The following blog post is a time-stamped, full transcript of Bob Preston’s interview of Dathan Kern, owner and head locksmith of Kern Key in San Diego. The episode was published March 25, 2019 and published on the Property Management Brainstorm Podcast. The audio version of this podcast can be found on the North County Property Group website, as Episode 11- When to Re-key and Replace Smoke/Carbon Detectors.
Bob Preston: 00:52 Welcome, welcome, welcome to the property management brainstorm podcast. I'm Bob Preston, your host of the show, broadcasting from our studio at North County Property Group in Del Mar, California. I do my best in this podcast to bring all our listeners some great content from experts in a variety of fields on the San Diego home rental market. So, if you like what we have to say, man it would make my day if you would pay it forward and leave us a positive review on iTunes, Google on our website or whatever platform you happen to be listening to this episode today. On the show, we will be discussing an important topic for household safety and security and every rental property and that is when and how properties should be re-keyed, the need to connect with a really good locksmith and also where and when new smoke and carbon detectors should be installed. And I have with me today here in our Del Mar studio, Dathan Kern who is the owner and I guess the lead locksmith I would say Kern Key here in San Diego, California. And thank you for joining us Dathan.
Dathan Kern: 01:54 Well thank you very much for having me.
Bob Preston: 01:56 So Dathan at North County Property Group, we know your team well because your company has become our go to guys, if you will. For our listeners who don't know you, can you kick us off today by telling us briefly about yourself, your background and your company Kern Key Services.
Dathan Kern: 02:12 Well, been here in San Diego for the past nine years and also in Texas. I was there for a while but five years as a locksmith. Total of 14 years.
Bob Preston: 02:22 You're good at this for a while.
Dathan Kern: 02:25 I've been at for a while. Yeah. In Texas, learn the business and well enough to where I was training other locksmiths to go to other franchises because we were a franchise. Uh, came back home to San Diego, this is where I was born and raised and so came back here, started up the franchise, didn't have a single customer, just start knocking on doors. And so, uh, now I have five employees. I have three trucks out there. It's been good. We are a residential and commercial locksmith company. We don't do any automotive. We see the need out, especially with the property managers, realtors, even homeowners. There's a big, big need for having locksmiths and who doesn't need a good locksmith? Sure. Just in the back pocket. So business is good growing every year, so everything looks good.
Bob Preston: 03:16 Good. Now I know you run this company with your wife Julie, is that right?
Dathan Kern: 03:19 That's right.
Bob Preston: 03:21 I don't think I could do that. So, hats off to you on that one.
Dathan Kern: 03:22 I tell you what, it's a she, she's got history working for an engineering company and she was the main person there. She's got a lot of history. She retired. We came out here together and she's the brains. She does a very good job of keeping everything going afloat, keep it above water. And so, uh, we have fun with it, and we worked together pretty good.
Bob Preston: 03:47 Yeah, because there are a few sides to this. The actual work in the field during the locksmith stuff taking the input, the work order requests, the dispatch, the scheduling of the different people at all the different trucks you guys have got a big side of the two. So, you are relieved of that side?
Dathan Kern: 04:02 I am, I am uh, mostly what I do out there as I go, go out there and do the work itself but also go out there and pick up new customers. Kind of show and tell at a lot of places. Six months ago we went away from the franchise. So now we're homegrown.
Bob Preston: 04:20 Where you at the same franchise when you came back to San Diego?
Dathan Kern: 04:22 Yes, we are with the same franchise and so we moved out of that. We were able to keep all our customers and home grown. So there's a lot more now in the office. We have the software and do things and we have to do to keep everybody up and running.
Bob Preston: 04:36 So you mentioned a real estate brokerages or outlets, agents, property management, you know, don't have to give me details, but I mean is that a big major chunk of your business or is it the individual homeowner or maybe commercial building owners or onsite managers?
Dathan Kern: 04:53 I'm going to say about 70% of ours is property managers, the other's makeup, the realtors, bigger chunks. But we also have commercial and individuals tied in there. We're doing a lot more with realtors. They're realizing that as they sell these homes and buyers really need to re-key their homes. Don't know where those keys are, how long they are floating around.
Bob Preston: 05:15 Yep. Yep. So this may be an obvious question, but maybe you can also just help us understand why is the lock, you may have already partially answered it. Why is the locksmith so important to landlords and their rental property?
Dathan Kern: 05:28 Well, I think it comes down to where are the keys? Um, you know that we have good tenants, bad tenants, doesn't really matter. I think you can say for yourself. And I know for myself, I've made copies of keys and gave them to my friends, to my relatives, even the next-door neighbor, not knowing where these keys are and how many or even lost keys. It's always nice to have a locksmith handy. We're working with you in enhance so that it can come out reaching the or emergency calls or just scheduling it over.
