If you’re a vacation rental owner who likes to hand over the keys to each visiting guest in person, read no further. You’ve got the time and proximity to give your guests access to the property with a good old-fashioned human connection.
Most owners, however, will need a reliable way for guests to access the property on their own – and we’ve investigated the best available ways to do so.
Should You Use a Keyless Entry System or a Lockbox?
Keyless entry systems, also known as “smart locks,” are installed directly into the door of your home, and allow guests to enter the property using an access code, a wave of their smartphone, or – in some fancy models – voice activation.
Smart locks are more secure than a lockbox, since the guest never acquires a key to the property and the code is changed immediately after the guest leaves. Remotely-controlled smart locks even allow you to change the code from your smartphone or computer, rather than coming to the property in person.
The downside of smart locks is that they’re more expensive and the technology can fail unexpectedly. The remotely operated ones rely on wireless access, too, which isn’t difficult to set up if your home already has wireless internet, but does mean that if your internet is out, you can’t use the remote system to change the code.
Smart lock pros: security, easy to change code
Smart lock cons: cost, possibility of technology failure
A lockbox is simply a small safe that is attached to your property using heavy-duty screws that can only be accessed once the lockbox is opened. Lockboxes come in a variety of sizes and can either have a single code that never changes, or can be re-coded manually.
Lockboxes are inexpensive and easy for everyone to use. They hardly ever break unless they’ve been tampered with, and they can be installed anywhere on the property securely. There’s no confusion with a lockbox: almost every guest has seen one before and knows how to use it.
The downside of lockboxes is that they’re not nearly as secure as smart locks. Most models are relatively easy for thieves to access, and guests can forget to replace the keys or have keys duplicated without your knowledge. You also need to change the code on a lockbox in person, so you’ll either need to rely on your cleaning service or neighbor to change it for you, or invest time to head out to the property after each guest’s stay.
Lockbox pros: inexpensive, easy to use
Lockbox cons: not as secure, harder to change code
Vacation Rental Priorities for All Access Methods
When looking for the best access methods in both categories, we had some priorities in mind. We know owners will want it to be able to change the code on either type of access method, and we know you’re likely looking for a solution that will cause the fewest possible guest complaints.
For some of you, your priority will be keeping your solution inexpensive and low-hassle. For others, your priority will be the ease with which you can change the code remotely for security. For all of you, though, we think these priorities will be paramount.
Your access method should be secure. First and foremost, you want to be sure that only the people you’ve designated can access the property, which means your access method should allow you the ability to change a code for each guest who stays at the property. It should also be difficult for any non-authorized persons to use.
Your access method should be easy to use. Guests who have trouble gaining access to the property will be annoyed and frustrated before they ever step in the door, so your access method should be easy for them to use. You’ll also want it to be easy for you to change after every guest.
Your access method should be affordable. There are some very fancy security systems out there that run in the thousands, but we think your access method should be a small investment in your property’s security, rather than a huge dent in your income for the year. We’ve narrowed the field to affordable solutions for both lockboxes and keyless entry.
With these guidelines in mind, we’ve eliminated quite a few possible entry methods for being too insecure, too difficult to use, or too expensive.
We eliminated smart locks that rely on smartphones to gain access to the property. Not all of your guests will have smartphones, and of the ones who do, it can be difficult to ensure they’ve downloaded the correct app, have Bluetooth capability, or simply have the battery life remaining to get into the property.
We also eliminated all lockboxes that attach directly to the door. Burglars do look for lockboxes because they know that the keys to access the property are inside them. It’s smart to install your lockbox elsewhere on the property to prevent crimes of opportunity, so we only looked at lockboxes that could be installed anywhere.
We’ve narrowed it down to the best-reviewed, most-recommended picks for both smart key entry and lockbox entry.
Our Pick for Smart Key Entry
Price at time of publication: $184.99 on Amazon.
The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt is still accessed with a basic keypad, so any guest can easily put in a code without needing to fiddle with extra apps or smartphone issues. But because it’s controlled remotely, you can easily change that code at any time and for any reason.
You can also have as many as 19 individual codes usable by different parties at any given time, and you can rotate out old codes for new ones. This gives you the ability to provide your cleaning service – or anyone else – with their own unchanging code while still giving each guest a customized one-use code.
We also like this smart lock because it includes a failsafe if the technology doesn’t work for any reason. If the battery on the keypad dies or your wireless network goes down at the property (rendering you unable to set a new code), guests can still get in using an old-fashioned key.
This model connects to your home WiFi by integrating with a Z-Wave hub (here’s an inexpensive one). These hubs simply allow the device to use your internet and avoid the need to hardwire your whole house for home automation. Without the hub, you can still set codes manually on this lock, but you’d lose the ability to change the code remotely, which we think you’ll want!
We had a great suggestion from one of our commenters on Facebook: since this lock can take a regular manual key in case the battery fails or the code doesn’t work, you can install a lockbox on the property as a backup. That way, if your smart lock doesn’t work for any reason, you can simply provide your guests with the location of a hidden lockbox for a backup key – no need for an in-person intervention!
There is an alert to let you know when the battery is running low, and since it only requires 4 AA batteries, this can easily be one of the items you attend to during your 6-month maintenance check of your vacation rental.
Overall, we think this is the best fit for vacation rental owners. It has all the features you need for about $250 with both smartlock and Z-wave hub, and we think you’ll more than save that amount of money in the time saved with your remote-code system.
You can find recent reviews of this lock at:
Our Pick for Lockbox Entry
As we’ve said, lockboxes aren’t as secure as keyless entry systems, and they can attract the attention of would-be burglars. This means that the best lockbox is the one that’s hardest for a thief to gain access to. You want a lockbox that’s hard to break or bypass but still easy for guests to use.
If security is your primary concern, the Kidde Access Point Keysafe withstood an incredible amount of abuse from the testers at Sweethome and is very, very difficult for even a skilled locksmith to crack. It’s roomy enough for a bunch of keys, and its discreet design makes it easy to hide on your property.
The downside to this model is while it’s difficult for a thief to crack the spin dial, it’s also more difficult for your guests to use in the dark and for you personally to set the code.
If you’d like an easier-to-use model, there is a 10-digit push-button model by Kidde that also comes highly recommended. Its push-button access is easier for thieves to crack but also easier for both you and your guests to use. That said, 10-digit combinations are harder to crack than the more common 4-digit models, and the lockbox itself would be very difficult to break into manually.
You need to set the codes on both models manually, but this may be a task you’re willing to delegate to your housecleaning service. They can use the old code to access the property after a guest leaves, and change it to the new code on their way out the door.
Both models are very highly recommended, but it’s up to you to choose what holds greater priority for your rental: ease of use, or security.
You can find recent reviews for the dial-combination Kidde lockbox at:
Recent reviews for the push-button Kidde lockbox at:
What Method Do You Prefer?
Have a smart lock or a lockbox that’s been serving your vacation rental well? We’d love to hear your recommendations for great entry methods in the comments!
With over 3,000 owners letting us know about the ins and outs of vacation rental all across North America, we’ve got great advice on everything from the best entry methods to the best vacation rental management service. (Hint: it’s us.) You can learn how Evolve helps owners go from set-up to incredible success right here.