September is the National Association of Realtors “Realtor Safety Month”. With 2010 and 2011 being two of the most violent years for real estate agents since these statistics have been established, it is important to constantly remind agents of the possible dangers that come with this occupation. Agents routinely find themselves alone with virtual strangers; chauffeuring their clients to multiple homes they have listed without an escape plan in place should something go terribly wrong.
Research compiled by Moby, AGBeat, and S.A.F.E. revealed some startling figures:
- The majority of the attacks on Realtors in 2011 occurred in the afternoon on Thursdays or Fridays
- Nearly 30% of attack victims are men
- Most attacks did not occur inside major metro areas
- Guns are used roughly 50% of the time in attacks
- Robbery was the intention going into the attack but frequently resulted in murder
Don’t become a crime statistic. Use the following safety tips I have compiled to ensure your well-being while showing homes to potential buyers and conducting open houses for your sellers.
Tip 1 – Start with Safe Marketing: Debate removing your photo from business cards, advertisements, signs, etc. If you choose to keep your image on these marketing items, make certain your picture is professional and that you do not wear suggestive clothing or expensive jewelry. Recently, an Ohio agent was attacked with a stun gun while showing homes to what she believed to be a prospective buyer. When the perpetrator was apprehended, the police found an MLS book with the agent’s photograph circled – she had been targeted because of her picture. Be cautious of the image you are conveying to the public in your advertisements.
Limit the information you dole out on your business cards and advertisements. Use your office phone then have it forwarded to your cell and never give clients your home address.
Tip 2 – Know Your Clients: Meet prospective buyers at your offices and have them complete a Customer Identification Form and provide you a driver’s license or other form of ID to copy for your records. As best you can, document vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers. Be sure to hand this information to an associate in plain view of your client (even introduce them as you do this) so the client knows that other people are aware of whom they are. It is also suggested that you perform a quick Google search, background check, or employment verification prior to working with someone to verify their identification.
Tip 3 – Use Your Coworkers as Safety Devices: Get to know your fellow agents and be sure to tell someone in your office about your appointments. Give a staff member this completed Agent Itinerary Form so they have information as to whom you are with, where you are going, and what time you expect to be back.
Develop an office “distress signal” for situations when agents feel vulnerable or anxious and don’t want to tip off their client to their unease. This code should also be known to your family and friends; however, if an agent feels that they are in significant danger, they should immediately call 911.
Remember, agents don’t have to do it alone. If you are holding an open house or showing homes, you can invite another agent, friend, family member to meet you at the homes or even ride along in the car with you. If you do go unaccompanied, make hourly phone calls to confirm your location and verify you are safe.
Tip 4 – Safety Apparel: Wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and forego the high heels in case you need to make a quick exit. Leave the expensive (or gaudy) jewelry at home – there is no need to showcase your financial success to potential buyers while at a showing or in the office.
Always carry your cell and have it on-hand – possibly clipped on your waistband – for quick access in case of emergency. Be sure it is completely charged and ready for use should you need it.
If possible, avoid carrying your purse and keep your credit cards and cash limited to what you need. Making you a less desirable target could deter a criminal from attacking.
Tip 5 – Vehicle Safety: As you know, realtors spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars and, sometimes, this time is spent alone with strangers. Keep your car’s maintenance schedule up to date including oil changes and be sure to have at least half of a tank of gas at all times and an emergency kit (flares, tire tools, first aid kit, etc.).
Although it is against the grain, agents might want to consider meeting their client at the site or taking separate cars to their showings. If this isn’t possible, the agent drives the client, not the other way around.
Always keep your keys with you, whether you are showing people around the neighborhood or hosting an open house. When you arrive at your destination, take an assessment of your surroundings, including landmarks and street names and ensure you don’t allow yourself to get ‘painted-in’ to a spot and unable to leave if you need to – most likely this means parking on the street instead of in a driveway.
Tip 6 – Use Your Gut: If a client makes you uncomfortable, uneasy, apprehensive, or you just don’t get a good feeling about them – listen to your instincts. Be vigilant and use extra precautions with this client or, better yet, let them go. A good paycheck is not worth your health or your life.
Tip 7 – Staying Safe Inside the Home: Open houses can be a boon to a house sale; however, there are several steps an agent can take to ensure they are safe during their event. Never conduct an open house alone; invite another realtor, partner with a loan officer, a family member, or a friend to be with you. Let neighbors know about the open house. Not only is getting to know the neighbors good for your safety, but it is also a respectable way to get some more visitors to your listing.
Assess the home for escape routes and areas that you should avoid, such as basements and attics. If you do give a prospect a tour of the home, allow them to walk in front of you at all times and stay close to the door of the room. Always keep your car keys and cell phone on your person.
In many cases, the perpetrators see photos of a property online and make note of the house’s belongings prior to visiting, so remind the homeowners to lock away all jewelry, expensive electronics and medication to deter these thieves.
The North Carolina Association of Realtors® Real Estate Safety Council and the North Carolina Real Estate Commission penned a great Summary of Basic Safety Practices for any realtor:
- Identify the person you are working with before you join him or her alone, in a car or a house.
- Preferably meet him or her at your office, copy his or her driver’s license and make sure someone from your office knows where you’ll be going with the person.
- Always carry your cell phone with you and make sure it is fully charged and has reception. Program 911 into speed dial and don’t hesitate to call for help. Make sure your method of communication utilizes the most current technology.
- Trust your instincts. If you have a bad feeling, don’t second-guess what it’s telling you. Listen to your gut feeling and protect yourself.
- Never assume you are safe.
These steps cannot guarantee anyone’s total safety; however, taking steps to prevent or forestall trouble can diminish your chances of being a victim.
Keep an eye out for my next article regarding online safety…with so much of the real estate world moving to the internet, it is important to learn how to keep your information safe.