Yes, you must have a Supra key and pay monthly, for the rest of your career, in order to show properties. It's theoretically possible to show properties without a Supra Key, but from a practical sense it's almost impossible to pick up a key for every property you'd like to show. That's why the lock box system was developed to begin with.
You must pay for the Supra Key because someone convinced your local Board, (I'm not saying they were paid Kickbacks) to adopt a system that requires monthly fees forever and gives the Listing Agent (and possibly their entire Office) an Illegal Unfair Advantage by telling THEM, and no one else, that you have shown their property three times in the past 24 hours and may very likely to be about to submit an offer. The Immediate SUPRA notification permits them to alert their fence sitting buyer to move immediately, thereby beating you to the sale. It's a terrific Unfair Advantage and they love it!
There are alternatives to the regular monthly fees (that unfairly restrain trade by increasing the costs to do business). Almost all MLS systems originally used a physical key operated box or combination lock box, that once purchased for between $20 to $50 per box, had NO additional costs. New agents seldom have immediate income and the higher monthly fees with SUPRA help restrict trade and reduce competition, not to mention Obscene profits to Supra and GE from not only the fees, but from the Intelligence Data that shows real time real estate activity. You don't think the listing agent is the only one receiving this data did you?
They know what property, what price and size ranges are being shown and can construct data models that predict the likelihood of market trends, sales activity from showing, as well as the likelihood of retail sales after a home purchase (as most new home buyers will stimulate the economy by buying curtains, drapes, appliances and new furniture, etc.) all in real time, preceding the sale. Talk about valuable data available for resale to outside entities.
Additionally, the monthly Supra Fee, increases operating costs that help reduce competition. Since new agents usually take a while to generate any sales and income, this is a major advantage to reducing competing agents, as many can not afford to maintain the artificially high fees, between National, State and Local Dues, MLS fees, access fees, Supra Fees, etc. and leave the business thereby leaving more sales for those agents remaining.
The benefit to reduced competition and providing the Listing Agent with an Unfair Advantage should not be underestimated, it is Substantial! Worst hit are the elderly Realtors (Age Discrimination) who are forced out of business by the expenses.
NAR mandates rules for local MLS's to adopt. One suggestion is to Mandate that Kickbacks, vacations and benefits of any kind, from Vendors to Executive Officers and Board Members are Illegal and that All offers must be reported to the membership. Additionally, NAR should mandate that detailed record keeping be made by all committees and Boards of Directors. Many boards provide virtually no record of what happened because it's hard to prove malfeasance if there are no records.
The Supra key system does provide good showing information, however this information can also be obtained by leaving a Realtor's Sign-In sheet of paper in the property along with a local Board requirement that All Agents sign in Each visit to the property.
SUPRA information should be Delayed 3 days before being disseminated. That would provide reliable information, but Disable the Unfair Advantage to the Listing Agent/Listing Office. Please Demand this from your local board before we all get hit with a Restraint of Trade Law Suit that costs our local Board a few Hundred Thousand Dollars per board to defend, fines, penalties and attorney fees for the other side if we loose. If our board has to pay, and we are our board, we personally could get hit with many Thousands of Dollars each, especially if the clauses in our insurance states that they will not cover Illegal Acts, and the court just determined that WAS an Illegal Act.
Demand this be corrected today!