Several events can determine when a homeowner should change locks or re-key their property. Before we review the most common events, let’s look at three basic concepts that should be used to support a decision to change or re-key our locks:
Chain Of Possession. When keys or information that provide access to a property have been in the possession (even temporarily) of someone other than the owner or those within the owner’s “circle of trust,” the chain of possession of those keys is considered outside the owner’s control. Unauthorized copies of the keys may have been made or imprints of the key’s cut patterns could have been created for duplicating the key later. Security of the property is therefore at risk when there is a weak link in the chain of possession.
Changes In Vulnerability. Even if keys and codes have been safeguarded properly, the level of protection that security devices provide may need to be upgraded occasionally due to an increase in security threats. For example, if police warn neighborhood residents that a burglar is entering homes by kicking in doors, homeowners should consider adding a deadbolt or installing a metal door frame. Another example is upgrading electronic gate and garage door openers. Criminals are always coming up with new ways to hack electronic systems to obtain entry codes and manufacturers frequently update their products to counter them.
Aesthetics. Locks come in many styles, colors, finishes and materials. The design and construction of a lock can also determine its level of security and tamper-resistance. Rather than choosing a lock based just on how well it matches the surrounding décor, also consider if it appears sturdy enough to deter potential burglars.
With these concepts in mind, let’s look at the most common events that determine when a homeowner should change locks (for brevity, from here on change locks includes re-keying as an option).
Change Locks Immediately Upon Purchase
When recording of the transfer deed is confirmed, or at a specific time designated in the purchase contract, the seller provides the buyer with all keys, codes and other information needed to enter and secure the property. The buyer should consider every aspect of the property’s security to be compromised until locks have been changed.
Tip 1: During the final walk-through inspection, just prior to closing escrow, inspect all locks and security devices. Determine if you want to keep the current hardware and simply re-key or if you would like to change the design, functionality or level of security. In addition to aesthetics, consider functionality. For example, door handles are more convenient than knobs on some doors. On doors that will be re-keyed often, an owner-programmable keypad lock should be considered. The Schlage keypad lockset below sells for about $120 at Home Depot and elsewhere.
Tip 2: When buying new lock sets, don’t use the keys that come with them. Take the locks to a professional locksmith to be re-keyed before they’re installed. Why? Factory keys come with standard cut patterns that are marked on each key. If you go to a home supply store that sells standard brands such as Schlage and Quickset, you’ll see that the key code is also printed somewhere on the box. There will usually be just three or four different key codes printed on all the boxes on the shelf. Crooks know this, too, and will invest in a few standard lock sets to obtain keys they can use to easily enter homes where the owners are still using factory keys.
Tip 3: If you plan to install a security system in a property you are in the process of buying, have the system vendor attend one of your property inspections during escrow. The vendor can have the security system components available and scheduled to install the day you take possession.
Tip 4: It’s cheaper to take your locks to a locksmith for re-keying than to have a locksmith come to your home. Most standard door locks can be disassembled by removing only two screws. The cost of re-keying each lock is usually $30 to $35 at the locksmith and re-keying can be completed while you wait. Having the locksmith visit the home costs at least double. I call ahead for an appointment and make sure the property is otherwise secured until I return.
Change Locks When A Key Has Been Lost
Assume the worst when a key can’t be found, especially if the key has a tag that identifies an address and specific lock. Sometimes a lost key is, in fact, a stolen key and the person who stole it may know where you live.
Change Locks When Changing Service Staff
Maid services, swimming pool cleaners, gardeners and even property managers usually have keys, gate codes or garage openers that access the properties they service. While staff may be within the “circle of trust” while under contract, they may not remain trustworthy afterwards. Keys and codes should always be changed upon their departure.
This applies to individuals as well as companies. What if ABC Pool Service has been sending Thad to care for your pool for years, then Thad leaves the company? You might keep ABC as your service provider, but now they send Jill to clean your pool. Upon Thad’s departure, rekey.
Change Locks After A Burglary
Many burglars enter through broken windows or doors. If they see personal items worth a second visit, they may look for spare keys left on a hook or in a kitchen drawer. They could take the key with them or make an imprint of it for duplicating later. Never leave keys where they can be found easily and always change locks after a burglary regardless of how the burglar entered.
Taking into account chain of possession, changes in vulnerability, and aesthetics, deciding when a homeowner should change locks should be a matter of common sense. I hope you found this information helpful, drop me a line with questions and suggestions. Contact Us