Realtor Lockboxes Explained: A Summary of Lockbox Options and Alternatives for Real Estate Agents

Real estate professionals today have a plethora of high tech options out there to enhance their business, but rarely do we fully consider the value of the lockbox – the sole piece of equipment responsible for allowing agents to show the homes that we sell everyday. The lockbox itself has evolved over time, and today agents find themselves comparing the value from a standard combination lockbox to that of a more high-tech electronic lockbox. Real estate agents today are pressed from all sides for fees, dues, and expenditures that are unavoidable costs of doing business, so when it comes to making a decision between a combination lockbox that’s just a few bucks versus a high-tech electronic lockbox that is substantially more expensive, does the increase in cost justify the value? Also, what are all the options out there for electronic lockboxes? This article highlights the findings of current industry options available.

Having the ability to show a home without the sellers there to watch your every move was a move in the right direction for the real estate industry. Agents know very well the situation where a seller will remain in a home during a showing and “pretend” like they are minding their own business while the buyers tip-toe through the home trying not to impose while attempting to get a sense of what the home was like.

This is a wild departure from the typical showing when the sellers aren’t there; clients love to snoop around in order to get a good sense of the home. With the sellers not there, the buyers get a good opportunity to get a true sense of how that particular home would feel and if they can see themselves living there. Put simply, it allows for a better, more convenient showing experience.

From this dilemma the lockbox was invented. A device securing the key for entry by licensed real estate agents to show their prospective buyers, and it allowed sellers (or their agents) the opportunity to have the home shown without the need of their presence. It saved time, and allowed for a better showing experience. Truly, it was a win-win.

However, early lockboxes were simply a combination lockbox. They are certainly inexpensive, but an obvious downside was the lack of security for the home in question once the lockbox code was known. Sellers would rely on the professional ethics of real estate agents to keep the code confidential, but sometimes the code would slip into hands of non-agents. Less frequently, the code would be found by people with malicious intent.

With the obvious shortfall of relying on the honor system to keep lockbox codes confidential, it offered the opportunity for a better solution that would allow for accountability along with the ability to show a home without the seller being present. As a result, it did not take long for “smart” lockboxes using electronic technology to come into existence, thus revolutionizing the process of showing a home. Before a seller and their agent wouldn’t really know who was showing the property other than the confirmed appointments that were made. Flash forward to today, and you have the ability to know exactly who and exactly when someone shows a property through the use of an electronic lockbox. With these smart electronic lockboxes, only an agent or other authorized party can access the lockbox itself, further emboldening the assurance to a seller that only licensed agents and properly authorized individuals are showing or entering their home.

Today there are 2 main companies that provide these smart electronic lockboxes to real estate agency associations. They are Supra key and Sentrilock. Together they comprise the majority of the lockbox industry market; nobody else comes close.

Supra (or SupraKey) is owned by general electric and provides lockbox solutions to all sorts of niche industries, real estate lockboxes being one of them. Bill Love, national account manager for Supra, says that out of a given state or region in the country, Supra, on average, maintains an 80% market share. Supra has sold several million lockboxes throughout the years to real estate agents, and currently Love estimates that there are 1.5 million+ Supra lockboxes currently in use by about 750,000 real estate agents throughout the country.

The supra key itself features a cylindrical design up to the “shackle” (the loop part of the lockbox that will noose around something and keep it in its place securely) where the shackle fits in seamlessly. Its simplistic design is pleasing to the eye, and to activate the lockbox, an agent has a “digital key” that’s about the size of a small flip phone and has a number pad and screen on it. The agent sets the key to open a box and points it in the direction of an infrared sensor on the box itself. When the lockbox recognizes that it being accessed by the remote digital key, it will release to allow access and the bottom of the lockbox will fall out when it’s pushed by the agent, and voilĂ , the key to the home is available for the agent to take and open the door for the showing.

Love says that Supra has plans for upgrades to the current model lockbox that will include the ability for wireless Bluetooth access and syncing. Also, rather than having the digital key, if the agent has a smartphone, Supra offers an app for access with the phone instead, which makes it easier and more convenient, for a monthly fee. Love claims that the key difference with a Supra Lockbox is that “it keeps intelligence in the hands of the user.” Rather than having to rely on extra equipment or other trades people, the user has the control. Supra has had the current model for several years now with incremental software updates along the way. If an agent wants to buy a new Supra lockbox, it costs around $90, but the actual price that an agent will pay is determined by the association that they belong to.

