just as guilty as anyone on this next one. Many agents use the same 4 digit code for all their listings, it’s a simplicity thing on the admin side. But, if you know the code to one of their listings you can more than likely gain access to all of them.
Look I get it, 1 code is much easier to remember than multiple codes and on top of that remembering which code for each individual property can be a logistical nightmare, but should the convenience for ourselves outweigh the security for our clients? Not a chance.
Pass it around
Codes are not unique to one user. Once someone has the code they can simply provide it to a third party for them to access the box. We heard stories of this during the boom of 2017 & 2018 around the Kitchener/Waterloo with out-of-town Realtors booking showings and flipping those codes to their clients to enter the property without the supervision of their Realtor. Unreal, yet true,
You see the potential problems here? We are exposing our clients to a large amount of risk to simply save us driving around town to pick up keys. At least with the old picking up keys method, there was a log of where the keys were at all times.
Enter the world of electronic lockboxes
I can remember attending a brokers meeting in 2018 when the idea of electronic lockboxes was first pitched. Personally, I loved the idea, this seemed to address many of the potential problems with mechanical lockboxes outlined above while still maintaining the convenience factor. A true best of both worlds. However, it was met with mixed opinion. Change is always difficult, you will get those early adopters and then you will get those that dig their feet in and fight it.
The biggest issue for most was the added expense. Electronic lockboxes are over double the price of the standard mechanical box. No disagreement there but, the same could be said for a virtual tour being almost double the price of standard photos, yet many opt for the virtual tour option. The point here is this is a value-added service for our clients - heck, it’s the basic service of protection.
Electronic lockboxes provide our clients with a superior level of security during the listing, there is no argument to be had. If it costs more, too bad. We are running a business here and businesses cost money to run right.
Electronic lockboxes keep a log of each and every time the lockbox is opened and closed, as well as the user that opened it. Now we can see when that Realtor decides to revisit our vacant property without providing notice. Entry can even be restricted to a specific time period for those selfish Realtors that show up an hour after the scheduled showing. True story - I once had a Realtor walk into my client’s house over an hour after the scheduled time without even knocking and were extremely rude to my clients as they were trying to eat their dinner in their own home.
The duration of the showing is one of the most attractive features of electronic lockboxes. I can now control when Realtors are allowed entry and I can also now inform my clients when a showing has finished up and they can go back to their home. In most cases, Realtors will book showings in 1-hour windows and our clients are put out for an entire hour even though the showing may last only 10 minutes. Wouldn’t it be great to know when that showing wraps up so we can let our clients know they can return home? Electronic lockboxes have you covered.
Electronic Lockboxes are trackable. If you are like me over the course of an 11-year career in sales you have likely misplaced a lock box or two… ok, several. Electronic lockboxes are assigned to your listings so you actually see where each one of them is. No more questioning whether or not you remember to pick it up and leaving it to rust on someone’s front railing. I really could have used these when I was still selling …
Electronic lockboxes are more secure. I have had to break into my share of lockboxes over the years and it is amazingly simple with the quick pry of a slotted screwdriver. The electronic lockboxes are more tamper resistant and do not easily pry open. They are also more reliable during our harsh Canadian winters. We have all shown up to a home in the middle of winter only to find the lockbox frozen solid. Our buyers are left frustrated as we were not able to gain access and the Sellers were disrupted for a showing that never happened. So far, the reports I have heard from local Realtors are that the new electronic boxes are much more resistant to freezing.
Electronic lockboxes for the win. Without a doubt, but I did save one complaint - One-day codes.
For those Realtors who are not using the system, a one day code can be sent to anyone the listing agent decides to issue too. This code will grant them access for a 24 hour period using a computer-generated code. The good news is this expires after 24 hrs, but this still does not stop agents from flipping that code on to someone else.
The working alternative for out-of-board Realtors is to download the correct app and the showing instructions will be sent through the app. Now, only the Realtor can open the lockbox using their phone. This app also restricts the time the lockbox will open to the time it was actually scheduled. Perfect.
I applaud our local real estate boards in Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener/Waterloo for making Electronic lockboxes mandatory across the respective boards despite some opposition. Sure, they are more expensive than the traditional mechanical lockboxes, but in the end, it’s always what is best for the client that matters most.
It would be great to see other boards across Canada adopt a similar strategy to elevate our industry as a whole.