Forget Who Moved My Cheese... Who Stole My Sign?

Real Estate Agent with I.V.P.G. - Inland Valley Professional Group

Hi All,

Lately I have been spending a considerable amount of time shepherding buyer's from home to home in search of their perfect place.  And lately, most of what we are visiting is either a Short Sale or a Bank Owned Home. 

I have seen more than a few homes which have had things missing, faucets in the kitchen, light fixtures in the hall, a built-in bookcase, etc.  Usually I have chalked this up to overzealous homeowners taking what they felt was "rightly" theirs.

But I have also begun to encounter something which is distressing, dismaying and downright depressing.  The keys to the homes are turning up missing from key-boxes and we are not just talking about the folks who insist on using the old fashioned combo boxes, we're talking about electronic Supra key boxes.  And its not just the keys that are going missing, I have also begun finding out signs are getting poached as well.

Now, I am willing to believe that perhaps the signs just "grew legs" on their own.  It could happen.  I am even able to envision a band of merry pranksters bounding happily from property to property gathering rosebuds and For Sale signs where they may.  But am not able to stretch my mind far enough to allow that these selfsame free spirits are accessing these key-boxes and innocently and quite conveniently, neglecting to replace the key, yet remembering to lock every door, after they have finished viewing or showing the homes.

The thing that makes me most unhappy is realizing that the folks doing the key boosting, especially in the case of those removed from the electronic key boxes, have to be other agents.  It is no coincidence that whenever I have encountered the missing key, missing sign, phenomenon it appears to coincide with a "hot" property that has received multiple offers.

Perhaps there are some agents out there who think that this is a way to "protect" the property so that their client's won't have as much competition.  Perhaps they think that they are acting in their client's best interests or perhaps they are just great big hairy poo-poo heads with no concern for anyone but themselves and no comprehension of the code of ethics those of us who have chosen to become Realtors® follow.

Here's the thing... I know it is possible to put the key in your pocket and, what with juggling a cellphone, Supra Key and the myriad of other things that find their way into your fingers, to forget you popped that puppy into  your 501's.  But don't you think you might realize it when you went to lock the door, or reached into your pocket again or at the very least, did the laundry? 

And, if you find a random key somewhere on your person, would it kill you to give a call to the agents whose listings you have shown to give them the heads up that you may have made a boo-boo and abscounded with the key.  'Cause, I've got to tell you I am getting pretty dang tired of being the one who seems to get stuck being the bearer of bad tidings.

I'm also thinking that this key snagging thing is not a great strategy to pursue.  I'm hearing tell that some banks are starting to insist that their REO agents not put keys at the property at all, but instead want their properties to be shown by appointment only and for the keys to stay at the agent's office. I don't know about you, but I sure don't want this to become the norm again.  I can count on three fingers of one hand, the number of agents in my neck of the woods who regularly and consistently answer their cellphones and/or return their calls.  Nowadays with gas prices soaring, I don't want to have to drive all over creation gathering up keys in some perverse type of Short Sale scavenger hunt.

Sure, stealing the key might delay someone seeing the home.  And taking the sign will lessen the number of folks who will drive by and get curious, but it won't stop someone who is determined to view the place.  And if you really want to help ensure that your client is the victorious buyer of the property, don't engage in larcenous acts on their behalf, just put the key back where it goes, leave the sign swinging in the breeze and help your clients craft the best offer and everyone wins.

Take care, help lots of people and have a wonderful day!




Comments (90)

Mary Pope-Handy
Sereno Group Real Estate - Los Gatos, CA
CRS, CIPS, ABR, SRES, Silicon Valley

OK that is TOTALLY depressing and grim!!

I once had an "open house" sign stolen, but that's it. I've had agents accidentally walk off with the key and bottom part of the Supra box, but not the kind of rampant stuff you're been running into. Since I've had that kind of thing happen on rare occassion, often I do put up two lockboxes (combo AND Supra) "just in case" (and carry another key with me, also "just in case").

