EPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Locking In Efficiency: Brad Larsen

LOCKBOXES – does your office use them? While more popular in the USA than here in Australia, LPMA 2017 speaker and successful property management business owner Brad Larsen believes they can add to your existing key management systems by improving efficiency and reducing incoming office traffic.

If you’ve never used a lockbox, simply put they are a small, padlock-shaped box that hangs around the doorknob of a house. In the US, they are used quite regularly for houses that are on the market, particularly when several agents are involved in each transaction. Basically, the device holds the keys to a house to allow access for real estate agents while continuing to keep the property secure.

In property management, we use them for multiple purposes to improve business practices, meaning we don’t encourage tenants to come into our office at all, if possible. And there are a variety of different lockboxes that suit different purposes.

1 Combination lockboxes
These are the simplest type of lockbox. They are released by engaging a manual lever in conjunction with depressing the right button numbers in the right order on the front of the lockbox. In some cases the combination won’t work outside specific hours, such as 9am and 7pm.

We are fond of using combination lockboxes. We have weather-proof, laminated stickers printed, numbering the lockboxes from one to 250, with each numbered sticker relating to a four-digit combination recorded in a spreadsheet that is safe and under password protection1. We have three to four copies of the printed labels. This way, when a lockbox has to be de-commissioned you can replace it easily with another sticker and new lockbox.

2 Supra (US Only)
Our local San Antonio Board of Realtors adopted the Supra boxes a decade ago; they use infra-red technology to open them. They have served well throughout the duration, but their batteries are starting to go and they may no longer pop open with the electronic signal from your mobile phone or key fob.

3 Satellite boxes
The latest trend is what may be called satellite boxes. These are the newest type of code boxes that communicate signals via satellite to allow them to open. An example is sentrilock.com.

The simple lockbox can be seen as a form of convenience to your tenants that could be enhanced. Renters will appreciate the streamlined effect of their showings, move-ins, maintenance and move-outs. In many cases, they may be willing to pay for this convenient service, possibly creating an additional revenue stream for your business.

Showings – accompanied
To facilitate easy access to homes, we employ combination lockboxes. Each lockbox has its own specific four-digit combination and is given out to licensed agents when they use a Centralised Showing Service2 (eg showings.com) to show one of our homes. Most regular lockboxes can assist in accomplishing an ‘accompanied showing’, where one of our agents is with that prospective applicant during the showing.

Showings – unaccompanied
These types of showings have been gaining more and more traction in the last few years in the US, especially with the advent of more secure/satellite/Bluetooth lockbox technology. In most scenarios, you would get some sort of ID or credit card to validate the prospective tenant prior to granting them access to either a code or further instructions in using one of the satellite lockboxes. Some of these ensure access only in certain hours of the day.

Trades and suppliers
Suppliers of trade services love simple lockboxes with combinations. Mostly, they do not want to go to an office, sign out a key and then return it – which in my opinion is no safer than a lockbox.

The technology in satellite lockboxes allows each tradesperson to be assigned a specific code to access the satellite box. The benefits include being able to track the tradesperson’s access, although the cost of technology (and unfortunately technological failures) can run pretty high.

If a combination lockbox is already at the home during the time of showing, your business could also put some thought into allowing for a lockbox move-in with newly leased homes. You could consider this the ‘Fast Pass’ – like at Disneyland – where the newly signed-up tenants can go straight to the home and gain access via the combination lockbox or satellite box.

We insist upon the new tenant signing the lease and paying the first month’s rent prior to the release of this lockbox code. If you require them to sign the lease agreement in person at your office, there may not be a place for this technique. We have found that some tenants are extremely happy not to have to come to our office in heavy traffic just to pick up a key.

You may want to leave the lockbox somewhere attached to the home (not in plain sight) in order for you to conduct inspections if the tenant is not at the residence.

This technique has excited us the most because it’s going to make it easy for the outgoing tenants to surrender possession of the home back to the management company. Since we are allowed to re-market the home to new prospective tenants during the last 30 days of our standard lease agreement, a lockbox is put onto the home with a key inside. Rather than the tenant driving to our office in traffic to turn over keys, we allow them to sign an electronic form and to then send us an email picture of the keys and remotes left behind. This gives us a date and time stamp of the home being ‘surrendered’ on our email system – and visual proof of what keys or remotes were left. If a remote that was supposed to be there is not, the tenant would get charged.

Editor’s notes 1. In Australia, systems like Keylog/Logitout could also fulfil this function. 2. It is much more common in the US ‘outsource’ open homes than in Australia.

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Brad Larsen

Brad Larsen Brad is the founder of RentWerx in San Antonio, Texas and is also the founder of the Property Management Mastermind Conference in the USA