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What Are Lockboxes & How Do Lockboxes Work?

It It Safe to Put Your House Keys in a Lockbox?

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Supra lockboxes

Supra lockboxes are used in many states, including California.

© Elizabeth Weintraub
Long, long ago, in the days of Leave It to Beaver, nobody locked their doors. Neighbors walked in your house without knocking. Back then, entire subdivisions didn't empty out during the day, and most people knew everybody who lived on their block.

When listing a home for sale, home sellers readily handed over their house keys to an agent, which hung on a hook in the brokerage office. If you subscribed to a phone service with a party line, your neighbors probably knew when an agent called to show your home and kept an eye out for monkey business.

But then came the lockbox.

Like a fake rock, lockboxes hold house keys, but unlike a fake rock, lockboxes attach to a door handle, gas meter or gate, much like a bicycle lock.

Brief History of Lockboxes

Older lockboxes, dating to the 1970s, were opened by a small silver key, hence the name "lockbox key." Many agents who have been in the business a while still call an electronic display key a lockbox key. Then came the contractor / combo lockboxes. These released by engaging a manual lever in conjunction with depressing the right button numbers in the right order.

By the 1990s, electronic lockboxes were introduced across most of the country. This system recorded access by each agent. The agent would enter a specific code on the display key and then snap the key into place on the front of the box which, when synced, would release the keys.

Nowadays, most agents use a blue Supra box (called an iBox), which is manufactured by GE. These lockboxes operate on an infraRed system, so no key is required. The iBox release mechanism is triggered by pointing an electronic display key or, in some cases, a synchronized cell phone, at the sensor. The sensor records the user's information and releases the bottom of the lockbox, which contains the keys.

Fact: Homes with a lockbox get more showings. If you're wondering about a lockbox vs. appointment, you'll probably get more buyers to see your home if you choose the lockbox.

How Much Do Lockboxes Cost?

Local Realtor associations and/ or multiple listing services charge varying fees, but they range around $100 each, plus sales tax. That does not include the rental for a display key or right to use an eKey. Pam Erickson, a suburban Minneapolis agent at Coldwell Banker Burnet, spends a small fortune on lockboxes, because her association issues lockboxes that need to be replaced after 72 months. Agent Erickson laments, "Every six years, I have to buy 30 lockboxes!" On the other hand, my local multiple listing service in Sacramento sells Supra lockboxes that do not expire.

Full-service real estate agents will provide a lockbox for sellers completely free of charge. Agents who discount services often charge sellers for using a lockbox.

Is it Safe to Put Keys in a Lockbox?

  • Restricted Hours
    Bear in mind that many lockboxes operate during certain hours. For example, my lockboxes do not open after 9 PM or before 7 AM. This lessens the chance that an unscrupulous agent will host all night parties in an empty house. There is rarely a reason to gain access to a property outside of regular business hours.

  • Periodic Placement
    Some sellers feel more secure if the lockbox is not attached to the house. These sellers set out the lockbox in an agreed-upon location after leaving the home or upon a scheduled appointment time. The problem with this method is it's very easy for a stranger to snatch the box and runaway with it.

  • Outdoor Placement
    Other agents feel it is better to put a lockbox on the side of the house, for example, on a gas meter, or on the back-door handle, the garage or a gate. The reasoning is nobody will see it. However, if you have a large real estate sign in your yard, even the dim-witted crooks will figure out that you probably have a lockbox on the side of the house or in the back yard.

    Most sellers feel more comfortable with the lockbox in plain sight on the front door. The main reason to hang a lockbox in another location is if the lockbox interferes with opening and closing the door. If a thug wants to break into your home, please realize that most burglars do not want to call attention to themselves at the front door. They prefer a more concealed entry.

    In conclusion, use common sense and make sure the location of your lockbox is easily accessible by an agent. Please don't make female agents walk through mud in high heels, male agents scoot under low-hanging trees or either gender fight through a mess of overgrown rose thorns to find the lockbox. Some agents won't preview -- much less show -- a home under those conditions.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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