Wishing you an easier time of it from here on, Tisza!!!

Aug 14, 2008 04:14 PM
Esko Kiuru
Bethesda, MD


"Protecting" the property by taking the key and the sign, too, is a good one. Some people do go to great lengths to get something done and to hell with the rules and codes of ethics. That's too bad.

Aug 14, 2008 04:36 PM
Chris Upham

Amen Sister Friend!!  I've seen the missing keys happen...And, even just today I got to the next house on my showing tour and realized I still had the key and supra lock box in my pocket...but I immediately drove back to the last house and replaced it :-)

Aug 14, 2008 05:32 PM
Jim Frimmer
HomeSmart Realty West - San Diego, CA
Realtor & CDPE, Mission Valley specialist

Hey, Tisza.

I was laughing and crying at the same time reading your post. I not only find missing keys when I'm showing someone a property, but other agents sometimes call me wondering why I don't have keys in my lockbox. I'm about ready to buy stock in my local keymaker.

The only time I have signs walk away is when I'm having open houses near a college or university that is in session. It's amazing that when they are not in session, signs don't disappear. Hmmmmm.

Aug 14, 2008 05:49 PM
Tisza Major-Posner
I.V.P.G. - Inland Valley Professional Group - Claremont, CA

Hi All,

Missy - I often wonder what makes people do the things that they do.

Brian - Thanks.  I am glad you enjoyed it.

Michael - Oops can happen to anyone, but this seems to be less of an oops and more of an evil laugh.

Edith - Here, here.

Mary - I have a tendency to put the spare key in the secret box and keep one with me as well... nothing like a little healthy paranoia I always say :-)

Jean - Good suggestion, it might be tough to implement but it also might be worth trying.

Esko - Ethics?!  Now we're supposed to have ethics?!  Nobody mentioned ethics to me :-) 

Chris - Yes, they happen sometimes and if the agent is honest like you were then it wouldn't be a problem and this blog would never have needed to be written.

Jim - Glad you enjoyed this.  Interesting about the university connection, you wouldn't be suggesting that our best and brightest, those future pillars of our community would have anything to do with your signs taking wings would you?

Take care all, help lots of people and have a wonderful day!


Aug 14, 2008 06:27 PM
Bob & Carolin Benjamin
Benjamin Realty LLC - Gold Canyon, AZ
East Phoenix Arizona Homes

Haven't seen signs go missing here (yet) but have seen keys take legs and not be in the boxes. Can not imagine showing listings where the keys are all on offices like in the 'olden days' before lock boxes. With Phoenix spread out forever and gas so high, that would become a real challenge for everyone.

Aug 14, 2008 06:41 PM
Evelyn Panning
Property Connections Realty Inc. - Alturas, CA

Well, there may be agents who keep keys deliberately, but in my market they just "forget" to put them back.  One of the reasons why most of us don't use lockboxes in our area is so that we can keep track of who had the key last.  We aren't sophisticated enough to have surpakeys here. ~Evelyn

Aug 15, 2008 01:16 AM
Brian Wray
Wray Realty - Holly Springs, NC

We have not had to many keys go missing, but we certainly have had quite a few signs go missing.  I think there are some agent looking to stifle the competition and take signs, but I also realize that some times the town or city has been taking them as well.  I lost four signs before I got a call from the local town, telling me my sign was too far into the right of way...(by the curb). and so they were taking my signs on this one home.  Other have disappeared where they should not, when other company names...have stayed put.  Coincidence???  I think not!!   But how do you prove it.

Good Post!!

Aug 15, 2008 01:51 AM

we are seeing that all over the place...

