Realtors routinely use lock boxes to securely store the keys to a house on the premises. This arrangement allows agents to show the house without first going to the listing agent’s office or some other location to pick up the keys. It also eliminates the need for someone to bring the keys to the property, which would require the agent to make an appointment before showing the property. Understanding how to open a lock box is important for all real estate agents.
Several types of lock boxes currently exist, which use a range of technologies due to the length of time lock boxes have been in use. These include simple keyed and combination lock boxes in addition to more advanced technologies such as key cards and infrared signals. The ready availability of mobile devices with internet connectivity has also given today’s lock boxes additional capabilities besides controlling access to a property. The latest lock boxes are made by manufacturers like Supra and SentriLock, which have distinctly different design philosophies.
Lock boxes are typically installed around the front doorknob of the house. The lock box has a shackle that locks it to the doorknob or similar object. The listing agent maintains the keys to the shackle, preventing the lock box from being stolen.
The biggest advantage of installing a lock box on the front doorknob is that it keeps the lock box in plain sight, where the agent can’t avoid seeing it. This location also eliminates the need for the agent to search for the lock box. The biggest disadvantage of placing a lock box on the front doorknob is that it makes it difficult to open and close the door. Some agents prefer to place the lock box in another location such as the backdoor, gate or garage door. These locations allow the front door to be opened easily, while keeping the lock box out of sight.
Keyed Lock Boxes
Lock boxes from the 1970s were opened with a key, which had several disadvantages. Lock boxes with a unique lock required the agent to obtain the key for that lock before they could show the house. In the case of multiple lock boxes with the same lock, agents could learn how to open a lock box with one key. However, the loss or theft of a single key would render all of the agent’s properties unsecured.
Combination Lock Boxes
The next major advance in lock boxes was combination locks, which entered common use during the 1980s. Agents obtained the combination from the listing company, which they entered into the rolling display on the lock box. They could then slide the latch to release the door, which could then be opened by pressing it on one end.
This design was more convenient for the agent, since a physical key was no longer required. However, thieves could learn how to open a lock box by brute force methods, since the combination only had three or four digits in most cases. Furthermore, the simple construction of most combination lock boxes also allowed them to be easily picked by mechanical methods.
Electronic Lock Boxes
Electronic lock boxes were introduced during the 1990s and are still one of the most common types today. The security of these lock boxes is very good because both a key card and digital access code are required open the lock box. This section describes how to open a lock box that uses electronics, which can vary considerably depending on the specific model.
Agents who are members of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) receive an electronic key card that resembles a credit card. It contains an embedded digital chip with a unique code that identifies the agent associated with the card. When the agent opens the lock box, it records the agent’s ID in addition to the date and time the card was used. This information tells the sellers who showed the house and when they showed it. This can help provide valuable insight into showing patterns.
An agent who wants to show the house must first obtain an access code. This code is typically generated by software, which then sends the code to the agent for one-time use. This feature is highly secure, since it’s nearly equivalent to changing the lock box each time it’s used.
Once agents have obtained their access code, they can insert their key card the slot on the front of the lock box. They can then enter their access code with the numerical keypad, which should cause a green light to display if the correct code was entered. When the light turns green, the agent can open the lock box by pressing the release button. This should open the compartment containing the house key, allowing the agent to enter the house.
Some electronic lock boxes allow listing agents to limit their use to certain time frames for added security. The most common use of this feature is to prevent agents from showing the house outside business hours or otherwise violating the seller’s rules for access. Unauthorized access to a home is also a violation of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) code of ethics.
For most types of electronic lock boxes, the access codes expire at the end of each day. The listing agent must refresh this data after it expires before the lock box can be opened again. This process generally involves inserting a key card into a card reader that’s connected to a computer, similar to when making a purchase with a credit card. The listing agent then logs onto the computer, starts the software for the lock box. The next step is to enter the ID and password for the lock box, which allows the software to upload the lockbox’s usage data from the key card.
How to Open a Lock Box with a Proprietary Design
The major design differences between competing lock boxes often means that a particular MLS organization only promotes lock boxes from one manufacturer. This strategy means that agents in that MLS only need to learn how to use one type of lock box and keep one key. However, this practice isn’t universal. Agents in some areas may need to use multiple lock box types. Currently, MLS organizations who want to recommend a lock box often must decide between Supra and SentriLock.
Supra released its first lock box for the real estate industry in 1955 and is now a leading provider of key management solutions. General Electric currently manufactures all of Supra’s products. MLSs and other real estate organizations manage the Supra lock box system, allowing them to train agents on how to open a lock box.
The iBox is currently one of the most common lock boxes from Supra, which was first released in 2003. This model is a larger lock box with a dark blue color, which has changed little in physical appearance.