Bob Preston: 06:02 This comes to the point of security. You don't want someone that you don't want to keep or a key floating around out there, you know, I know to you somebody has come back and try to enter the home. We had a property that we're turning back over to the owner and we gave the tenant two mail keys. Right. And we only got one back and we're like where is the other one. They didn't know. So, we just chose for security and to make the owner happy to re-key the mailbox. Um, Angel on your team gave us three keys back and that was pretty cool, right? Yeah.
Dathan Kern: 06:34 Yeah. You never know. The same thing can be done with garage door remote leave a couple and only had one left. Where is it? So, it's, it's something that we have to consider each time and tenant turnover.
Bob Preston: 06:46 So you do some other things, for us, which we really appreciate. You know, all your customers I assume, that are not just reaching in and it has to do with smoke and carbon detectors. Some of the tests, testing or replacement. Can you get into that a little bit?
Dathan Kern: 06:58 Yeah, of course. We've got it, our great will um, we call it our Kern Key bundle that we do a package deal. We go in and re-key six up to six locks for a great price. But while we’re there, we started this year have also testing the smoke alarms and they way we do this is with a can of smoke, we tested to make sure that they're actually working. You can push the button and the tensions, the battery's working. But there is a sensor in all of these and that's why I ranked, probably see some really old, oh my goodness. I see some that don't even have battery backups and they're just up there. Exactly. Yeah. So we test when we make sure they're in compliance. Yeah, make sure that's all that we put that service in it. But also, the carbon monoxide, carbon monoxide has been around now for a law for five years and so, um, now we're making sure that they're there, they're working properly and everything's up to compliance.
Bob Preston: 07:55 Now I know when I used to talk to owners, I would always recommend the combo units. You tend to not recommend those?
Dathan Kern: 08:03 We see that a lot of times we're replacing them early in their 10 year frame because you've got two sensors in that one complex area and usually one goes bad and its usually the carbon monoxide and really you're putting that on a, on a ceiling, carbon monoxide, it's heavier. So that's why it should be down. Yeah. We put it in a four foot, which is really, you look at all the recommendations for manufacturer. It's all over the board. You can put them on top side, but we put them at about four foot. And then nobody will give you a straight answer. Now with the new things out, we can Google it. We can find out what people are doing and the forefoot seems to be what everybody's doing.
Bob Preston: 08:46 Okay. We're going to get back to re-keying and stuff like that in a minute but while we’re on this topic and I want to close it out. I know that a lot of the detectors, they're smoke or carbon the ten-year battery type does, kind of gotten away from, we joked about the wires hanging out. A lot of the detectors now, you can't, there's no battery remove the last right for 10 years. So far so good. Okay. And like if you walk into home depot, can you still buy the old?
Dathan Kern: 09:11 Yea you still can, you still can. But the law is telling us we have to go to the ten-year reason why it's tenants still don’t change batteries. That's an issue. So now we in even in the standalone units, we make sure that they’re ten year that are being replaced by, we make sure that even the hardwired ones are ten- year replacement. Batteries are sealed. You can't get to them. Nothing yet on the carbon monoxide. We can still do that without having the ten-year.
Bob Preston: 09:43 I'm sure you know the California code, is it fire code or is it building code? But you know well, so what is the code on smoke and carbon? Where should they go? What type should you use, how many?
Dathan Kern: 09:58 Right. Well, what's out there and you can find it online anywhere. It gives you the codes, but the smoke alarms needs to have one in the hallway next to the bedrooms and one in each of the bedrooms. If you have a two story, you'd have to have the same thing in a hallway upstairs, close to the bedrooms, but also the carbon monoxide. You have to have one on each level, your bottom level, your top layer, somewhere close to the hallway again next to the bedroom. So that's what you're protecting and so when you sleep at night. That's that silent killer.
Bob Preston: 10:27 That's one of the interesting things about the code and I still don’t completely understand why it says outside the bedroom, so if the bedroom door is closed, is it still protecting the upper level?
Dathan Kern: 10:38 Right, it is, because, we look when we go in where are the gas sources. It might be the heater upstairs, the component where there may be a washer and dryer unit in the hallway. So usually it's outside the bedrooms is where that gas. Yeah. And so we put the unit outside. Sometimes we come into a master bedroom that as a nice fireplace. Yes, guess what, we've got to put one in that bedroom.
