Please tell me the best course of action.
September 22, 2022 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Due to a set of very crappy circumstances my son and I were in a pickle and a very nice couple who are family friends of my brother in law let us stay in their condo for a night while they are away. I lost the key. I have spent hours tearing this place apart and it’s not anywhere. What do I do to make this situation as right as it can be?

I just walked the key from my sisters place to here, about 100 yards and I have no idea where it is. It’s possible it fell out of my pocket and somebody put it in their mailbox because it has the number on it.

I feel absolutely terrible because they were so nice to help us and now this. What do I do? How do I phrase this to people that I’ve only met a couple of times? I lost your key and now you have to change your locks? Do I just give them a sum of money?

Please no lectures. I feel awful.
posted by pintapicasso to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Edit - their mailbox has a lock so that theory is out.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:44 PM on September 22

Are you locked out?
posted by amtho at 2:50 PM on September 22

Response by poster: No. I never actually used the key.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:52 PM on September 22

Also: How long has the key been missing?

Do you need to leave the condo before the owners return?

Did you walk straight from your sister's place? What I'm asking is: is there any chance the key has been stolen?
posted by amtho at 2:52 PM on September 22

How long ago did this happen? Do you still have time before you need to leave? If you have some time, maybe take a breather - sometimes it’s easier to find things once you’ve given yourself a bit of a break and fresh eyes.
posted by ukdanae at 2:52 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

Also: Do you have any friends of friends with metal detectors?

But: This may not be a big deal, depending on your answers to the other questions.
posted by amtho at 2:53 PM on September 22

Assuming you already retraced your steps all the way from your sister's house?

Also I'm assuming this is their spare key and not the one they need to get back in?
posted by bleep at 2:53 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

No judgement at all. It happens.

Just to get a clearer picture, would you mind tracing what happened? I.e. you were first given the key (at your sister's place?), walked to the condo for the first time, and then didn't have the key in order to ever get in?

Any chance your sister or someone else would be able to help you look? Like ukdanae says, fresh eyes can really help.

(You've checked your clothing inside out, right?)
posted by trig at 2:54 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

Have you thrown out any trash?
Once when I lost keys to someone's house where I was a guest and had looked everywhere, I literally had only one place left to look, the dumpster where I'd thrown out the trash. The keys were indeed in there and somehow I'd just tossed them in when I threw away the bag of trash. It was gross to have to look in there, but a shower later it was over.
posted by ojocaliente at 2:55 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I took the key from my sisters house and walked it two condos down. That’s the last time I saw it. It was already unlocked. I made several trips between my sister and the condo and it’s possible I went to my car, so I also just tore my car apart and couldn’t find it.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:55 PM on September 22

I'm confused- how did you get inside if you don't have a key? Could you explain the sequence of events one more time? On preview, never mind!
posted by pinochiette at 2:56 PM on September 22

Response by poster: This was yesterday afternoon. I’ve already looked in the trash. I’m going to ask my sister to come over and look.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:57 PM on September 22

Okay so you’ve just arrived, you have some time. I suggest no need to tear anything else apart for a wee while! It’s hard to think when the adrenaline is coursing through you. Order some food. Breathe. Then look again!

If I was the condo owner I wouldn’t think it was a giant problem. Stuff happens!
posted by ukdanae at 2:58 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

One other place I've found a key I thought I lost: It was standing upright, weirdly, against the back of a stair in a staircase. You could not see it looking only on the horizontal planes of the steps. When you look again, you could try looking on odd angles of things you passed on your way between condos.
posted by ojocaliente at 2:58 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I need to be out tonight.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:00 PM on September 22

If you don't find it you can either call a locksmith or rekey the door yourself with supplies from a hardware store (depending on how handy you are and what type of lock it is). But I'd probably call the owners first before you do anything. These things happen, don't be too hard on yourself!
posted by emd3737 at 3:03 PM on September 22

I would prepare to apologize and offer to pay them to change the locks. Maybe it is best to look up how much that costs and just leave them the money, so there's no awkward arguing about it.

