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The Pros and Cons of Apartment Key Fobs


May 20, 2020 by Brad Cartier

There's an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of apartment key fobs over a physical door lock. Do they save money? Are they more effective than a traditional lock? Are they good for a rental property? And is the technology secure and dependable? As a real estate investor, these are critical questions that need answering as you look to minimize expenses in your multifamily apartment buildings.

Here's an overview of keyless entry systems, the pros and cons of apartment key fobs, and whether real estate investors should consider access-control technology.

What are apartment key fob access systems?

Generally speaking, apartment key fobs are electronic access-control systems that use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology with a unique ID to allow keyless entry into a specific location. These key fobs typically contain a unique serial number as well as the user's personal information.

Apartment key fobs can be used in a parking garage, storage locker, front entrance, common- space entrance, and even an individual unit entrance. These are most common in condo developments but can also be present in small multifamily apartments.

These access systems come in various shapes and sizes, including but not limited to: smart Wi-Fi locks for use with smartphones, physical RFID fobs, and access cards. These are in direct contrast to the traditional metal keys that have been in use for over a century.

Pros and cons of apartment key fob systems

As with anything, there are pros and cons to using apartment key fobs in your real estate asset. Here are some of them to keep in mind as you explore this smart-lock access system:

Pros of keyless entry fobs

  1. No more physical key: With electronic door locks, no longer do you need to replace lost keys or keep a lockbox with all your keys to each individual unit.
  2. Centralize access: With a keyless fob system, you can centralize your access control with one system and don't need to keep track of a myriad of metal keys or deal with locksmiths or key cutting.
  3. Home security system: Because you have a central-access database, you are able to audit the comings and goings of tenants when needed for safety or security reasons.
  4. Reduce the need to be onsite: If you have someone coming in temporarily, such as a contractor, Realtor, or photographer, you can issue time-sensitive access keys to reduce the need for a manager to be physically present.
  5. Scale: Once a keyless fob entry system is installed, it’s easy to scale units and add additional technology such as a home security system, video doorbell, alarm system, smart home device, security cameras, sensors, or HVAC tools.
  6. Never get locked out: If a tenant loses a key and is locked out, they can be allowed remote entry temporarily.

Cons of keyless lock entry fobs

  1. Hacking risk: A sophisticated intruder, depending on the system you use, may be able to hack a keyless-entry fob system.
  2. Time: It can take time to reset codes, replace fobs, or fix technological issues.
  3. Specialization: Troubleshooting a physical door lock is relatively straightforward, and worse case you call your locksmith. With technology, you will require a specialist should the system stop working.
  4. Power failure: Should the power go down, an electronic access system cannot function.
  5. Expense: Sophisticated entry systems are typically more expensive than using traditional metal keys for access.
  6. Batteries: If you use a smaller keyless entry system, like an individual smart door lock, you may have to use batteries that need replacing every few months.
  7. Failure point: There are more points of failure on a smart lock access system than a physical key lock or deadbolt.

Apartment key fob system

Although there are dozens of suppliers of apartment key fob systems, they generally have a similar structure as well as similar components. The central hub of any keyless entry system usually includes some sort of base station. This is where the central computer is located.

Other components of a key fob system include but aren't limited to:

  • Access card readers: These are the specific access points where you will require those entering and/or exiting a location to swipe a fob.
  • Door sensors: This information will feed into the base station so the system knows when a door is physically opened or shut.
  • Intercoms: Usually installed in the main entryway, this allows for communication between tenants and guests.
  • Key fob: The physical key that contains the access technology to be swiped at any entry access point.
  • Alarm systems: Should certain events be triggered, most apartment key fob systems have some sort of alert mechanism that connects to local emergency services as well as the manager's central control system.
  • Backups: One of the major negatives with electronic entry systems is what happens if there's a power failure. Most modern smart entry systems for apartments now contain backup options that run on batteries or a separate power source.
  • Security cameras: Many of these systems come with built-in security-camera features to add a visual component to your access control.
  • Sensors: More sophisticated access systems can also include water and heat sensors.
  • Push-to-exit buttons: As most fire codes don't allow for key access to exit a building, push to exit buttons are becoming increasingly popular.
  • Smart lock: Other access-control technologies

In addition to apartment key fobs, there are other technologies available to help real estate investors with access control to their units.

  1. Digital or manual keypad with pin code
  2. Individual unit smart locks, such as a Yale or August smart lock
  3. Keycards
  4. Wi-Fi enabled door locks that connect to smartphones for access

The bottom line

As technology continually forces the real estate industry to innovate, it becomes increasingly important for real estate investors to explore tools like smart lock access and apartment key fobs. Although they can cost more and are subject to the same drawbacks as any technology tool, apartment key fobs help centralize your access control and generally improve the safety and security of residents.

While this type of technology does typically cost more, it can end up saving investors time and enables them to better scale as they add real estate assets to their portfolios.

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