In this article, you'll gain insight and knowledge without having to experiment with door locks endlessly! We already did that dance for you.
Check out our companion article on this.
It Makes no Difference Where You Are
Regardless of your rental property location, whether it's in Orange County, Riverside, Corona, Redlands, being able to secure your vacant rental property is super important. Vacant properties have always been juicy targets for crooks. Back when I inspected and photographed bank-owned properties, during the last economic crater, it was super common to find squatters in vacant homes. It was equally common to find unsecured doors and windows in these. As a matter of fact, I found one bank-hired cleaning crew stealing all the appliances in one case.
Nationally, there has been an uptick in vacant properties being broken into. Additionally, property management companies must also cope with people scamming potential renters. Scammers pretend to be associated with a property, they list fake ads, and people happily send them money. Happily, that is, until they try to move in along with 30 other victims, then figure out that they all have been duped.
What We Found
What we found is that electronic, unattended lockboxes were a major draw for the bad guys. This is not to slam these boxes we loved them when we tried them out, however, crooks loved them too. Crooks have figured out ways to get around the really good checks and balances these lockbox companies have in place.
1. They steal the boxes, then cut them open with a Dremel or angle grinder. Now they have your key.
2. The crook has the victim call into the lockbox company to enter the property, then instructs the potential victim to leave the key out for the next prospective resident [the victim], and so on.
3. The crook gives the stolen data to the lockbox company to gain a key.
- Potential residents can view a vacant property when they are available, and at their pace, without feeling pressured. On the other hand, the property leasing agent (or property owner in individual cases) loses the opportunity to sell the property.
- The property manager, or leasing agent, does not have to travel all day, property to property, to show them. Automated electronic lockboxes are sort of a "force multiplier," if you will.
Solving The Equation
So, the common denominators here are keys, lockboxes, crooks, and victims. Remove one, and for the most part, you cancel out the other three. No key, no access. No lockbox, no key. Vanquish the crook, and you have no victim. The challenge is, to rent a property, you almost always have to show the property.
Having tried all sorts of "self-showing" lockboxes, ranging from Showmojo to Rently, we can say this: Showmojo is excellent. Showmojo did come with some difficulty with the boxes malfunctioning. Let me ask, do you want to anger and frustrate a potential renter? Here's a great way: have them go to a property after a long day of work and not be able to access the property because the lockbox fizzled out. Yeah, good times. And better still, you're paying a ton of money for the use of these boxes!
Rently was more reliable as far as accessing properties. On the other hand, they were also a much larger target for crooks. We did a test in the office: we entered completely false information into their website, were given an access code to one of their lockboxes, opened the box, and about a minute later, the fake account we created was shut down. Had we been crooks, we would have already had the keys to an owner's property.
In both cases, we found "roving sleepers" as well. These are folks who are apparently homeless, and they use vacant homes to sleep and shower in, then jet out before sunrise. They sign up to view a property, then another, then another, all in different regions, with different amenities. Now, just for a second, think about the liability this creates? We all know how litigious society has gotten, right? The Rover falls down the stairs, who is he going to sue? Everyone.
Lock Those Doors!
When it comes to securing your rental property via the locks themselves, there are a lot of choices to be had. This applies to your own personal property as well. These include standard deadbolts/locks, smart key locks, and full-on smart locks. Additionally, there are many brands too, Kwikset, Schlage, Baldwin, Defiant from Home Depot, Yale, Weslock, and others. The two big ones are Kwikset and Schlage. It is far more likely to run into either of these in the field. As a matter of fact, a lot of locks out there use Kwikset keys. Defiant is a good example.
The challenge really is what you want to be able to do with the lock. Sure, lock the door, duh, but do you want to be able to remotely access it? Do you want ease and efficiency when changing the locks? Or do you just want to be able to use your key to lock the door, as people have done for ages? "My grandpappy could use a key to lock his house and doggonit, I can too!" Well, not so fast there bub... Let's dig a little into this.
