Does Using Lock Boxes “Lower the Bar?”

J Philip Faranda May 21, 2013

One of the Facebook discussion groups on real estate I frequent is the aptly titled “Raise the Bar” forum where we discuss best practices and making the industry better. Because real estate is local and customs and laws vary by region, opinions often vary. Many themes resurface from time to time, among them the the question of whether a listing agent being present for showings helps or hurts their clients’ chances for sale. 

Rob Hahn, a very respected voice in our industry, asked the question of lock boxes specifically; if their eradication would not be a good thing. Rob made the case that, as a seller, having his advocate there for showings would be a help. The listing agent, after all, knows the house best, can tell the home’s story, and feature it’s many features and benefits. The buyer agent may have never seen the property before and would therefor be at a disadvantage. 

The counter to the argument was twofold: having the listing agent present for all showings would be inefficient, and that buyers prefer to not have the seller or their agent present for what should be a private tour of the property.

My opinion, as I have stated before, is that it is better for the buyer agent to have privacy with their client free from the background noise (or more intrusive, in some cases) of the listing agent. 

Here is one of the several comments I made: 

The logical outcome of eliminating lockboxes would be one of two things: Forcing agents to pick up keys elsewhere, or forcing listing agents to accompany all showings. In both cases, it would be a logistical nightmare, with the latter having showing agents answer lots of questions with “I don’t know but will find out”. 

There might be some anecdotal instances of the listing agent “selling” the place, but in general people don’t buy if it doesn’t feel like home, and nothing an agent says will create that feeling. Ask anyone why they bought their home, and the least-heard reason will start out with “the agent said…”
Buying a home is a personal experience. Intensely so. I have often drawn the comparison of being in a clothier’s dressing room. It is you and the mirror. People want to be alone with their thoughts and their peeps, not have an outside voice telling them things that may or may not even be important.

Sales is identifying a need and filling it. Knowing the house is half the equation. Knowing the buyer is more crucial. Just because a listing agent knows the house doesn’t mean they can strike the necessary (and often intrusive) connection to the buyer to adapt the home to the buyer. The buyer agent knows the client better and what their needs are. They should be the ones conducting the showing, and if there is a story or unseen benefit of the home, it should be neatly typed on a piece of paper for them to use at the showing, alone with their clients.

There are no lock boxes used in Manhattan, just a half hour south of me, so I am keenly aware of how hyper-local the practices and protocols can be. And I fully recognize that in the cases of multi million dollar properties in Westchester, the listing agent will often  accompany -although that doesn’t always work out too well.

I believe that lock boxes, especially the Sentrilock system we use which is all digital and far more secure than old-style combination lock boxes, work best for my clientele. For those that feel otherwise, they are free to conduct their practice as they best see fit. It is not a one size fits all industry. 

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