But yes, it's still possible you'll find it! Could you have put it in something other than your pocket on the way over?
posted by pinochiette at 3:03 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

If they left the condo unlocked in the first place, it sounds like they're not that paranoid about security and therefore not too likely to freak out. So in the worst case, yeah, you compensate them for the cost of replacing the locks (which they might not even feel the need to do). I don't know what your financial situation is like, but it's not likely to be too expensive.

Also, these sound like nice people, and they've probably experienced situations like this themselves in their lives.

Before worrying about how to tell them, though: can you think back to when you got the key? Really imagine the situation - how did the key get into your hand? What did it look like? How did it feel? What was around you at the time? When you had it in your hand, what did you do?
posted by trig at 3:05 PM on September 22 [6 favorites]

I would call them now and let them know what's going on. They may have a superintendent or other place where there is a spare key that you can use tonight.

Are you 100% sure you took the key from your sister's place/were given the key?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:06 PM on September 22 [7 favorites]

Also, I would just tell them: I'm still looking, but wanted to give you a heads up because it's not anywhere obvious.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:07 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

And finally -- this happened to me once and the key was in my bra (!) where I had put it for safekeeping...

Once I called the person I was borrowing the key from and told them I lost it, I was a lot less panicky, and that's when I realized where it was. So, that is why I vote for calling them sooner rather than later.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:08 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Okay some searching techniques: this article says try the most cluttered places. This article suggests how to hack your subconscious to help you look. This page has a step-by-step process to follow.
posted by ukdanae at 3:08 PM on September 22 [22 favorites]

Also, any chance there's a building or community SMS/whatsapp/whatever group, where someone might have posted if they'd found a key? Or a place they'd be likely to bring a lost item to (like a superintendent)?

On preview - Rock 'em Sock 'em's advice is good.
posted by trig at 3:08 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]

One time I lost my key "in" my car and was completely baffled because it was definitely not on the ground outside the car, and definitely not on the floor of the car. It had, in fact, slipped into the compartment in the side of the car door itself.

One time my husband lost his key and it had slipped into a rip in the interior lining of his jacket sleeve somehow. Any rips in your pockets?
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:17 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. The owners won’t be back until February. My sister is going to look. She’s pretty confident she will find it.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:18 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]

Once I called a locksmith who charged me about $55 and had the job done plus a new key in just a few minutes.
posted by Rumi'sLeftSock at 3:19 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]

Try a prayer to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost objects. Can't hurt to ask!
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:43 PM on September 22 [17 favorites]

Unfortunately, a lost key with a house or apartment number on it is a real security situation that can only be fixed by finding the key or changing the locks. I do sympathize, I have had car rental keys fall out of my swimsuit in Hawaii, dropped my credit and debit card in Paris, and left my retainer on the grounds of a family cemetary in West Virginia (come to think of it, perhaps I should simply not leave the house). Definitely retrace your steps with someone else, explain what you were doing, in the hope it jogs your memory.

If you still can't find it, I would find a locksmith with reasonable reviews and get a quote in writing for a re-key and some number of replacement keys. Then I would call my hosts, explain very briefly what happened, let them know you are happy to handle the re-key, or to give them the money and let them.
posted by wnissen at 3:53 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

Have you checked your sister's place? There seems to have been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.
posted by zadcat at 3:58 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

The last time I did this, it was in my pocket, which I obviously had checked five thousand times. I found it after I calmed down and decided to run my finger over the seam to check for holes.
posted by kapers at 4:18 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]

Check your clothes.
Retrace your steps with a flashlight, pay extra attention to areas in shade/shadow like corners.
Try shining the beam into the mailbox slot, to see if one of the neighbors dropped off the found key already.
Did you absentmindedly put the loose key on your own keyring before you left your sister's home?
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:34 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Professor Solomon has some tips for finding lost objects; they have worked for me. PDF/ebook version here too. (Don't be put off by the 1990's web design, they are legit!
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:36 PM on September 22 [6 favorites]

Is the key labelled with the address or just the unit number? Like, if a random person finds it in the street, can they figured out where to use it?

