Real Estate Lockboxes

You Might Have to Use One When Selling a Home

Man opening door to house with key lockbox on handle
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A lockbox is a convenient tool for home sellers to allow real estate 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 other objects on the exterior of a house.

Brief History of Lockboxes

While lockboxes offer convenience, they are 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 without the seller being present. Homes with a lockbox get more showings. If you're wondering whether a lockbox is better than appointments, you'll probably get more buyers to view your home with a lockbox.

Lockboxes 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.

Advances in Technology

Technology has advanced lockboxes even further. They are now even more safe to use than in the past. 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 is a superior lockbox because it contains features like a one-day code the listing agent can program; keeping anyone accessing the lockbox or home without their approval or an appointment.

Another example is Supra United Technologies, which has an eKey app that allows you to load the key for the lockbox 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.

Where to Place a Lockbox

Utility providers have rules—and in some cases an ordinance—against placing any items on water, gas and electric meters or lines. There is some concern for damages to property from lockboxes, but they are designed to be as minimally damaging as possible.

Most realtors will want to leave the box in plain sight on the front door. There is usually a for sale sign by the house and a listing online and in distributed media, so leaving a lockbox on the house does not compromise safety by advertisement—anyone can find out a house is for sale.

Still, 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 it exists on the property. The main reason is it will be out of sight and its location kept between the seller and the agent.

The Cost of a Lockbox

Lockboxes can be very costly to buy, but generally, you are provided with one by the agent you have chosen. The cost might be incorporated into your payment to the agent, but usually, there is no need to purchase one.

Full-service real estate agents may provide a lockbox for sellers completely free of charge, while agents who discount services might charge sellers extra. Large local realtor associations and/or multiple listing services might charge varying fees.