Online retail giant Amazon launched a product yesterday that could have repercussions for the real estate industry and the way agents show homes.
The new offering — a smart lock delivery service called Amazon Key — will allow approved users to enter homes with an app. It’s designed to allow couriers from the company to drop off packages securely by letting themselves into your home when no one is there, leaving many wondering: What could possibly go wrong?
But Amazon Key could eliminate those pesky trips to the post office to wait in a long line and pick up a missed delivery, or rid consumers of the anxiety felt over a package left sitting in front of the doorway.
Shifting views over personal security and privacy?
The always-ambitious company is already touting an array of extra uses that could accompany the ease-of-delivery device: a new way to let relatives, babysitters, dog walkers or anyone else into your home without visiting the hardware store and making a dozen copies of the key.
For real estate professionals, that digitized ingress could streamline the process of showing homes — an exciting proposition for some, but for others, a security concern and automation threat.
An Inman poll of 143 respondents (that was still open and collecting responses at press time) so far showed that over 60 percent of real estate pros did not plan to use Amazon Key in their real estate business, 13 percent said they would, and 27 percent were on the fence.
Digital lockboxes and smart key technologies are already becoming prevalent, especially for homeowners who rent out properties on Airbnb and similar sites. Companies like Sentrilock (the National Association of Realtors’ electronic lockbox), Master Lock, Toor, August Home and Prempoint are all either made for or target the real estate space and many utilize Bluetooth technology to allow for granting property access remotely (in comparison, Amazon Key will use Zigbee, a digital home alert system).
Meanwhile Opendoor, an “iBuyer” that uses technology to quickly buy and resell homes, facilitates self-guided home tours using smart locks and sensors scattered across the home track the visitor’s every move.
Russ Cofano, veteran real estate industry executive, said he sees the use of smart lock technology to show homes as a natural step for a listing agent.
“Why wouldn’t I want to expose the home to as many people that want to see it as long as I don’t have personal security or property security concerns?” he asked.
He admitted however, that after reading a lot of comments in the wake of Amazon’s announcement, he’s seeing that many are initially very apprehensive about using Amazon Key. He believes that will change with time, however, pointing out that homeowners regularly invite strangers into their home through Airbnb, and we’ve become accustomed to catching rides with drivers whom we only know through an app.
“Our view of personal security and privacy is changing,” Cofano said. “To say that … this is never going to be something that catches on with any meaningful set of sellers, I think it shortsighted.”
Amazon’s reputation as a household name is poised to help expedite this shift in mindset.
“Amazon is credible,” Cofano added. “Amazon has a lot to lose if there are people that get hurt by this process.”
‘My fear is agents will be a commodity’
Many agents cite security concerns in their protest over self-guided home tours. Others are likely worried about how such technology would change the role of the real estate agent.
“When you stop and think about it, the only part of a real estate transaction that can’t be done electronically is the exchange of keys,” Kevin Goyer, a Realtor from Saskatoon, Canada, posted on a thread on Inman’s Coast-to-Coast Facebook group. “Until this.”
For Denver-based real estate Agent Mark Pfeifer of Smart Growth Living, the fear isn’t explicitly that this type of technology would encroach on a real estate pro’s territory. He’s more concerned with how agents will use it.
“Many agents use [manual or electronic lockboxes] to ease the burden of doing their duties to their clients by the use of these technologies,” Pfeifer said. “For example, many listing agents do not attend non-luxury home showings.”
But Pfeifer said he doesn’t understand how listing agents could expect buyer’s agents to showcase the true value of a home to clients, as it may be the first time they’re seeing the property. In that sense, taking the physical key holder — the listing agent — out of the equation could harm the potential sale.
“As agents start using more and more technology, my fear is agents will be a commodity,” he added. “What does it say when an agent uses a chatbot to interact with a client? Or what does it say to a client when agents use junior agents and assistants for everything? The agent’s value [is] diminished.”
How smart locks could get even smarter
Mark Lesswing, a senior vice president with NAR, doesn’t think — at least immediately — that Amazon getting into the smart lock business is any threat to real estate agents’ jobs.
“This is really for the homeowners themselves as part of their whole smart-home setup and convenience that they find inside,” Lesswing said. “Would we use it in the selling process? I don’t know if we’re going to be at that spot.”
He added, “I wouldn’t freak, we’re not replacing people yet.”
In a general sense, there’s still a lot of room for smart lock technology to be improved, research by Lesswing at NAR’s Center for Realtor Technology has found.
“Smart devices, especially smart locks, their problem today is that — even if you look at August, Yale, Sledge, all the big manufacturers — as you go to operate them remotely, they don’t always perfectly go in,” he said. “That is the downfall of all these devices.”
Lesswing likened it to a door that you have to nudge or give an extra twist to in order to ensure the deadbolt locks.
“They don’t always quite fit, especially in an older home,” he explained. “If everything is remote, you don’t have the chance to jiggle.”
He’s excited that Amazon is entering the business now because it could theoretically push the technology forward. And by combining the lock with an indoor security camera, the company has already graded two complementary devices together.
“It’s an evolutionary step,” he said. “I applaud what they’re doing.”