A standard deadbolt is a fine lock. Yes, they can, in some cases, can be picked or bumped, a topic for another time, but they do their job pretty well. These are solid, simple, and effective. On the other hand, they are also a little pricey when it comes to having them rekeyed. A standard house costs between $140 and $200 to have the locks rekeyed by a professional locksmith. That's every single time a resident moves in, if you do as we do and eliminate the liability of reusing the same key resident to resident. However, you can save a bundle by using...
Smart Keys And Smart Locks: What's the Difference
Schlage and Kwikset are both used to produce re-settable smart key locks, but Schlage got out of that line, opting to embrace the new wave of Smart Locks. However, Kwikset, while also getting into Smart Locks, doubled down on Smart Key Locks. 1st, what is the difference?
Smart lock refers to electronic locks, usually with a keypad, but not always. There is some that interface directly with your phone. Some are Wi-Fi-enabled, others are Bluetooth-enabled, and others are both. Smart keys are just that, re-settable keys, but they are not electronically enabled at all.
Smart key locks can also find their way into Kwikset Smart Locks, or they can stand alone. What we have found is that when equipped with a smart key lock, a rental property can be rekeyed in seconds, and at a far lower cost than a locksmith would charge. However, the initial cost of upgrading locks to smart key locks is about the same as replacing the locks with standard deadbolts. The savings come long term, however.
Smart locks run the gambit of styles, types, and capabilities, as I described above.
They can be controlled with Bluetooth only, Wifi only, or both. There are plusses and minuses to these types of locks.
They are expensive, and if you have ever installed a deadbolt, add about four times as many screws and other parts to the install. Yet, that is only part of the installation process, the physical part. When you are all done installing one, you now have to program it, and that is where we found some friction. I installed Wifi smart locks 4 times, and found, out of the four times, that they would connect to the internet without drama only once.
Now, once in place, these locks are pretty nifty! The Kwikset Halo locks give you 250 potential users/codes. These codes can be one-time uses or can be set for a pre-determined amount of time. You can also set them to allow the resident to enter permanently. The key to these, I found, was to install them one time and leave them in place. They are poorly suited to transferring from one property to another.
By the way, there are also locks that enable biometrics. I have not seen any with Retinal scans, but I have seen some use your thumbprint to open. I'll never use those, as I have a deep-seated and irrational fear of someone lopping my thumb off to use for opening doors, but I digress...
If you have ever seen or used, an August Lock, you know exactly what they are and how they work.
If not, then I'll take you on a small field trip here.
August units are not locks, per se, they are sort of robot doodads that utilize the lock you already have on a door. They fit onto the back of your existing deadbolt, unlocking the door when needed and locking it when needed.
August Locks operate on both Bluetooth and Wifi simultaneously. They come in 4 different generations. Generations 1 through 3 utilize a "Connect Bridge" to make it work via the internet. The 4th Generation August Locks have the bridge already built into the unit. Either way, you must have an internet connection at a vacant property to get full use out of these lock robots. Oh, and by the way, I LOVE August locks! I have one on my own house.
The August Lock, 4th Generation, is super easy to install, and with a Wifi connection, you can control the lock from anywhere in the world. Not only can you lock and unlock a door, but it will also tell you if the door you're using it on is open, or closed. Additionally, it logs each time the lock is operated, be it via Bluetooth, internet, or manually. Additionally, it will also tell you who last operated it.
Lastly, the August lock also has a feature we have not yet used, the digital key. This feature permits you to send anyone, basically, a digital key. That is one of the key reasons that Airbnb uses this system often. You can set an available time for access, be it a one-time use, or over a span of, say, a week. You can also set up permanent access, and all the user needs is a smartphone.
Safe and Sound
Regardless of if you're looking to "21st century" your home, or a rental property, or taking advantage of smart home technology for all it's worth, the starting block is the door lock. Weird, that sort of rhymed.
When it comes to the above information, we at Management One know a lot because we have done a lot in 36 years and leased over 10,000 properties. And that applies to all aspects of property management, so call us today for more information!