What do you do about the keys after closing on a home?

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Q: I found Ilyce’s book, “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask,” to be extremely helpful. However, there was one section that I felt received “short shrift,” and that was the section about receiving the keys from the owner after the closing.

Specifically, what are the buyer’s options if some of the keys that he receives don’t work, or if some of the keys are missing?

I expect to have my closing this week, and I would like to know what to do if I have a problem with the keys after I had already made full payment for the home.

I would appreciate, very much, any advice you can provide regarding this issue.

A: Congratulations on almost closing on your property. Why are you concerned that you might receive keys that don’t work? Or, that you will not receive all of the keys that the sellers have in their possession? Have the sellers been problematic during the home buying process? Did you or someone you know have a previous problem with keys when you (or they) rented or purchased a home?

Here’s what many people do immediately upon closing: they rekey their locks. That way, it doesn’t matter whether or not you get all of the keys you’re entitled to. You can hire a locksmith to put in new locks or even electronic locks, or you can sometimes take care of that yourself, if you’re handy and know what you’re doing. You can remove the cylinders and then go to a locksmith to get new keys made.

If you’re in a condo and are worried about not getting mailroom or storeroom keys, for example, you can ask for those to be delivered in time for the final walkthrough, which you should be doing on the day of, after the seller has moved out, and then test them prior to the closing.

Usually, sellers leave at least one full set of keys for the buyer for the closing. The listing broker may have a full set in the lockbox or may have a full set at the time of the walkthrough of the home. You’d expect to see keys for any front and back doors to the home, as well as keys to any other outside doors to the home.

In association developments, you might also expect to receive common area keys as well as keys to mailboxes, a fitness room, a bike room, storage lockers and garages. In addition to these keys, if you have a car to park, you should expect to get a garage door opener and fobs. You should also keep in mind that some single family homes also have mailbox keys.

Prior to performing your walkthrough of the property before closing, you should ask your real estate agent to make sure that all of these keys are located and available at that time. You can then check to make sure these keys work before the closing.

Sometimes sellers lose indoor keys to closets and the like. You might not see all keys at closing, but you really need to be able to get into the home and lock it to keep it safe. You also should be able to get in and out of any garage and in and out of any building. Surely, you should also be able to retrieve your mail. Lastly, after closing you should be able to get around a building or development by using the common key, key fobs or codes.

Then comes the question of what you might do if you don’t get all the keys, remotes or fobs at closing.

One option: a holdback. If you feel you’re missing a set of keys, you can negotiate to withhold some funds at the closing until all wayward keys and fobs have been delivered. Sometimes, while unpacking a box, they find an extra set here or there, and then those typically get dropped off later, either directly or through the listing agent.

This happened to us recently. We were helping a family member close on a property they had lived in for 45 years. In all that time, there were extra sets of keys made and handed out. A few days after the closing, Sam realized he still had an extra set, and immediately let the broker know. We dropped them off with the building’s doorman the next day.

Sometimes, agents have an extra set of keys. You’ll want to make sure you get those. And, if there’s a key left in the lockbox (used by agents to gain access to the house while it was listed), you’ll want to make sure you get that one too.

Finally, if you have some concerns about the seller not vacating the property before the closing, or that the seller might keep a set of keys, you’ll want to check everything carefully at the property before the closing.

We always recommend buyers do a final walkthrough after the sellers have moved out but before the closing. You need to check to be sure the sellers have taken what they were supposed to and left items that were specifically listed in the contract. Remember, the house should be in the same condition as the day you bought it. Be sure to look for any damage caused by the move out, so you can have that conversation before you close on the property.

We hope you don’t have a problem at your closing, but the best way to ward off any issues is to have a plan in place. Once you close, either hire someone to rekey your locks, buy and install new locks, or make sure your agent works with the listing agent to secure all keys to the property before the closing. And, always do the walkthrough after the seller has moved out.

More condo associations are installing keyless entry systems in their buildings and locking elevators, typically by floor. In these situations, associations will have new owners download an app to their phone and give them instructions as to how to use the app to get in and out of common areas in the building.

In the next few years, we think we’ll see fewer keys and more apps and codes that get reprogrammed by the building or association once a change of ownership has happened. So, don’t forget to ask about any codes for keyless entry doors and how and when that switch will happen.

We hope your closing goes well.