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March 2015

Northwest MLS Brokers Swap 90,000 Keyboxes for Enhanced Devices

By NWREporter

March 2015

iBoxTechnology is transforming many industries, with real estate being among the major ones. To accommodate expectations from members and their clients for tech-based security, convenience and accountability, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service recently replaced a tool virtually every broker uses-the keybox.

It was no small undertaking, according to Tom Hurdelbrink, the president and CEO of Northwest MLS. He said the task involved one-to-one exchanges of more than 90,000 keyboxes used by real estate brokers around the state.

The new, enhanced devices mean its mobile membership can use their Bluetooth® enabled smartphones to access properties using Bluetooth's wireless technology or infrared signals, without needing additional hardware. The devices allow brokers to simply point and beam their electronic key to interact with the keybox and related systems.

Northwest MLS, with assistance from Supra (a UTC subsidiary), its vendor, conducted the exchange over several weeks at 21 locations. The keyboxes are used by nearly 23,000 brokers in 23 counties. Hurdelbrink said the feat required months of planning to minimize disruption since it also affected keyboxes on active listings. Both the exchange process and the replacement devices were well-received, he reported.

The older boxes, while very secure, were about a decade old and showing signs of decreasing battery life. In addition to longer battery life, the new boxes have a larger key container for storing gate cards and keys. The replacements use Bluetooth® Low Energy technology and communicate with newer smartphones.

Supra has provided keyboxes to the real estate industry since 1955. The protective shell securely stores a seller's house key, making it easy for authorized users to access properties and for listing brokers to track activity at each home seller's property. The rugged devices have a steel shackle and include PIN-code security. Only authorized keyholders can open these boxes.

An online data record is created whenever the electronic keybox is opened so the listing broker can obtain real-time information about showings, including the name of the colleague who entered the home and the date and time of the showing. Every opening is documented both in the keybox and in the secure SupraWEB database.

Listing brokers attach an assigned keybox to a doorknob or other secure place where it can be opened by licensed Northwest MLS brokers and appraisers. These approved users open the keybox using a leased device called an "ActiveKEY" or by using the "eKEY" app service that can be downloaded to their mobile devices, including tablets. Members who use the eKEY app no longer have to purchase a key "fob" to open the keybox. Both the ActiveKEY and eKEY app are password protected and must be synchronized with the MLS keybox system daily in order to function.

Commenting on his experience at the exchange, Alan Addington said he was impressed by the amount of people and technology that were devoted to the project. "The throughput and customer flow were equally impressive. After waiting just 10 minutes, I got all my new boxes, with new shackle codes installed, and was on my way in less than 15 minutes," said Addington, who is with Action Realty Brokers in Everett.

Another member-broker contacted MLS staff "just to thank them," saying he too often calls and complains. "He asked me to send out an email to let the staff know how pleased he was and how efficient the keybox exchange went," reported the staff member.

Supra, based in Salem, Oregon, is part of UTC Building & Industrial Systems, a unit of United Technologies Corporation. Bluetooth wireless technology is the global wireless standard enabling simple, secure connectivity for an expanding range of devices and serves as the backbone of the connected world.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership includes more than 23,000 real estate brokers. The organization, based in Kirkland, Wash., currently serves 23 counties in Washington state.