Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
When Greg Marsh moved to New York, it wasn’t uncommon for his then-girlfriend (now wife) to work late hours. Something else she did on a semiregular basis was get locked out of her apartment. He remembers her having to wait outside for long periods in the dark and cold for a locksmith to come out and “basically break her lock for a couple hundred bucks.”
“It’s not that convenient a solution,” Marsh said. “It’s way more than people should be paying.”
Marsh thought he could come up with a way to update the process by allowing people to store their keys digitally. To that end, he developed an app and service called KeyMe. Now, Marsh’s wife need only bring her smartphone to one of the five KeyMe kiosks in Manhattan, and she can get another copy almost instantly. While the company is planning on rolling out more of their kiosks, you needn’t wait around for one to arrive in your neighborhood.
Here’s how it works: First you download the app and scan in whichever keys you want to have accessible on your digital keychain. Both the app and key storage are free services. You don’t actually pay anyone until you need to have a key physically made. If you take the app to a local locksmith and have them cut you a new one, it’ll cost you $9.99. KeyMe includes instructions for the locksmith to follow. If you can wait to have your key made and sent out from KeyMe’s offices, you’ll pay anywhere from $3.99 to $6.99, depending on the key type (shipping is free).
Since KeyMe is based in Manhattan, it should come as no surprise that some of its most loyal customers are property managers or owners of large, multifamily housing structures.
“For people who make and manage a lot of keys, we feel like we have a pretty great solution,” Marsh said. “We’re saving them a bunch of time [and] our prices are really competitive.”
Marsh notes that if a broker wants to show a condo, it’s a pretty involved process. They’ll have to send someone out to get the key from the building manager, have them make a copy, hand the original back to the property manager and then deliver the key to the real estate office. Marsh says that sort of thing is so time-consuming that some of his clients hired gophers whose sole job was to make such hand-offs happen. Now the property manager can simply transfer a key to the broker virtually.
Some rental agencies and buildings are beginning to see KeyMe as a potential marketing solution as well. The company can create branded keys that make for an especially “great move-in experience.” Marsh says that sometimes they create a free lockout coupon for residents that, “from day one, enables people to use our services for free if the building is willing to prepay a couple of bucks.” The company also utilizes “designer” patterns and bottle-opener keys to add an element of personalized fun to the process.
Of course, any time you talk security and the cloud, there will be safety concerns. But Marsh says getting copies of keys is an inherently risky process, and he argues that KeyMe is minimizing the associated risks, not increasing them.
“We’ve got additional security that a locksmith doesn’t have,” Marsh says. “We have a system that provides accountability… we’re much more secure.”
Marsh notes that locksmiths operate a largely cash-based business, while KeyMe maintains an extensive “paper trail.” They require users to verify that their identity is linked with the e-mail address that they provide, and keep track of everyone who has duplicated or transferred a key. Kiosk users must provide a fingerprint. The key-scanning process is very deliberate, which means it’s virtually impossible for some stranger to just grab an image of your keys without your knowledge. Finally, KeyMe’s data storage system only retains the bare necessities so that would-be hackers won’t be able to put together the virtual pieces.
Though the app is available only in the Apple Store at the moment, KeyMe is working to get an Android version to market soon.