Aug 15, 2008 03:42 AM
April Hay, ERA Pacific Meridian

This is happening to me, too.  With multiple offers coming in on a regular sale, the agent who had presented one of the offers walked off with the key, as determined by the electronic lockbox.  When confronted with the question of what happened to the key, she just said she didn't know if she had it or not.  The evening of the day she took the key, another agent wanted to do a final showing to his client before putting in an offer that he said would be$25,000 more than the offer presented by the theif.  He and his clients couldn't get into the house, so the agent decided to take his client to another property for which they put in an offer. That missing key may have cost my client $25K!The thief never returned the key, so we had to go through the time, cost and annoyance of getting a new key made.  The seller was out of area, so this was not an easy task. 

On that same property, a couple weeks earlierier, the sign was missing. Someone called about wanting to see the house three blocks down the street--a house that wasn't even listed. We determined that our missing sign had been installed in front of a house where the people were not even thinking about selling.  These are really squirrely, desperate times. 

Aug 15, 2008 04:05 AM
Kathleen Rollins - AZ Real Estate
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Chandler, AZ

Common around here as well, Tisza. I have had my Open House signs disappear, only to find them reused as Yard Sale signs and recently have been the bearer of bad news to Listing Agents re: keys missing AND DOORS LEFT UNLOCKED. 

I always call the agent to advise if there is something wrong (broken windows / doors) but with the number of homes that are foreclosures what appears to be "recent" may not be.  For example: The listing states refr / range/ micro / dishwasher yet when we view - the kitchen is totally gutted. The agent stated, "I know, the owner took everything a month ago."  I spoke to an another agent about a missing Air Conditioner... she said "would you have shown the property is I said it was missing?"  I replied,  this is beyond "puffing" and she should correct it.

Perhaps they are too busy, perhaps they are negligent, perhaps they are deceptive... Either way, it is frustrating to schedule showings to find something other than what you expected. It affects the reputation of our industry as our clients experience the disappointment. Prevention -  preview as much as possible, and for those clients that want to see everything - a little verbal notice that some of the homes are in rough shape or not as they appear online.  


Aug 15, 2008 04:47 AM
Linda Carroll
EXIT Northwest Realty - Olympia, WA

I passded a local sign-hanger at the off ramp this morning.  The cougated vinyl sign he was holding toward traffic said "starvin' like Marvin--anything helps" written on brown paper.

As I passed him I turned to see what the other side said.  It said "Jane Doe, agent, Such&So Realty."

So at least that sign went to a philanthropical cause.


Aug 15, 2008 05:16 AM
Nancy Milton Holtzscher
RE/MAX Alliance in St.Louis' Illinois suburbs - Edwardsville, IL
Edwardsville/Glen Carbon, Illinois Broker, REALTOR

My Open House signs sprout legs all the time, especially in certain towns in my area where it's actually the police who gather them up and dump them behind the station for a few days before they toss them.

The missing key and "for sale" sign thing is a new one on me, however. I will keep an eye out. Just recently we had someone show one of our listings and leave the back door wide open when she left. Makes you wonder what people are thinking.

Aug 15, 2008 07:02 AM
Jesse Barron, REALTOR® - Real Estate Made Easy™ in Anne Arundel County, MD
Keats & Co. Real Estate, LLC - Annapolis, MD

People steal keys from my lock boxes all of the time.  They don't realize that it's easy to figure out based on:

  • Showing Log
  • Immediately after the keys disappear, the present an offer for their clients

Proving it is another thing.

Aug 15, 2008 09:16 AM
Kelsey Barklow
Hurd Realty - Johnson City, TN

Here's a good one for you: a Realtor in my area (Johnson City, TN) said the key was missing out of the lockbox and she would have to wait several days to hear from the bank (foreclosure) about rekeying the house so no showings right now. In the same breath she mentioned that there were three offers on the table for the house. Now how did those buyers even get to see the house if the key was missing??? The next day (Friday) the Realtor said the locksmith was over there and that he would be putting new keys IN THE MAIL to her and she would get them next Monday or Tuesday. (Both she and the locksmith are in the same city.) So by the time she gets a key and puts it in the lockbox, the house may already have a contract on it. Of course I can't be sure at the moment but I'll bet she's working both sides on one of the offers. How unscrupulous it that?!? There's even a back story to this where this Realtor put in the MLS that there was a verbal offer and they were just waiting for documents to be signed. She kept it Active in MLS BUT she took the lockbox off and the sign down during this month-long wait. And then the key disappeared (see above) and then there were three offers...  I hope I never have to actually work with her but at least I'll be on my guard.

