Very few things concern me more than when one of my agents goes on a showing. There are ways to improve your ability to be safe in that environment. I've posted a few Realtor safety blogs over the past 8 years. This is an annual one.
September is Realtor Safety Month, and it's a good time to reflect on how we conduct our business. I tend to be a pretty lighthearted person. Actually, I think life is pretty funny, and I generally find humor in most things, but there is one thing I’m totally serious about. It’s Realtor safety. Realtors are a uniquely vulnerable group of professionals when it comes to safety. Think about it. You meet a stranger, he asks you to go an empty house two miles down a dirt road out of cell range and you go along without a care in the world. Well, it would be nice if that scenario was an excited first time home-buyer looking for a super deal on a country foreclosure. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, every Realtor needs to have a set of mental guidelines he/she uses when showing property. I wish every client was like the overwhelming majority of my clients. I’m blessed with great clients, but I also know we live in a dangerous world, and everyone does not have the best intentions. With the growth of the use of the internet in the real estate market, more opportunities are rising for predators to find vulnerable Realtors. I get a few solicitations every week that are bogus.They could lead to financial loss, or they could lead to physical danger. Predators know that Realtors are easy targets. There has been an average of 17 Realtor homicides per year from 2003 - 2012. You don't want to be a target.
While I was in a recent real estate class the topic of Realtor safety came up, and here is the advice I gave the class hopefuls just entering the market.
Meeting New Clients
● Always meet first-time clients in your office for an interview before going
out to look at property.
● Take an hour or more to get to know them, their story and their needs. Take notes that you will leave in your desk in the office. Make sure names are attached as well as any concerns you may have when speaking with a first-time client.
● If you’re going out with a new client for the first time, make sure your office knows where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Make sure the client is standing there when you alert your broker, office receptionist or whoever of your plans. If the client isn’tthere when you leave for the appointment make sure when you meet your client that you greet him and say, “Oh, hang on a second, I need to check in with the office. I’m expecting a call and I need them to know where I am and when to expect me back.”
● Have your office call you periodically to check on you. Make sure you speak loudly enough that your client knows it's your office and not one of your kids who can’t find the snacks in the pantry. In that conversation, tell your office staff where you are again. Make sure it’s loud enough that the client hears it.
● Have your first time client leave a copy of his/her driver's license with the receptionist. You can tell him you always do that when you take on a new client. At least that way he will not feel singled out.
I get a lot of resistance from Realtors on this one, but it may well have saved me from a difficult situation. I had two guys come to my office last year. They wanted me to help them find investment property. Great! I was ready to get started. I interviewed them, and during the interview I started to feel a sense that something wasn’t right. My radar is always on, so if I notice anything that seems out of the norm, and I pay attention. During the interview, one of them said, “You look like you can take care of yourself. I bet nobody messes with you, do they?”
I thought that sounded like a strange comment and question, but I set it aside and responded with a short quip and moved on. We looked at a number of houses on the internet and then made our plan to go look at them in person. Just before we headed out I told them I needed to make copies of their driver’s licenses to leave with the file so my receptionist would know who I was with. They immediately got nervous and canceled the trip. Suddenly they remembered an appointment they had in a neighboring town, and surprisingly enough they remembered that it was right at that time. Out the door they went, and I never saw them again. I have no idea what they were up to, but getting that photo ID stopped them cold.
At a Property
● When you go to a showing, always open the front door, and usher the clients in ahead of you. When you’re opening the lockbox do it in such a way that you’re at a 90 degree angle to the door so that your clients are in front of you and not behind you.
● Never go into a small room, such as a bathroom or laundry room, etc., with the clients. Stand in the doorway if you want, but make sure you’re outside the door and have a clear path of escape.
● Always stay between your clients and an escape route. Don’t be the first one down a hall or up or down stairs. Always follow your clients.
● Always look for multiple exits when you enter a house.
● Keep your cell phone in your hand at all times. Touch base with your office for information periodically to keep that connection in the minds of your clients. That would be perfectly normal.
● Never go into areas where you’re concerned about safety. Decline showings if you have any concerns about a known high-crime area.
● Some agents choose to carry a weapon. Only carry a weapon you’re trained to use. A simple weapon that serves a useful purpose is a long metal flashlight. You may need it anyway, so it doesn’t look out of place on a showing. In relation to firearms, be sure you know how to use them. If you’re going to carry a firearm, make sure you have a conceal-carry permit. Most of all, don’t ever reveal a gun unless you’re willing to use it. There are a growing number of inexpensive stun guns on the market. Some are disguised as umbrellas and other items. That might be a good alternative to a firearm. Another option might be the Guard Llama. Guard Llama is a handheld safety device that with a click of a button alerts police to your GPS wearabouts. It also sends your photo and medical information to an emergency dispatcher. Not all concerns are about your physical safety. It may be about your health.
You and Your Car
● Always make sure your car is in good running condition and has plenty of fuel.
● As stated before, take your own car.
● Never park your car in a place where it can be blocked.
● Always lock your doors as soon as you sit down in your driver’s seat. Make it a habit.
● Never park in a dark area.
This list could go on and on, but you get the idea, and really, these are simple life lessons. A lot of these things would be just as true at the mall as when you’re showing a house. Be safety conscious. Be conscious of your surroundings at all times, and be aware of your clients. Always maintain situational awareness. Most Realtors will never have a situation where any of this information will be critical, but every year some don’t survive. Your safety is your responsibility. And like the shift captain on Hill Street Blues used to say at shift start, “Be careful out there.”