Bob Preston: 11:00 So I don't have any data to back this up. So, if the listeners are going to question, don’t quote me on this, I guess you shouldn't quote me, but I had been talking to are one insurance company and they had said that carbon monoxide lawsuits are one of the most common against landlords. So, I mean if you did, if you weren’t in code, what kind of issues might this present? Obviously not a very good one for a landlord.
Dathan Kern: 11:26 No, actually liability, you know they're liable. And um, so we have to protect ourselves. You have to protect yourself. We’re protected by our high insurance that we have, but we make sure it's done. And we, and we put it in our, our invoicing where these things were located so that they know that it's in the proper places. You guys can pull it out if any questions, something happens. A, it was done. This is the data was done at and so it takes the liability off the owner off you.
Bob Preston: 12:04 And we've got it captured, right. All right, let's go back to keys and locksmith stuff. So technically California, a re-key is not required after a rental turn, so it's one tenant moves out and other remotes. Technically by law it's not a requirement. Why is it a good idea? Maybe again, maybe that is an obvious question.
Dathan Kern: 12:18 Again, it comes down to liability. We don't know where those keys are and wanting to protect. Sometimes they return the same amount that they got, but they duplicate them. Making sure whether it's a good tenant or a bad tenant, doesn't matter. We have friends and family that we may get a copy to the next-door neighbor getting one. We had a great experience one, probably about a year ago, she called me out on a Saturday, says, you've got to come out here. And I told her, I said, no now. So I got out there and she gave this story. They moved in last night. Next door neighbor came over. She's so nice. She said, oh, she helped us move in and everything and she said before she left she turned around and says, oh by the way, if you ever need to get in your house and you lose your keys, I've got a key in my house. So she goes, she got on the phone right away. So, we don't know.
Bob Preston: 13:19 The owner may have not even known.
Dathan Kern: 13:21 Yeah and and it's just, it just makes sense in a lot of states. The fact are going to this where they make it mandatory at Texas, a few other ones you have to re-key and it's a good thing because of what's happened out there. We've heard of some landlords getting into property while students are in there or something like that. And it's the outcome is ones you don’t want, it's always wise to do it and like it comes back down to liability.
Bob Preston: 13:48 Now what we do as a company, first of all, we've worked with you and now's a mandatory on an annual basis, or at least, I'm sorry, not an annual basis, but at the end of the lease or at the end of the rental turn or move out, we re-key on a mandatory basis and check the carbon. And then on a mandatory level, we're also once a year checking the HVAC system, which also, as you've already called out can be a contributor to carbon monoxide. So we just think that's really important. Yeah, we love it that you guys are working with us. Help us do that.
Dathan Kern: 14:25 Safety is a major concern and I'm sure that the landlords, sure that the the owners, everybody wants to keep everybody safe. And that's what we do.
Bob Preston: 14:35 Now, most owners will have what's called or landlords will have what's called a rental dwelling insurance policy. And I, another thing I had heard, and again, don't quote me on this, was that their insurance company were asking them, okay, do you do re-key turns and check it out, check carbon, maintain your, your HVAC system. Have you heard of any insurance implications here or you know other than you've already mentioned liability?
Dathan Kern: 15:02 Yeah, I can only see it is if somebody came in and stole stuff maybe or did something then you'd have to cover and I really haven't. But I can see how there has been a lot of instances where they've houses burnt down or somebody has died and that's usually will wake everybody up to the fact of we need these carbon monoxide alarm saying we need to smoke detectors that we don't meet them unhooked with the battery not working cause that's usually the case. Sometimes we hear about these stories or they didn't have a working smoke detector, or they didn't have a carbon monoxide in there and stuff like that. So we make sure it's in compliance.
Bob Preston: 15:43 Yeah, it makes perfect sense from a safety and security point of view that your insurance company would want to know almost like, you know when you buy auto insurance, so they ask you if you’ve had a ticket recently or if you have certain safety features, you know, airbags on your car. You’d think home insurance companies would also want to know. But anyway, I can't confirm that. I don't even like talking about the word eviction. Right. I didn't like mention it. Um, pretty one thing I'm very proud of is the 18-year company history. And I got a knock on wood here. We've never had an eviction. So I tell that to people, but it's true. But I'd be remiss if we don't talk about it. So I'm sure you get involved in these kinds of things. So how does that work when you know the sheriff escorts, they're and taking the keys back and re-keying?