Sentrilock is the other major player in the real estate lockbox industry. Sentrilock, which is based out of Indiana and is partially owned by the National Association of Realtors has been around for less than a decade and currently services about 250 of the 1000+ Realtor associations throughout the country and Canada as well. These associations comprise about 250,000 agents and approximately 500,000 lockboxes in current use. Sentrilock has 2 main models that are currently used; one is a silver lockbox that resembles a cell phone from the late 1980’s, bulky and heavy and somewhat longer in size than the supra lockbox. It has a key pad directly on the front of the lockbox itself, and holds the key within a drop-down door that pops open when accessed.

The other lockbox they offer is a smaller, more compact blue lockbox that is more cube-ish in shape but with the similar functionality features. The main difference between the silver and blue lockbox is that the blue lockbox allows for more space within the lockbox itself (which is important for people trying to sell a condo and who need to include an “access fob” in addition to the key to the front door of the unit itself – there just isn’t enough room for multiple keys or when including the access fob with Sentrilocks’ silver lockbox). Sentrilock sells their lockboxes for about $125 a piece, but this also depends on where you are getting it from, as the actual retail price is determined by the local real estate association that sells the boxes.

Both lockbox companies offer substantial warranties on the product themselves. They also have a support team that is almost always available in the event there is difficulty in accessing a lockbox, or for troubleshooting purposes. Both companies offer a comprehensive online tool that can provide the analytics from the showings and use of a specific lockbox which agents can use to share with their clients.

Some of the main differences between these two are how the lockbox itself is accessed. Sentrilock doesn’t need an extra piece of equipment to open a box. Rather, they utilize a “Smart-Card” which is essentially a credit-card that fits into the lockbox and has a chip inside it that shares your information with the lockbox you are accessing. This card is all you need to access the lockbox, whereas Supra requires the digital key, although they have addressed this by means of offering the smart-phone app so an agent can use their phone in place of the digital key. Both systems require updating; in other words, the smart card for the sentrilock system requires you to stick your card in a “card reader” that you get when you buy your smart-card that hooks into your computer. Every few days (the exact amount of days is determined by your local Realtor association) you must update the card through the card reader, which will allow you to show property, and at the same time uploads the information of the places you have shown to the Sentrilock system, which in turn is then able to be seen by the agents who owned the lockboxes of the places that you accessed. In a pinch you can update your card over the phone, but you can only do this once or twice.

On the other hand, supra keys update wirelessly. They didn’t always do this, where you were required to keep your “digital key” docked on a charging station that was hooked up to a phone line. You had to do this every day and that’s how the system would both update your card as well as share your showing information to the system. The wireless updating feature has been in place for a year or two now, and takes the headache out of the equation of having you update your key each and every day.

The back end system for Sentrilock allows an agent to create specific access codes for one-time access of a specific lockbox. This makes it really convenient for a contractor, appraiser, termite inspector, etc. to be able to access a property with a code, but only one time because that code will expire after the day the code was intended to be used. This is a great feature that Supra doesn’t have an answer to.

Although there are benefits to both systems, any agent can’t simply choose which lockbox system they want to use – this is decided, agreed to and contractually obligated between either Sentrilock or Supra and an agent’s local real estate association. These associations, once they have agreed on a system to use can then “tweak” the system to their discretion and preference. Things like the cost of a lockbox, whether the lockbox is leased or sold to agents, the amount of times an agent can renew their key by phone, the amount of days that can elapse before an update of an access key is required, these and more options can be tweaked and most real estate professionals are unaware that other options or preferences exist.

When comparing the benefits over your standard combination lockbox, an agent must be able to justify the added cost of a smart-electronic lockbox by the value it provides. It’s easy to do so, especially when taking the seller’s best interests at heart, as the smart lockbox will ensure accountability and a better safety and security measure for the showing process and for the home itself. Its analytics information and the ability to control who can actually gain access to the home are tantamount to successfully being able to gauge the interest in a home by means of how many people are interested in seeing it as well as being able to rest assure the seller that a home is being shown but in the most secure manner possible.