If so, that’s more urgent than if the key is only marked with a unit number because in that case the person who finds it either can’t get into the building, or they may be a friendly neighbour / an acquaintance.

Ask the concierge in case someone turned it in at the front desk.

The best advice for finding lost things is something I read on Metafilter: “when something is missing, it’s usually right where it’s supposed to be, just hidden from view”. Take a breather and look again in all the right places.

I would call the owners and let them know, just apologize and offer to make it right and see what they suggest. I wouldn’t be mad if a generally-responsible friend lost my key. Shit happens.

You may end up paying for a locksmith to come redo the lock. This happened recently at my house for a regular Home Depot installed lock and it was only a $200 problem.

Good luck!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:44 PM on September 22

I use something I call "the grid system". Imagine everywhere it could be, divided into grid squares about 18" square. Check each square one at a time, top to bottom, thoroughly.
posted by amtho at 4:50 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

Are you wearing pants with the cuffs folded up? I have found lost objects in the cuffs of my jeans more than once.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 5:12 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]

Were you carrying any bags or boxes? Look in them all the way to the bottom.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:42 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

In my parents’ Florida condo, the building manager has a full set of keys.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:14 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

Is it in the door?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:17 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]

How old is your son? Can he help search because kids can see things we can't because our minds are... too full.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:30 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

As for what you say:

If I did this to someone, I would be stressed. But honestly if someone did this to me, I wouldn't care too much! I have spare keys. Assuming you can get through the night without leaving the place unattended and unlocked it's not necessarily a big deal.

I'd want someone to be apologetic. Since the key had a unit number on it, and if you can afford it, an offer to rekey the door would really cover all the potential impact.

Obviously people respond differently so I can't guarantee they'll be cool, but you're taking this seriously and sincerely feel horrible about it, which is about all a decent person would do if they can't find the keys.

Hopefully it's one of those things where you wake up and spot them right away with a fresh set of eyes!
posted by mark k at 7:50 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]

Have you checked under the couch/seat cushions at both places? How about near the toilets? Tucked into your car seat cushion? Thinking of any place where you may have sat down.

Is your son young enough that he might have picked up the key to play with it? Is there a child at your sister's place that might have done this?

They're unlikely to freak out. If you can afford it, tell them you'll pay for rekeying. If not, let them know that you'll pay them back down the line when you're able. It's not like you did it on purpose and while inconvenient it's not a catastrophe. Imagine them being okay with it.
posted by happy_cat at 8:40 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]

If I were the homeowner, I would want you to call me, because then I could tell you the drawer in the kitchen where we keep extra keys, or which neighbor has a spare set. You may decide/need to re-key the locks, but as a stop-gap so that you can go out when you need to, I'd be very comfortable with you using a spare key if one was available.

Good luck!
posted by Well I never at 10:07 PM on September 22 [6 favorites]

Did you put it on your keyring?
posted by wenestvedt at 4:39 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]

I would call the owners ASAP.

I would probably also pay a locksmith to get the locks re-keyed, and get a bunch of spares to give to the owners. But, as you are "in a pickle" that might be more than you are able to do?

I HATE losing important stuff. Ugh. And then it usually shows up somewhere later. Which also sucks.
posted by Windopaene at 8:10 AM on September 23

Response by poster: My sister found it !! It was in the parking lot. Someone parked over it and I didn’t even consider that.

Thank you.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:59 AM on September 23 [63 favorites]

Hurray!!!! 🎉🔑
posted by wenestvedt at 5:41 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]

What a relief!
posted by virago at 6:43 PM on September 23

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