By Don Procter
The traditional lockbox has come to a crossroads as high-tech lock systems that offer better security and transparency build a following in Canada’s real estate world.
One of those systems is Master Lock’s Bluetooth-driven lockbox integrated with ShowingTime’s scheduling app. The system reduces safety risks for customers and salespeople showing properties in part because it does not permit unauthorized code-sharing – a weak point with traditional lockboxes.
At the same time, it improves accessibility and appointment scheduling through ShowingTime, essentially a reservation system that provides salespeople with the management of schedule showing appointments and market reports to the real estate industry in Canada and the U.S.
The first brokerage to use the integrated system in the Greater Toronto Area is Right At Home Realty. The brokerage purchased “a large quantity” of the lockboxes this fall to rent or sell for $250 each to its agents, says Right At Home president John Lusink. To date, agents have preferred to buy the lockboxes. “It tells us they see it as a long-term solution,” Lusink says.
Currently, many homes in the Toronto market use traditional combination lockboxes. They are inexpensive but the unlocking code doesn’t change – unless the owner or the listing agent changes the code – so anyone who knows the code can access the property any time.
Those lockboxes don’t have tracking capability (Master Lock with ShowingTime does) so issues can arise where sales reps accuse each other if something in the property goes missing, says Lusink.
He says he has even heard instances where the codes have been shared with contractors to evaluate the condition of a property.
Lusink says Master Lock’s improved security comes at an opportune time as complaints to the Real Estate Council of Ontario of unauthorized access to properties for sale increase. Realtors in violation can face substantial fines.
Master Lock’s lockbox integrated with ShowingTime allows agents to use one app for management, including everything from scheduling property appointments to walking through the front door, says Ashvin Ramchandani, business development manager, Master Lock Canada.
The technology eliminates any “fumbling around” to enter a code or provide dual authentication as is required with traditional lockboxes, adds Barron Robertson, Master Lock’s group product manager. “They can continue their conversation with the customer while they are forming their first impression of the property at the front door.”
Robertson says that unlike traditional mechanical lockboxes, users don’t have to be at the property to reset a code for the Master Lock, because it is a cloud-based system that can be updated anytime from any location and the history of usage can be viewed any time.
The lockbox can be accessed in three ways: through Master Lock’s app; through integration with ShowingTime; or through a backup code, Robertson says.
ShowingTime president Michael Lane says the integrated system has a second level of security because a lockbox won’t open for anyone other than the person who made the appointment. “You can’t walk into the wrong property or show up four hours early because your calendar was confused.”
Lusink, who hopes all of his company’s agents will move to the system, says it is simple to set up and easy to use.
Right At Home Realty sales rep Cristian Enache purchased the Master Lock system because he sees it as a “powerful tool” for security and also a sales aid because it tracks visit times an agent and client spend on a property. “That can be really important for me,” he says, noting agents who visit a property for a few minutes are less apt to have an interested client than those who spend a long time on the property. So far, Enache doesn’t see any drawbacks to the lockbox but he says he will wait to see how it performs over winter.
Ramchandani says the company is producing a White Paper in partnership with Right At Home Realty to illustrate how the system provided a secure and transparent solution for agents and administrators. “We want to share how we have addressed the pain points in home showings.”
Barron says unlike some other systems, an objective at Master Lock is to try and avoid long-term contracts and offer “much greater flexibility. Because of that we can work with associations and MLSs to form a model based around their needs.”
Ramchandani says that the hot real estate pace of the Toronto market adds to the value of the Bluetooth-driven lockbox. “You sometimes have challenges where there are overlaps in scheduling . . . That’s a big thing we’re trying to overcome with this.”
Lusink doesn’t see any downsides to the new lock technology. “A challenge is in getting the real estate boards and other brokerage firms to join the program. Many boards are now offering a similar program with other suppliers but they don’t all offer the fully integrated digital solution as this one does.”
Master Lock’s lockbox technology was first introduced in the industrial sector in 2012. How it will fare in Ontario’s realty world remains to be seen but Ramchandani says Master Lock is engaged in negotiations with a number of real estate boards in Canada.
Lane is confident that Master Lock is on the right path. “Over the next 10 years, I see them emerging as a major provider of systems to boards throughout North America. I think the other vendors will evolve to compete with them . . . but they (Master Lock) are a very viable new entrant to the space with a long-standing reputation.”