Access to listed properties has changed significantly over time. Long before I became a real estate broker, an agent wanting to show a listed property might have to go to the listing office to sign out the keys and bring them back after the showing. That approach would certainly not work in today’s market where 10 or more showings might be scheduled in a single day.
Then we saw the introduction of lockboxes, usually with alphabetic dials, like those padlocks on high school lockers. When I first confronted one of those lockboxes as a new agent, I had forgotten which way to turn first, and I took way too long to open the lockbox. It was quite embarrassing. They don’t teach that skill in real estate school!
Lockboxes with numeric push buttons are more common now, and they are my favorite for two reasons. First, you can open them in the dark, since you remember where each button is located. Second, no one will know what the code is by looking at it after you open it. Lockboxes with dials allow a buyer to look at the lockbox after it is open and memorize the code for unauthorized use later on.
Agents should never allow their buyers to know the lockbox code, nor should they give it to another agent, inspector or vendor without approval from the listing agent. Writing the code on a listing sheet or other paper which could be seen by the buyer is a no-no. I record the code for individual showings on my iPhone where only I can see it. If I’m showing several listings, I print out the agent instruction sheet for me, giving my client a version which does not have the lockbox codes.
Abuse of lockbox or other access is a serious matter that can subject a broker to suspension or loss of his/her license.
Electronic lockboxes are struggling to gain acceptance in our market, although they are quite common in other markets. These boxes will only open for agents when they are allowed access, preventing them from returning on another day or at another time without additional permission. Codes are unique for each showing agent, allowing listing agents and their sellers to know exactly when each agent came and left.
The main reason electronic lockboxes have not caught on here is that abuse of the mechanical lockboxes has been quite rare. We have insurance to protect our sellers from losses related to unauthorized access, but in two decades as a listing agent, I have never filed a claim, just as I have never had a loss sustained during an open house.