How Do You Change Locks
On A Vacant House?

You must change locks or re-key the locks on the house in order to gain access to the property, and to insure that the bank’s representatives can continue to have access. In order to secure a property for the bank you must gain access to the interior of the property. 

There are many possible conditions occurring on the interior that may be negatively affecting the value of the property.  There may be hazardous materials, rotting food, pest infestation, broken pipes, leaking roof, or growing mold, among other things.  You need to change locks and get inside so you can take photos and complete a property condition report, including any property damages that may exist.

How Do You Get Inside?

There are a few ways to gain access, the easiest of which is to simply open an unlocked door and walk in.  Unfortunately that option occurs only rarely.  Second easiest is often to climb in through an unlocked window. 

Instead of "change locks", some work orders say "re-key locks", but they're really the same thing. Perhaps, though, you'd prefer picking locks and re-keying them. Picking a lock or two can be fairly simple, if you have the tools and the skill. In this way you can simply re-key the locks, rather than installing new ones. (Caution: I have been told, in some jurisdictions, it is illegal to possess and use lock-picking tools unless you are a licensed locksmith.)

What If The Neighbors Are Watching
As You Attempt To Change Locks?

If you notice that neighbors are watching you while you're walking around the house, checking the windows to see if you can get in, or drilling out the deadbolt on the front door, take the time to stop and walk over and talk to them.  Show them your clipboard and work order, mention the mortgagor by name, and tell them what bank you're working for.  Tell them you're not taking anything, but simply securing the house for the bank and taking some photos so they can see its condition.

If you fail to put the neighbors at ease and they call the police, you won't get in trouble (as long as you have your work order with you), but it might cost you some extra time.  It's actually very nice to have neighbors who are watching out for the house, and you might get some helpful information from them.  Once, when I did this, they told me that the keys to the house were in the mailbox! Nice!

Breaking In - The Video

Yes, most often we change locks by breaking into the house. But you must do it in a way that does not damage the house in any way. We have found that it is easiest to simply break off knob locks and drill out deadbolts. Just watch this video, and if you still have questions, you can read the explanation that follows.

Breaking In - The Explanation

First, the knob lock...
If you come to a door that has a knob lock and a deadbolt, and the knob lock is locked, the deadbolt may not be locked.  So, in order to change locks, the first thing to do is defeat the knob lock.  No, the first thing is to take a photo of the locks before you do anything!  To defeat the knob lock, use a large pair of channellocks, grasping the entire knob and bending it up and down, and pulling on it, until it breaks off.  You need to do this without damaging the door.

Once the knob lock is broken off, take a pair of needlenose pliers and turn the pin in the center.  After this, the knob lock is unlocked and you should be able to use regular pliers and turn what's left of the doorknob to open the door — providing the deadbolt is not locked too!

Then, the deadbolt...
To defeat the deadbolt you need to drill out the two screws that hold the inner and outer parts of the deadbolt together.  On a Kwikset-style lock the screws are centered midway between the top and bottom of the lock, on each side of the keyhole.  Although you cannot see the holes on the outside of the lock, with a little practice you can easily find them with your drill bit.

Using a sharp 7/32" or ¼" bit - with a shot of lubricating oil after you get the hole started - you should be able to drill out the screws in a minute or two.  The inner part of deadbolt will fall off inside, and the outer part will be on your drill bit.  Using a flat screwdriver in the hole in the latch, unlock the deadbolt.

Next: Change Locks

After you get in, remove what's left of the locks.  Even if there was a deadbolt that was unlocked, remove it entirely. Then take a photo - we call it the "during" photo - of the locks gone, from the same vantage that you took the "before" photo.

[Do the following if the work order instructs you to change only the knob lock: If the deadbolt was unlocked, and therefore not drilled out, replace it, without the latch.  In this way you have disabled the deadbolt, and still covered the hole.  If you drilled out the deadbolt, use a coverplate to cover the hole.]

Then install new locks with the proper keycode.  Check to make sure the locks latch and lock properly.  Then put a key in the locks and take an "after" photo from the same vantage as the before and during photos.  

In addition to the three photos - before, during, and after - if you've disabled the deadbolt, take a photo of the side of the door, showing the hole where the deadbolt latch was.  And finally, take a photo of all of the parts of the locks you removed in a kitchen drawer.  Take with you the box and all of the remaining parts of the lockset you installed.

What About A Lockbox?

In addition to "change locks", if the work order also says, "install lockbox", make sure you take with you the correct type - number or letter.  It's relatively simple to set the lockbox to the correct code, following the instructions that come with the lockbox.  Take a photo of the lockbox in the open position on the knob lock you just installed, with the keys showing.

If you've installed a padlock anywhere on the property, be sure to place keys for the padlock in the lockbox as well.  Close the lockbox and take a second photo - a close up - showing the correct code.  (Your camera probably has a macro button/function - this is a good time to use it.)  Then spin the dials on the lockbox and back up and take a final photo of the lockbox hanging on the door.

After you change locks, you'll probably want to get busy winterizing the property, if it’s the right season and region.