Key Frustrations

By Dave Fratello | October 13th, 2014

Consider the key. That small sliver of metal that stands between you and all of your possessions – and the great outside world.

When you put your house on the market, you need to trust that your key is going to be used wisely and carefully.

But you have to find a balance between openness (letting people in to see the house) and privacy (making sure the key isn’t abused or doesn’t fall into careless hands). In the real world, sometimes that balance gets upset.

Here are some wrinkles, little dramas and frustrations that we've seen and heard about recently out in the field – with lockboxes and beyond.

Lockbox won't open. South Bay-area lockboxes are high-tech now, using Bluetooth to connect to smartphone apps to open up a key box.

But what if it doesn't? The agent looks bad, even if it's a tech problem. The buyer might think, "Hmmm, is that an old phone? Does my agent not know how to use a simple app?" Whoops, you're fired.

Incompatible, old-school lockbox. It's rare, but possible, to run across a listing in the area here – or in a nearby city – where the lockbox isn't one of the newer Bluetooth units. You might have to go fishing for an adapter or old remote that uses the (prior) infrared technology. You probably won't get in without calling the listing agent's office for help. At least in this case you can point out that it's the archaic tech of the listing agent, not your fault.

The key's not there. Go to a house where there have been renovations going on, and you may find a combo-dial box instead of a typical realtor lockbox. These are often shared with the contractors who come and go. It's supposed to be convenient. Yet, alarm bells go off when we see those old little boxes: More than once we've found that the contractors took off with the key. No access that day.

Lost keys, found keys. On one listing we had recently, the out-of-area sellers entrusted a single key to Dave. A buyer's agent was then given the key to show the property – and lost it after locking up. We had to call in another key just to get back in. But no worries, the buyer's agent eventually found it – and began dropping by the property at will for inspections and follow-up tours. Surprising.

On another listing where Dave maintained one key entrusted by sellers, there was a contractor with his own key coming in and out of the property to do some occasional work. One morning, the contractor had lost his key, and rushed Dave over to the house to open up and close up when his crew was finished. That was not exactly the original intent.

Agents barge right in without checking or calling. A lockbox is secure in that only authorized agents with the app can open them, but the little boxes can't make people behave.

Twice recently, we've had agents disregard the MLS instructions about showing one of our listings, which requested advance notice before dropping by a family's home to show it. Instead, the agents marched right up, popped out the key and let themselves in.

Each time, this made for unwelcome intrusion on the sellers in their home. Neither time did the sellers break out in a rendition of, "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake." Suffice it to say, that shouldn't happen.

In this day and age, when you don’t even need a key to start a car, the fact that you need a key to open a house maybe seems a little old-fashioned.

But even if we moved to fingerprint recognition or retinal scans, it would be hard to make sure that the people who needed access could get it, and only at the right times. What’s the solution? Everyone with a key ought to be careful with it. Those with a right of entry should be respectful.

And no one should expect a warm welcome – or a slice of cake – for breaking the rules.

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