What Are Lockboxes and How Do They Work?

Man opening door to house with key lockbox on handle

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A lockbox is a convenient tool for sellers to allow agents to show prospective buyers their homes when they are away. The lockbox holds the keys to the home and is typically found at the front guarded by a security lock. Agents can open the security lock, access the keys and guide prospective buyers on a tour of the property. You can attach the lockbox to a door handle, or gate, much like a bicycle lock.

Are Lockboxes Truly Safe?

Restricted Hours: Many lockboxes provide the technology for you to set times that your keys may be made available. There is rarely a reason to gain access to a property outside of regular business hours. A good example is Supra United Technologies, which has an eKey app that allows you to load the key onto your smartphone, or you can obtain an electronic key and open the lockbox by connecting to its SupraWEB data system. This is for authorized keyholders only and each time the lockbox is opened, it's recorded both in the lockbox and the data system.

Placement: The main things to consider are safety and compliance. Utility providers, for instance, have rules - and in some cases an ordinance - against placing any items on water, gas and electric meters or lines. The concern exists for damage to the property as well.

With that, most sellers feel more comfortable with the lockbox in plain sight on the front door. The main reason to hang a lockbox in another location is if the lockbox interferes with opening and closing the door.

Some agents recommend putting a lockbox on the side of the house, for example, or on the back-door handle, the garage or a gate if that exists on the property. The main reason is it will be out of sight and its location kept between the seller and the agent.

Brief History of Lockboxes

Lockboxes are convenient, but they are also integral to the sale of a home. If they didn't exist, agents wouldn't have the freedom to show potential buyers the property beyond when the seller is present. Homes with a lockbox get more showings. If you're wondering about a lockbox vs. appointment, you'll probably get more buyers to see your home if you choose the former.

They have evolved over time. Older lockboxes, dating to the 1970s, were opened by a small silver key, hence the name "lockbox key." The contractor/combo lockboxes followed, in which a manual lever was released after pressing the buttons of the correct combination on the front of the lockbox.

By the 1990s, electronic lockboxes were introduced. The agent would enter a specific code on the display and then snap the key into place on the front of the box which, when synced, would release the keys.

Technology has advanced further. Some agents use a blue Supra box, called an iBox, which is manufactured by General Electric. These lockboxes operate on an infrared system, so no physical key is required. The iBox release mechanism gets triggered by pointing an electronic display key or, in some cases, a synchronized cell phone, at the sensor. The sensor records the user's information and releases the bottom of the lockbox, which contains the keys.

Other agents use lockboxes manufactured by Sentrilock, owned by the National Association of Realtors and manufactured in the U.S. Some agents believe the Sentrilock are superior lockboxes because they contain features like a one-day code the listing agent can program to avoid anyone accessing the lockbox or home without their approval or appointment.

The Cost of a Lockbox

Lockboxes can be very costly to buy but are worth the expense. You will know how many times your property has been shown and they guarantee a measure of safety.

Local Realtor associations and/or multiple listing services charge varying fees, plus sales tax.

Full-service real estate agents may provide a lockbox for sellers completely free of charge. Agents who discount services might charge sellers extra for using a lockbox.