Dathan Kern: 16:34 It's a process. It really is. It's of course we want to be there for you guys, but every time that you have an eviction, you've got to have the locks changed. And usually by routine, yeah, you get it done. Also lock out. So, we're there to meet the sheriff along with the either property manager or somebody that owns the property. They do their little sweep, but they have to get in first, sometimes they don't have a key. And so, we, we pick in, we don't damage the locks, but we pick in so that we can reuse the lock. You'd be surprised. So maintenance guys show up and all of a sudden you're start hammering the doors off. But we get in there really nice. They get re-keyed out whether they're, yeah, it's, it's, it's, it's not the thing. We see a rise in it this year, more of them, but um, we're there to help and so it's no extra charge besides our fee. But we're there to help you.
Bob Preston: 17:31 Yeah. It's just gotta be incredibly awkward.
Dathan Kern: 17:33 It is. And it's getting dangerous. We hear more and more of people that have guns inside, so we, well, I said I'm going to go ahead and get you a bullet proof vest.
Bob Preston: 17:48 That’s why you have the sheriffs there. So, you've mainly talked about homes themselves and we talked about it, a mailbox re-key already, but are there other things in the house? That should be occasionally re-keyed, the locks change and I'm thinking about obviously mailboxes we talked about maybe padlocks, garage doors, other stuff you might commonly find at a property?
Dathan Kern: 18:06 Yeah. It's, it's nice that we're there in your portfolio to have us check these things. Um, garage door remote or things too that disappear. Either they need to be recoated or something. They program, we do that. While we’re there, plus we've got the new ones on the trucks so that in case something is missing. We can go ahead and get another one set up for you and everything. Mailbox locks like you said, there's different types. There's the bank of boxes but, and then there's an individual box that we do, and we do that. We do a lot. We don't re-key them; we replace them. You can't really re-key those little tiny mailbox locks and it's cheaper to go and replace them, take them out and it, for the money that you spend, it's better just to get a new, so that's what we do.
Bob Preston: 18:56 Yea, like sometimes at like a condo, you'll have this very specific bank of them. Angel ended up replacing the one yesterday. We had a key and we got an open so he replaced that one.
Dathan Kern: 19:09 Yeah, it's getting to the postal service since they've kind of, they used to have their own truck go out and do all this stuff, but the past five or six years they've done away with the guy that comes out and does it.
Bob Preston: 19:20 Good. It would because I'd done that before and that was complete pain, having applied to the city of Encinitas or whatever city and the post office. Then you have to meet the post guy. Yup. It was really, really challenging. Okay. So, when people think of property management, typically they would think of, you know, the long-term lease 12 months of an unfurnished property. But we have, that's the majority of our portfolio. But we also have a vacation rental portfolio, completely different business. Um, do you see any differences in your perspective from the two types of properties and how they should be handled from a locksmith point of view or keys or whatever?
Dathan Kern: 20:01 Right, it comes down to affordability and what's less expensive, I guess you could say in the long run. Of course, the long term one we keen is the best way to go. But your short term rentals fight. I have a few of my property managers that do both and they use, they're going to or already have used electronic locks.
Bob Preston: 20:21 Sure. That was, that was going to ask you about that too.
Dathan Kern: 20:24 Yeah. And uh, which really nice. Nowadays with all the, it's the new software that's out there. You can actually set up this electronic lock and you can reissue the codes. Why not and be able to change it.
Bob Preston: 20:37 Each renter gets their own code and then after that certain date gets so basically deleted. Yeah. Now there was a cost factor associated with that. We've been looking into that and exploring that with a couple of different systems but really cool. But you have to put in, um, you know, the lock itself was it, which isn't an expensive, then you have to put in sort of a hub for communicating with you the cellular network or Wi-Fi and not cheap.
Dathan Kern: 21:07 Nope. No, but the initial cost, that's what it is. You can initial count cost outweighs trying to recreate it every time. You know what I mean? You have keys floating out there, this is what it's going to gather. There's initial cost, but the long run just makes things lot nicer.
Bob Preston: 21:24 Oh, and a lot more secure and safe for, because a lot of the vacation rentals we have in our portfolio that the owners use, then that's their main reason for owning the property is for their personal enjoyment. Exactly, and so the notion that gee, someone got a key out of the lockbox and has been using our place is a little unsettling for people. Okay, terrific. I know you're a NARPM affiliate and I first heard you speak, this is probably a couple, three years ago at a broker session which is right down the street here, he came over to me. That's true. In Solana Beach SDR and that's where I first heard of you. Yeah. So again, you get out to a lot of networking and what kind of reaction do you usually get about your, you know, your programs from, from that audience?