During this most recent downturn in the economy, most real estate markets throughout the country were inundated (and some still are) with foreclosure property. Certain real estate brokerages that specialized in this type of distressed property had the best years of production on record for the 2008 and 2009 years. All of these properties that needed to be shown and sold needed lockboxes, but the value provided by a smart lockbox through Sentrilock or Supra didn’t justify the cost to acquire, as distressed-property brokerages had inventories of 50, 100, 200 or 300 properties at a given time. The smart lockboxes were too expensive, especially when taking into account that the home in question was owned by the bank, it was vacant and the analytics of showings didn’t matter when a given foreclosure property is selling in no time at all with multiple offers. If an agent is carrying even 50 listings with a smart lockbox, it entails $5000 worth of lockboxes needed on all the properties he/she has for sale. At this point, a less expensive combination lockbox from Lowes for $7 looks way better and the total outlay for the lockboxes is substantially less. It’s a combination of utility value and overall price paid from the standpoint of the real estate professional, so it begs the question, why are the smart lockboxes so expensive?

Put simply, the market will bear the current price point of both the Supra and Sentrilock lockboxes because the value they provide are well worth the cost. That being said, certain companies have come into existence that are poised to take advantage of the amount of agents that want to sell their used lockboxes as well as the agents out there who don’t want to pay retail for the lockbox(es) they need for their business. Blake Nolan, co-owner of San Diego based LockboxSwap has created a website where a secondary market has been created and regulated for both the Sentrilock and Supra lockbox systems. Nolan says his company can help agents buy or sell their lockboxes and in the process save time and money. “Right now there is no real place online that offers what we offer” Nolan Says. He continues that “if you call into (any association) and ask about used lockboxes, or where to sell your own lockboxes, they say to go try craigslist or Ebay. We created LockboxSwap to address this vast and untapped market opportunity.”

Nolan’s’ LockboxSwap company plans to unveil the business this summer, and preliminary beta-test users have offered rave reviews.

In the world of Realtor lockboxes, smart-lockboxes are preferred because the overall value inherent in being able to secure a home, controlling the use of entry and having analytical accountability far outweighs the alternative of your standard combination lockbox (or no lockbox at all) Although the 2 main players in the Realtor lockbox arena have 2 excellent products, both fall short of being 100% perfect. They both do some things quite well and have the capabilities that the other does not. It would be great to be able to merge both products and concepts together, but since that is not possible, it’s up to each individual Realtor association to interview and determine which company is a better “fit” for them. At the end of the day, the 2 companies and respective products, although imperfect, represent competition between one another which keeps productivity and innovation high while keeping prices in check. Companies like that of LockboxSwap help to do this further by inventing and establishing the precedent for an industry that hereto has yet to exist, but has the ability to offer a cost-efficient alternative to Realtor professionals when it comes to their lockbox needs.

No matter what, it’s obvious the industry is moving in the right direction; we are witnessing technological advancements that help to serve Realtor professionals do their job better and more efficiently, and it is interesting to see what will be the norm in the near future as well as the long term. For now, Realtor professionals should be confident in knowing that while it’s great where we stand today, the future is only getting brighter.

Tips On How To Sell Your House Fast For Top Dollar

It’s the dream of every person looking to sell a house to sell it as soon as possible and at a high price. Unfortunately this is not the case. In some cases it can take you up to a year before you get a prospective buyer. While its tough selling a house, it doesn’t mean that you can’t sell yours fast and at a high price. Here are tips that will help you do it:

Prepare your house for sale

There is no buyer that will buy a mediocre house. You need to ensure that your house in good condition. One of the things that you should do is keep the house spotlessly clean. Give all areas of the house a thorough cleaning. For a better job, hire a cleaning company to help you out. When cleaning, pay attention to smells.

If you are still living in the house, don’t cook bacon during the day that you are showing it. This is to prevent it from smelling like a fast food restaurant. Also remember to paint the walls and get rid of your personal effects.

In addition to giving attention to the inside of the house also consider the outside. An easy way of giving life to the outside of the house is mowing the lawn. Also plant or place flowers at strategic areas of the house.

Sell your house with a realtor

Once the house is in good condition and don’t want to go the hard way of advertising the house, work with a realtor. When finding a realtor, choose one that has been in the industry for long as he/she understands the ins and outs of the business. He/she also might know people that might be interested in buying the house.

