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Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX Properties SW, Inc.

Our board switched over to electronic lock boxes quite some time ago. There are two types of keys. One is a small keypad which the agent carries separately and the other is composed of software for certain models of cellphones. Both versions use an infrared to beam the unlocking codes to the lock boxes. The cellphone version even offers the ability to leave feedback for the listing agent.

Each key must be updated daily for it to open lock boxes. When the key is updated, it connects to the system's central computer system and uploads the identification of the lock boxes it opened. If the listing agent logs onto the system website and links the lock box id to the listing MLS number, the system will tell the listing agent who showed the property on a daily basis.

This system works very well and allows the listing agent to keep track of activity on their listings. It even makes it possible to email a showing report directly to the seller. An additional benefit is that the seller feels far more secure, since the people entering the property are known.

When we made the transition to this type of lock box, our board kindly accepted our old lock boxes in trade so that the cost was minimized. Periodically someone in our office will move out of the area or retire and they usually sell their lock boxes at somewhat of a discount, so the boxes are often available for a reasonable price.

There have always been agents who, for one reason or another, decide to use manual combination boxes. This may be because the combination boxes are about 1/3 the price of the electronic box. It may be because the combo boxes are readily available in most hardware stores. Now, it seems as if the number of combo boxes in use has increased until every other listing has one.

I realize that foreclosures and vacant short sales don't have sellers who are terribly concerned with security, but think of the liability these agents are taking on. They aren't really restricting access to only real estate agents.  In fact, I know of some agents who list these types of properties and give the access code to buyers with instructions to look at the house on their own.  Granted these agents are busy, but...

Years ago, we knew an agent who had a vacant listing which needed some repair. He placed a combo box on it (this was before electronic lock boxes). The handyman was hired by the out-of-state seller and did his job with no problem. The house was under contract and scheduled to close within a couple of weeks. The buyer's agent requested access and the listing agent gave him the lock box code. You can imagine his surprise when he stopped by about a week prior to closing and found the buyers had moved in the day before and were living there. He arranged for a pre-occupancy agreement very quickly and the buyer closed on schedule, so it worked out OK, but it might not have.  Note: I've seen many problems arise with pre-occupancy, so I can't recommend it, but that's another topic.  Incidentally, the buyers in this case thought they were within their rights since they fully intended to close!

Part of our job is to ensure that the properties we've listed aren't placed at risk by our showing practices. We take on a certain amount of liability when we allow a buyer unescorted access to a property. Maybe your seller doesn't care if you do this, but if the property gets vandalized by someone who had access through your combo box, I'll bet the seller will look to you for compensation. In my opinion, we're not properly representing our seller's best interest unless we use the best tools available.

Pat Fenn
Marketing Specialist for CJ Realty Group/Cindy Jones Broker - Springfield, VA

We see buyers wandering around in houses all the time with no agent in sight.  When we question them they say oh our agent gave us the combo.  As an unlicensed assistant my "boss" doesn't even give me the lockbox code combo to avoid liablity.  I can't imagine what an agent is thinking who gives it to a buyer to wander around on their own.

Jun 15, 2009 01:32 AM
Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS
Fathom Realty Washington LLC - Tacoma, WA
South Puget Sound Washington Agent/Broker!

Eric, That's why it requires a license. Much like the fishing or hunting license, we are always on the prowl...

Jun 15, 2009 03:17 AM
Andrea Swiedler
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties - New Milford, CT
Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT

Eric, I don't like the combo boxes, you can't keep track of anything at all. Very unsafe. We still have a group here that uses them, a rather large group. Just think it is bad business.

Great post.

Jun 15, 2009 07:37 AM