Aug 15, 2008 03:07 PM
Myrl Jeffcoat
GreatWest Realty - Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent

It is amazing what some culprits will do to lessen the activity of a particular property they may have a bid on.  As for missing keys, our MLS has began warning about showing property simultaneously with other agents.  If you are the agent that took the key out of the lockbox, you need to be the agent that returns it.  The lockbox will tell who had access.

As for those signs which seem to be jogging off into nowhere, that's a little more difficult to determine.  How did those signs evolve their legs and then galavant off into the sunset.  There could be many agendas out there - (1) A buyer/bidder trying to squelch the competition. (2) Neighbors, who are concerned a vacant property will invite vandalism, etc.  It's probably not likely that another agent would steal a sign - but not impossible.

Only a webcam could possibly provide insight!

Good luck!

Aug 15, 2008 05:04 PM
Tisza Major-Posner
I.V.P.G. - Inland Valley Professional Group - Claremont, CA

Hi All,

I had no idea that this was so widespread.  Perhaps by bringing this issue to the forefront we can all start to take steps in our own business communities to change the future.

Bob and Carolin - Glad to hear things haven't hit there... yet, and hopefully they won't.  I agree, the idea of having to drive to every agent's office or wait for them to show up a the listing to show a property holds no allure for me either.

Evelyn - There truly is a lot to be said for knowing "who had it last".

Brian - Thank you.  Yes, sometimes the city is indeed at fault.  Here in Claremont the sign placement regulations are very stringent and for those who choose to be unaware (I went to the city as soon as I started my business to find out what the rules are so I wouldn't run afoul of them) code enforcement can have a field day.

Marvette - I am sorry to hear that.

April - I find it truly amazing that right now in what is one of the best buyer's markets we've had in recent memory with more inventory available to choose from than you can shake a stick at, anyone would decide to resort to such dishonest tactics.  Shameful.

Kathleen - I agree.  I also let the listing agent know when I find anything irregular at a showing.  Thus, my tendency to be the first one to report something damaged, missing or otherwise out of order.

Linda - Yes, it is good to know that now that sign is going to good use instead of being wasted by being allowed to just "hang there".  :-)

Nancy - Makes you wonder if these folks all live indoors themselves when they don't have a clear understanding of how a door operates.

Jesse - You've got that right.

Kelsey - You sure will be on your guard.  Sometimes I wish we weren't bound by that "don't say anything negative about another agent" rule. When things like this occur should be allowed to be brought out into the open. 

Take care, help lots of people and have a wonderful day!


Aug 15, 2008 05:09 PM
Gary Smith
Agent Marketing Today - Commerce Township, MI


I glanced at some remarks.  Non post signs are sometimes cut apart and apparently sold for scrap.  Talk about a dog eat dog world.

Glad to see you're posting again.

Aug 16, 2008 08:10 AM
Gary and Shannon Kiernan
Dominion Real Estate Partners - Cave Creek, AZ
Cave Creek Arizona Real Estate Blog

For agents that take keys on purpose, lockboxes and signs, all I can say is "What goes around, comes around".  Hopefully you'll get yours!

Aug 19, 2008 04:35 AM
Troy Erickson AZ Realtor (602) 295-6807
Good Company Real Estate - Chandler, AZ
Your Chandler, Ahwatukee, and East Valley Realtor

Wow, stealing keys?  I once had a sign and post completely stolen from one of my listings.  It was a listing in a city where I normally don't do business.  I'm pretty sure a local agent was trying to send me a signal.  I am a firm believer of what comes around goes around.

Dec 17, 2008 12:10 PM