Dathan Kern: 22:11 Well, actually I get very good response. More and more people realizing all the good property managers re-key anyway, so it was just a matter of talking to them about the other programs that we have the fit right along with what they're doing. Nobody else does that. Yeah, they could go out and re-key and any locksmith can do that, but we built a program designed for the property managers to where we come out there, while we're there we check and make sure you're in compliance with your smoke alarms, and so this whole thing works together because they're not having to pay somebody else to come out there and do that and we do it. We verify it, we put it on paper.
Bob Preston: 22:48 Well before we got time with you guys. Now you guys also take care of us with a special key program. Maybe you can describe that briefly because I think this is really slick as a company, the manages, you know, hundreds of properties really come in handy.
Dathan Kern: 23:07 We have a, we have all our keys coded into what that is is you have a certain amount of keys that you use for all your properties and they're coded, you have copies of them in a certain box, secure box. And what that means for us is we know what to put those, what type of keys to put on that property from once a code is a special code and this really takes up a lot off of you because now you don't have to put one key in there for those who come to the thing instead of a bunch of keys, what you're able to post used on that property and you could look back and somebody had lost a key whenever they can get into the property or you may have workmen that need to get in that you have that.
Bob Preston: 23:49 Let’s get into the detail, I think this is a really big distinction for working with property managers. So you've basically pre-cut hundreds of keys for us and we have it and kind of, I call it the tackle box. It's kind of like a tackle box is not really, but I mean it's, so you can, you can envision all these little slots with keys all throughout it. In each of these spots kind of has the code. The key has a matching, or each key has a matching code and each key there's how many copies? 10 or something. I can't remember. Yeah. Okay. So, if we're going to do a re-key, we can just tell you, uh, the, here's the code. Can you guys go to the property and re-key it for us that you already know because you try, I'm assuming you track the tracking codes on our software. So, it's all, we're talking about hundreds I don’t even know, or maybe thousands. So it's kind of like the electronic keypad. The odds of there being a security deposit are hugely remote.
Dathan Kern: 24:48 There are five different codes, 5,000 different codes that you can use.
Bob Preston: 24:53 So there's almost no way there could be some kind of security issue with somebody having or knowing what the code is. And are the codes visible on the locks themselves?
Dathan Kern: 24:59 No.
Bob Preston: 25:00 So, okay, got it. Okay. Well, what about guarantees on your work? Do you back your work up with a warranty?
Dathan Kern: 25:10 We have a 100% guarantee on our labor. If any parts we put in. Of course we had to go with the manufacturer, just see where it is, our labor, so hundred percent guaranteed so we don't have a problem or something back. We'll come back and check it. If it was our fault, we do it and take care of it. No problem. If it was a problem with the hardware or something like that, something can replace, yes, places yes, we'll go ahead and replace it if we've done it before in the past.
Bob Preston: 25:30 Okay, terrific. Well I can tell you, uh, and our listeners, we love working with you guys and we're big fans and Dathan I've enjoyed our conversation today. Really good stuff and I can tell your business is off and running and you guys are doing very well. You and Julie have been great and your guys. You know what, I know a lot of your guys as well. In fact I mentioned I saw an angel out the field yesterday. Any last thoughts or parting words? Any you know, thing you want to say about being a locksmith? Turn, you know what, what you're doing differently that we haven't already covered.
Dathan Kern: 26:06 You know, I, I just feel like what we do is really helping you and your owners out so much and those who are buying new homes, uh, re-keying between either buying a home or between tenants and having a program with smoke and carbon compliance. It's like having an insurance policy and it protects you from liability in the line.
Bob Preston: 26:31 Sure. We love it cause it's kind of a one stop shop. You provide us with the key boxes, you re-key here for us carbon, smoke detector checks and replacement to you'll replace actually if it's needed. Right. Awesome. If someone wanted to get in touch with you or the team at Kern Key Services, how did they do that?
Dathan Kern: 26:52 Well, just go online. We're at kernkeyservices.com. You can also call us (619) 341-3515 and uh, let us know what you need. We are licensed and insured so we can provide all that information if you need it. And so we can take care of your needs.
Bob Preston: 27:12 All right. All right, so all you listeners who happened to live in the San Diego or San Diego area, these guys are great, and I recommend that my late, well there we have it Dathan. Thank you so much for taking the time to join the show today. Very much appreciated.
Dathan Kern: 27:25 Thank you.
Bob Preston: 27:26 And that concludes today's episode. I would like to make another quick plug to please leave us a positive review, it would mean the world to our team and thank you to all of our listeners for joining the Property Management Brainstorm Podcast. Until next time, we will be in the field working hard for our clients to maximize property value and rental income and to maintain top tenant relations. And we will see you next time. Thank you.