Is There A Long-Term Solution To Our Lockbox Woes?

Business | June 10, 2013

We’ll never have an across-the-board solution, but at least some buildings are taking steps to improve the process.

Let’s take a look at what my building has done…


You might say that you couldn’t possibly care less about this topic, and that all Realtors can go to hell just for complaining, but once you find yourself as an active buyer, roaming through city streets and back alleyways to try and find the Holy lockbox, you’ll change your tune.

Almost everybody reading this blog could tell a story about trying to find a lockbox with their agent at one point or another.

In a perfect world, every condo would allow for keys to be left at the concierge, and every house would have a lockbox on the front door handle.  That would certainly make things a bit smoother!

But in reality, you could probably tell a story or two about standing in the rain as your agent says, “It’s probably this one,” and tries the combination on a fourteenth lockbox.  Or maybe your story involves checking out a waterfront condo, in January, with the winds coming off the lake providing a windchill-aided -35 degrees.

Or how about when you actually do find the lockbox in the dead of winter, brush the snow off, and find that it’s frozen?

Has your agent ever turned to you and said, “You wouldn’t happen to have a cup of hot water, would you?”

Hmmmm…..where have I heard that before?

Damn, that movie gets better and better every time I see it!  But I digress…

To be perfectly honest, I’m often embarrassed by the “system” we have in place to show condos.  The lockbox-hell we have created for ourselves.

A typical example?

It’s a quaint, summer day, and I’m with a new client, who I just met, and to whom I’m trying to convey professionalism and experience.

I walk my client up to the front of a building, and proceed to look around cluelessly…..for something…

My client wonders why we aren’t going through the front door of the building, and I say, “Hold on a sec – I just have to find the key.”

I look left, then right, then left again, and I spot a lamp-post, as described in my showing confirmation.

I walk over to the lamp-post, and my client hopes I don’t pee on it like a dog…

I’m holding a Tim Horton’s coffee cup in one hand, and a leather binder in the other.

I take out my Blackberry with my third hand, and remove my sunglasses with my fourth hand so I can see.

My client stutters, “Ummm…dyu…do you want some help?”  And then physically stutter-steps over to see what he can do.

I place my leather man-folio between my knees for safe-keeping, and place my coffee at a 45-degree angle on the railing with some sort of bizarre expectation that it won’t fall over, just as my sunglasses fall off my head.

I bend over to try the combination on the first lockbox, but my attempt is unsuccessful.

“Which one is it?” asks my client, who is asking a question that I’m ashamed to admit I do not have the answer to.

There are twelve lockboxes, in a building where only two units are for sale.  “Are there this many units for sale?” asks my client, already feeling uneasy about the building, the agent he has hired, and the coffee which is about to spill.

“No, there’s only two,” I respond, “But most Realtors are stupid, and they leave lockboxes behind at listings, long after they’ve sold their listing,” I inform him, hoping he won’t group me in with that bunch I just described.

I check the back of each lockbox, hoping that there’s a business card for the Realtor who has listed the condo we want to see, but alas, her card isn’t there.

One lockbox has a red tag, one has a green string, and one has a grey sticker, but that grey sticker looks faded, and was probably once blue, so any attempt to place an “identifier” on the lockbox might prove to be counter-intuitive.

My client bends over to pick up the lens of my sunglasses, which has fallen out after the sunglasses hit the ground, and I sheepishly say, “Oh thanks – don’t worry, happens all the time.”  Did that make things better, or worse?

I finally find the right lockbox – code is 1976, except the key inside has a tag that says “Unit 704” and we’re going to see Unit 1102.  I guess two lockboxes have the same code?  Well, two of the twelve agents who put lockboxes on the lamp-post were probably born in 1976.  Birth years probably make up more than half of all lockbox codes.

Six minutes, one spilled coffee, one broken sunglass lens, five papers from a leather man-folio scattered on Shaw Street, and a lot less confidence in his agent by the buyer later, I have the key, and we proceed to view the unit.

Folks, this is not an exaggeration.

In fact, one might say that this is “the norm.”

Agents – have you ever showed a condo at 1 Scott Street?  You know where the keys are, right?  Don’t you feel like a pro when you know where the keys are, and you see some rookie walking all over the place trying to find the lockboxes?

The lockboxes for 1 Scott Street are found down the block, to your left, across the street, through a driveway, and down an alleyway – on the fence of the GREEN-P parking lot.  They’re about 500 feet away from the entrance to 1 Scott Street, and the only way to know this is where the lockboxes are kept, is to have done this before.

Agents – when you see a rookie Realtor searching outside, and you know they’re in the wrong place, do you tell them where to go?  Or do you think this is an initiation, and thus you keep your mouth shut?


I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation.

Is it completely unreasonable to assume that every condo in Toronto, with a concierge, would keep keys at the front desk?

My building at 112 George Street has recently changed the way lockboxes are handled.

Here’s a look at the “Lockbox Railing” that was never designated as such, but just sort of came to be:


See that yellow notice?

