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4/27/2003

Agents can’t get lock on favorites

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — The city lies midway between the Denver metro and the Loveland/Fort Collins real estate markets in more ways than one, according to Steve Engelking, president of Prudential Realty.

Although nearly all of the real estate agents to the near north use electronic lock boxes on properties, those to the south of Longmont still opt for the traditional combination lock box, he said. Here, opinion splits.

In mid-April, a report by Information Real Estate Services showed that 257 of Longmont’s 420-member real estate community owned electronic keys. Instead of fiddling with the combination lock boxes to retrieve the house key for a listed property, agents who use the pocket calculator-sized electronic keys press it into the lock box to gain both easy access to the house key and to record the visit.

Supra Products Inc. started selling this technology 10 years ago to provide more accountability and security, which begins by assigning an individual access code to participating agents. That code not only identifies them on a home’s daily manifesto of agent visits, it also lists when they arrived and left.

That technology took hold here five years ago with no small amount of controversy — something that was recently fanned when Supra released a new, Palm Pilot-equipped electronic key, called an e-key, that stores detailed listing information and updates nightly on the battery recharging cradle.

Prudential sales manager Don Hammond considers the Palm Pilot feature a godsend. The fingertip library lets him relay information on demand, he explained. That feature comes in handy when he’s driving a client to a property and another home along the way catches that person’s eye.

“People want information, and they don’t want to wait for it anymore,” he said. “It’s an office in the palm of your hand on the road.”

Heart Realty’s Edith Proctor, on the other hand, considers the electronic lock boxes — with or without the Palm Pilot enhanced e-key — inconvenient.

“There are already too many silly rules,” she said. “This is just an extra nuisance. ... I’m a good sport to a point, but not $500 worth. This is just one more way for Supra to get money out of Realtors.”

However, although she hangs traditional combination lock boxes on the doors of her properties, she does lease a $15 per month basic electronic key to keep the options open for her clients.

“I’m not going to do anything that is going to intervene with my ability to be a full-service real estate broker — period,” she said.

Metro Brokers’ Red Stang shares her perspective. He leases an electronic key so he can conveniently show all listed properties to his clients. But he still puts combination lock boxes on his properties so as not to inconvenience brokers without electronic keys — or himself.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “If I used electronic boxes, I could be running all over town opening them up for other Realtors who don’t have the electronic key.”

That is especially true because the vast majority of agents in Boulder and the Denver metro area do not carry electronic keys and need the listing agent to meet them at the door to show those properties, Engelking said.

“That is the real concern,” the explained. “What are buyers really being told? Are they being told about all the listings or just the ones that the Realtor is able to (conveniently) show?”

One barrier to the electronic lock box system might be cost. Combination lock boxes cost approximately $35, versus the $75 electronic box, according to Hammond. Plus, instead of reading the lock box combinations for each property off in-house Multiple Listing System sheets, agents must lease the basic electronic key for $15 per month — or pay $25 a month for the Internet based e-key that integrates with a $400 to $500 Palm Pilot.

“We give our members a choice,” said Longmont Association of Realtors Executive Vice President Kathy Braesch. “No one has to use it.”

Still, Hammond argued that complete conformity to the new system would most effectively safeguard sellers from theft and unauthorized visits — even though those boycotting electronic boxes claim that security in the Longmont market has never been an issue.

More importantly, he said, embracing change versus resisting it would usher all real estate agents into a higher level of service.

“Surgeons don’t operate with the tools they used 10 years ago,” he explained. “If you’re not using the best tools of the trade, you’re not doing good business.”

Pam Mellskog can be reach by calling 303-776-224, Ext. 224 or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.