The most distinguishing characteristic of the iBox is that it uses an infrared system to eliminate the need for a physical key. Instead, the agent uses an infrared key from Supra such as the DisplayKEY, ActiveKEY or XpressKEY to emit an infrared beam towards the lock box from a range of about one foot. A sensor detects a signal in the beam that includes the agent’s access code, which releases the door for the compartment containing the keys.
Agents can also use their own smartphone to learn how to open a lock box in the iBox series, eliminating the need to carry a separate device. This capability requires an eKEY adapter to be installed on the smartphone. The user must then download the Supra eKEY app, which allows the smartphone to communicate with the iBox. Both the key device and iBox record the access information, which the iBox then delivers to Supra’s secure database. The listing agent can retrieve this information directly from the iBox or from the database with the SupraWEB application. Listing agents can specify showing hours and require prescheduled showings with the iBox.
The iBox BT has Bluetooth capability in addition to the infrared technology of the iBox. Many smartphones work directly with the iBox BT without additional hardware, although the iPhone and iPad devices will need an eKEY. All of Supra’s infrared keys also work on the iBox BT.
iBox BT LE
The iBox BT LE adds Low-Energy (LE) Bluetooth technology to the features of the iBox BT, allowing more smartphones and tablets to communicate directly with the iBox BT LE. Most of these devices won’t require additional hardware, including the latest models of the iPhone and iPad. However, iPhone and iPad devices older than the iPhone 4S will require an eKEY adapter. Supra maintains a current list of devices and their compatibility with eKEY technology.
SentriLock was founded in 2003 by the NAR and is the official lock box provider for the NAR. The current SentriLock system is the NXT series, which provides much greater security than purely mechanical models, since they can’t be physically picked. Furthermore, NXT lock boxes have a double-walled steel compartment that makes them highly resistant to damage and severe weather.
Additional features of the NXT series include an extra-large compartment to hold multiple keys, fobs and business cards. The batteries last for up to six years and can be replaced by the user. They also provide a low-battery notification. The keypad is integrated into the unit and is illuminated for convenient night use.
One of the biggest advantages of SentriLock over Supra is that SentriLock lock boxes allow the listing agent to specify one-day access codes, which are typically used by contractors or homeowners who have locked themselves out. These codes can also be set for specific time periods during that day to help prevent agents from accessing the house without prior approval.
Each day may have up to nine unique codes associated with it, which the listing agent can create up to two weeks in advance. In addition, NXT lock boxes may have three unique, permanent codes that the listing agent can enable and disable. These features allow listing agents to assign both temporary and permanent codes according to user type, including extended home improvement projects, inspectors, locked-out homeowners, out-of-area agents and real estate owned (REO) properties. Assigning the codes in this manner provides the listing agent with useful insight into user behavior when review the lock box’s access report.
Users can learn how to open a lock box in the NXT series with either a SentriCard or the SentriSmart mobile app.
With a SentriCard, users insert the card into the lockbox and wait for the CODE light to turn on. Users then enter their PIN and press the ENT key. Once the READY light comes on, users can then remove the card or press the FUNC key, followed by the 3 key and then the ENT key. The compartment will then open.
For the SentriSmart app, users must register the lock box by entering their SentriLock ID and password before using the lock box for the first time. This ID and password combination is the same one the agent uses to access the SentriCard Utility and SentriLock Web Site. SentriSmart then displays the listed properties based on the user’s current location, allowing the user to select the property they wish to access. If the desired property isn’t listed, the user can also enter the lock box’s serial number.
Once the user has selected the property or serial number, the app will prompt the user to enter the PIN and other information needed to verify the user’s identity. The user then taps the Get Access Code button to receive a mobile access code and instructions for its use in opening the lock box.
Releasing the Shackle
Users can release the shackle on an NXT by inserting their SentriCard into the lockbox and waiting for the CODE light to display. They will then enter their PIN, followed by the ENT key. Once the READY light turns on, the user must press the FUNC key and the 1 key, followed by the ENT key. The user will then need to hold the lock box while pressing the shackle into the lock box until the lock box emits five triple beeps. Once the READY light comes on, the user can pull the shackle out of the lock box.
Users can assign a lockbox to a new listing by first removing it from its current location, which will clear its internal settings. They must then insert their SentriCard into the lock box and enter their PIN, followed by the ENT key. The next step is to assign a new listing address to the lock box by pressing the FUNC key and the 2 key, followed by either the agent’s MSL number or the numeric portion of the new address. Once this information has been entered, the user must renew the SentriCard with a SentriCard Reader, which will provide the SentriLock Server with the new lockbox information and listing address.
Each type of lock box has a different way to open it, especially those with proprietary designs. Supra and SentriLock boxes have distinct methods of operation. Showing Pro synchronizes with Supra and SentriLock lock boxes to automate the showing feedback process. Sign up today for a free 14-day trial of this software.