That’s a note from property management that ALL lockboxes will be cut off by a certain date, and that any Realtor wishing to provide a key for buyer-agents must fill out a form with concierge, and hand over the lockbox – which will be kept at front desk.

This is a much better system then what we have in place at the moment, which was never really intended to be a “system.”

From now on, the front desk will handle all keys for real estate showings, and thus they can track who comes in and out of the building.  They’ll also ensure that every Realtor who asks for the lockbox and key provides a RECO identification card, a business card, and photo ID.

Isn’t this the way it should be?

I mean, every condominium has the same problem, or potential problem, with lockboxes.

Here at 112 George Street, the “lockbox railing” became unsightly, and over-crowded, and somebody, somewhere, said, “Maybe we should find a better way.”

There are currently six units for sale in 112 and 116 George Street, and yet there are nineteen lockboxes.

I’ve learned over the years that Realtors will not come and remove their lockboxes once the deal has closed, and thus half the downtown core is littered with lockboxes that have been long-forgotten.

I won’t even get started about 50 Lynn Williams.  I was there on Sunday with a client and his father, and I was genuinely embarrassed when it took me twenty minutes, and two phone calls to the listing agent, to track down the lockbox.  There are close to seventy lockboxes on “the poles” in the stairwell at 50 Lynn Williams, and Realtors across the city actually fear showing units in this building (along with the sister buildings at 80 and 100 Western Battery Road), because they don’t want to embarrass themselves like I did on Sunday.

In the past couple months, I have seen several condominiums “take the process inside,” by outlawing lockboxes on the exterior of the building, and insisting that keys be registered with the concierge at the front desk.  This is a very responsible, logical approach, and I applaud the efforts that property management and the various condo boards are putting forth.

A message for all of you who are condo boards: why make it so damn difficult?  So many buildings are hating on real estate, and insisting that they have nothing to do with lockboxes and keys.  Well guess what?  You ALL have to sell at one point or another, and you’ll experience the travesty that is lockbox-hell in today’s condo world.  Do your residents a favor, and start keeping keys at front desk.  Most concierges are so goddam bored that they would LOVE the additional task!

Or, just keep the status quo.

It’s been (not) working for years, so why change it?

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  1. Paully

    at 10:13 am

    A simple cabinet with rings mounted inside it to attach the lock boxes would fix it nicely for very little cash. It could be hung on the wall, or stood on the floor in the vestibule adjacent to the front door. Of course, that would require the condo board to care, which they generally don’t.

  2. Marina

    at 10:54 am

    Why don’t condo corporations just CHARGE the realtor for putting up a lock box in a designated place next to the concierge?
    $20 / month and if you don’t pay, you cut off the lock box and dispose of it.

    Condo boards will be happy for the additional income and realtors will have to be responsible for tracking their listings. Easy peasy.

  3. JC

    at 1:55 pm

    I was going to mention 50 Lynn Williams so I’m glad you did. Ridiculous. Try searching through that mess when it’s -10 or colder out. I’ve never seen such a lame-ass setup. Who thought that piling lockboxes on top of each other would be workable?

    Worse yet are those “professionals” that can’t see that having your business card or something else that helps set it apart from the others on it, is a benefit to everyone.

    Another place that I’ll be glad if I never have to show again is 20 Joe Shuster. There are lockboxes scattered all over the place. Across the street on park benches, on just about every railing/fence and/or stairwell near that building and the one next to it. I finally found the one I was looking for, only to discover that some other agent had mixed the keys up and put the keys for the unit I wanted to see in another lockbox.

  4. Bill

    at 8:33 pm

    The seller’s agent should BRING the key to the condo when there is a showing, hand it over to the buyer’s agent, then take it back when the showing is over. Leaving a key in a box on the street or in the possession of a “concierge” is just asking for trouble.

      1. G.Peterman

        at 11:17 am

        Actually Bill makes sense. The sellers agent can scope out the viewers and if they look sketchy he/she can simply withold the key and prevent undesireables from entering the unit. Otherwise anyone could hire an agent and get unlimited access to condos to steal things.

        1. Jesse

          at 10:02 am

          Sellers are always encouraged to depersonalize – two fold to their advantage: no ones walking out with furniture, and it increases the odds a buyer can see themselves in the unit.

          I stick with my initial response that its ludicrous to expect 2 agents and a buyer to share the same schedule and battle traffic to get there. Some condos attract dozens of viewings and listing agents also have their own buyers.

          I expect G and Bill would both supply a guest suite for their listing agent?

      2. ScottyP

        at 10:39 pm

        I think Bill is overestimating how much time (some) agents have on their hands.

  5. Irena

    at 9:17 am

    In our condo, the lockboxes are in a cabinet inside next to the concierge desk and everyone who needs to get the key needs to register with the concierge.
    Now if only we can fix the slew of bikes chained to every single available post outside because people don’t want to pay for storage.

  6. jk

    at 11:56 am

    Why not paint them or make them distinct so it is easier to find? Rabbit ears? Cookie monster sticker?

  7. Hobbit jack

    at 6:17 am

    your content material is outstanding .Thank you! It is a really helpful article! please keep sharing this type of info for us.

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