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The Great Lockbox Debate

by Chicago Agent

Lockboxes seem like harmless, inanimate objects. However, mere mention of the subject can cause sparks to fly among industry professionals. Some agents associate the terms “lazy” and “unprofessional” with lockboxes, while others see the lockbox as a source of convenience and a way to ensure that a property is always available for viewing. You may have your own thoughts on the topic now, but see how you feel after reading the great lockbox debate. By Farrah Hodges

There are few topics that can bring even the most reserved agents to blows, and the increasing use of lockboxes has many in the industry divided into distinctly different camps.

The crux of the issue is lockbox misuse by unprofessional, or even unscrupulous, agents. Many argue that lockboxes are the “lazy” agent’s stand-in, simply a way to get out of a showing. Others fear the lockbox short-changes the client, making it a particular disservice to the seller.

On the other side of the fence, proponents argue that when used effectively as a professional tool, the lockbox actually maximizes agent professionalism, efficiency, security and all-around convenience for everyone involved in the transaction.

No one seems to dispute that the agent is the heart and soul of the industry. Bridget Bolger of Coldwell Banker Gladstone sees Realtors as the ultimate advocate, agents are “first and foremost facilitators,” she says. “Then [we are] advisors, then fact keepers; we help you find the home of your dreams.”

Bolger feels that the beauty of the lockbox is that you can have it both ways. “You can have a lockbox on but still attend showings of your listing,” she says. “But if you can’t make it, you don’t have to lose the showing.”

Those that feel the lockbox is a hindrance to the seller wonder how an agent who is not familiar with the details of a home can sell it better than the seller’s agent? “My job is to actually show up and sell the [property],” argues Mary O’Connor of Chicago’s Coldwell Banker. “You take a listing, and you owe it to the seller to show that property. When you commit to this job, you commit to seven days a week … [at least] when you work for the seller.”

“A buyer knows within 15 seconds of entering a home if it feels right,” counters Bolger. “I will say that it has been my experience that nine out of 10 times the addition of the listing agent is a distraction, much like the homeowner is, to the comfort level of the potential buyer.”

Gail Plunkett of Crystal Springs Coldwell Banker Primus Realty adds, “While the listing agent knows the property, he or she does not know the buyer and may be emphasizing those features of the property that appeal to the current owner, but not the prospect … the listing agent can, by providing an excellent brochure or virtual tour, be there to reveal all the hidden treasures of the home without being there physically.”

Tracey Taylor of Chicago’s Keller Williams Realty agrees, “At this stage, if there are issues or concerns the buyer has, the selling agent is only a phone call away.

“Convenience is a valuable commodity, and the lockbox is a time constraint neutralizer,” adds Taylor. “The real estate professional is able to be efficient with appointments, [while] buyers are served more professionally due to the elimination of a time conflict of the seller or the seller’s agent.”

Some argue that the lockbox functions as more than a mere timesaver. Through innovative technology and design, electronic lockboxes, like the commonly used GE Supra and the newly adopted SentriLock (most recently approved for use by the Chicago Association of Realtors and The Realtor Association of the Western Suburbs), are supremely multi-functional and provide state-of-the-art security for the seller.

Sellers, particularly those still living in the home, may be wary of “easy” access to their residence and valuables. O’Connor, who works primarily with clients in the Gold Coast and River North, considers the use of lockboxes a “security breach.” “In the city, especially, as Realtors we still need to protect the security of the building,” adds O’Connor.

Taylor agrees that security is important, “The wrong person can get their hands on the keys if the agent is not careful.” Plunkett also feels that security is by far the most important factor of the issue of lockboxes. However, she is quick to add that in her 30 years of real estate experience, she has seen lockboxes come a long way.

The combination gym locks, used in more rural areas of decades past but still found in hardware stores and used today, have evolved into a much more sophisticated system, she says, at least for the professional.

Lockboxes can be controlled and customized to determine who enters a residence and when. “They can be programmed to shut down access after a certain time at night,” Plunkett says. “And not to open before a time convenient for the seller; appointments must still be made and their timing rigidly enforced.”

“Agents also need to read their lockboxes, which can be done from their desks, to make sure that only those with appointments use them, and their boards must be sure that all rules and regulations are followed to the letter,” Plunkett advises. “The most important factor in using lockboxes is that the considerable security available with them be exercised.”

Supra boxes, adds Bolger, “keep track of everyone using a key card to enter the home, and each key has to be updated with a security code every day in order to work.”

By keeping a running, detailed record of everyone who has entered a residence, the lockbox can provide virtual feedback at the fingertips of a seller’s agent, much to their client’s benefit. By following up with potential buyers or their agents, the listing agent can determine ways to better sell the property, such as emphasizing special features and unique qualities.

“Lockboxes benefit all parties associated in the transaction of selling a home,” says Bolger. “The listing agent can assure the homeowners that they will never miss a showing due to the listing agent not being able to be there … the greatest disservice a listing agent can do to his selling client is to miss out on a showing.

“On the other side of the coin,” she says. “The buyer’s agent can ensure his clients the ability to get in as many homes in any given day.” The worst possible scenario for a potential buyer, she says, is to miss what could have been the client’s “dream home.”

Plunkett and Taylor agree, adding that lockboxes have the additional advantage of providing an almost “constant open house.”

The lockboxes are beneficial to the potential buyer who wants to view a home on a whim, or “think about the developer who has a model finished,” says Taylor. “They want to get as many showings as possible, even after a busy weekend of open house.”

Additionally, says Taylor, due to the exponential growth of the Chicago real estate market, “the inventory for agents has grown tremendously.” Figure in the economic impact due to ever-increasing gas prices and Taylor contends, “the lockbox has become a very useful and necessary tool used by the agent.”

The city does seem to present its own unique demands of lockboxes and their use by agents. The concern of many, like Mary O’Connor who finds them “completely unprofessional,” is that overworked and irresponsible agents sometimes use them as a replacement for the seller’s agent.

Although lockboxes have been used in the suburbs for years, she says, “I am amazed to find that Realtors are leaving lockboxes [in the city].” She has even been directed to search under public park benches for an agent’s box. O’Connor sometimes wonders, “How many sellers know that this is going on?”

Even for the city’s vacant homes and apartments, O’Connor considers lockboxes a definite “don’t.” “Would I ever in a million years put a lockbox on a vacant building? Absolutely not,” she says. Attending the showing is “just part of the job,” she says, “whether it’s vacant or not.”

Due to the increasing use of lockboxes, many city-based agents in particular, like O’Connor, “don’t like the way the industry is going.” However, statistics have shown that homes without lockboxes stay on the market longer than those with them. “The lockbox guarantees easy access so there are no missed showings,” says Bolger. “Each showing is a potential sale so missing one is huge.”

As the nature of doing business evolves and the demands of the industry change, it seems that many in the real estate industry view the lockbox as an invaluable tool for providing the best possible service to clients. Proponents of the lockbox feel that if used effectively, lockboxes can maximize efficiency, security and client convenience. There are still, however, opponents of the lockbox that feel that the only way to sell a property is to have a seller present. C.A.

CONTACTS:

Bridget Bolger
Coldwell Banker
Gladstone Realtors
312.804.8962
bridget@bridgetbolger.com

Mary O’Connor
Sales Associate
Coldwell Banker
312.543.2079
mhoconnor@ameritech.net

Gail Plunkett
Managing Broker
Coldwell Banker Primus Realty
815.459.9300
gail.plunkett@coldwellbanker.com

Tracey Taylor
Partner
Keller Williams South Shore
773.721.9200
tracey.taylor@att.net

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