In addition to the professional helping you sell the house fast, he/she will also guide you on the areas that you should fix, clean or remove. This is to make the house more attractive for selling.

According to studies, most realtors sell houses on an average of 6 months. This calls for you to brace yourself to be in the market for at least six months. Also be ready to pay the realtor a 6% service charge.

Sell to a real estate investor

There are many real estate investors in the market that buy houses, renovate them and later sell them. Most of the investors will visit your house and analyze it in order to find its value. They will also identify the areas that need to be repaired/ renovated. Investors are good to sell to if you are in urgent need of money. When working investors be cautious as some of them might try to rip you off. To sell the house at top dollar, repair the house by yourself.

Conclusion

These are tips on how to sell your house fast and at a high cost. Regardless of the professional that you work with, ensure that he/she is experienced and reputable.

For Sale By Owner and the Web

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know the Internet has radically changed society. In real estate, this has led to a massive surge in for sale by owner properties on the web.

For Sale By Owner and the Web

In the past, choosing to go the path of “For Sale By Owner” could turn out to be incredibly difficult and overbearing. Realtors dominated the market because they had proprietary access to the multiple listing service, known as MLS, and you had to be listed in it if you wanted your property to be seen. Thankfully, the Internet has made selling a home yourself incredibly easy in a variety of ways.

If we flash back 10 years to the pre-internet days, we would find a real estate market that looks foreign to what we have today. In that market, the number one method for selling your home was to list it in the multiple listing service controlled by real estate agents. This, of course, allowed them to get their hooks into you and squeeze out a commission regardless of the quality of service they provided. If we flash forward to the present day, we find a new landscape.

A 2005 study of homebuyers across the United States revealed a fact that most realtors are loath to admit to, but know exists. Over 70 percent of homebuyers shop for potential properties on the internet. Yes, seven out of every 10 are hopping online and finding the property of their dreams. Why? The reason is very simple. Would you rather drive all over town looking at homes that don’t really match what you are after and blowing your valuable time or would you prefer to sit at your computer and click through properties with pictures? Unless you really love driving, the answer is obvious.

In our modern society, time is the most valuable asset. Listing your property on the internet is a huge time saver because it is all point and click. If you are selling, you can upload descriptions and pictures for buyers to view. If you are buying, you can see pictures of both the inside and outside of potential properties while relaxing at your desk. Either way, it beats sitting in traffic while driving all over town.

Real Estate Agent Cover Letter

The key to writing an effective Real estate Agent Cover Letter is to write it from the perspective of a customer. Most importantly though is that every letter should have a clear, specific purpose. So, as you sit down and prepare to write a letter make sure you are clear about what it is you want to accomplish.

Do you want a listing, or are you interested in showing the recipient a property? Whatever it is be specific about what your most desired response is and once it’s clear to you it’ll be easier to effectively communicate it to your prospects. So, think like a customer. What will make them interested in your product or service?

Here’s another bit of advice for both beginning and senior agents; don’t make the letter about you or your company. Your readers could care less about that. They’re more interested in what’s in it for them. So, your focus should be on the customer, their problems and how you can solve them.

Next up are headlines, arguably the most important part of your marketing letter. Generally, headlines should be longer than three to four words, but less than seventeen. Take a look at newspaper headlines and other sales headlines for inspiration. Then practice as often as you can.

Sometimes I use a nifty piece of software called Headline Creator. It prompts me to enter specific information and serves up a hundred or so possibilities. And while all of the possibilities aren’t useable, there are plenty of good ones to choose from.

Here are a few more points about a good Real Estate Agent Cover Letters.

  • Don’t exaggerate or lie about what you can do. If you do you run the risk of prospects getting wind of it and abandoning you for another agent.
  • Avoid long sentences. Be brief and to the point.
  • Use subheadings to make your letters easier to read. The subheadings should give enough information for someone skimming down the page to understand your offer.

Once you feel your letter is complete put it aside for a while and then proof read it again. I actually walk away for a full day and reread it the next day. It’s easier to spot mistakes when I do it that way.

Also, ask someone else to read it for you. Specifically, ask them to skim through it to see if they get the main points of the message. The feedback you receive can be the difference between a letter that you might like and one that a customer may love.