A Growing Concern Over Realtor Safety
Crimes perpetrated against real estate agents may not make the front page news, but they do happen. Every day agents meet with people they have never met, sometimes in areas they have never been before, putting themselves at risk to those who would exploit that vulnerability.
“An unfortunate aspect of the profession requires members to meet strangers,” said Sara Wiskerchen, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors.
Crimes Against Real Estate Agents
With digital marketing for real estate playing such a major role in how Realtors acquire new clients, many real estate agents now find themselves meeting strangers from online leads.
In September 2014, Arkansas real estate broker Beverly Carter was kidnapped and murdered by a couple who had targeted her for being rich.
Carter’s family later sued her employer who, according to the complaint “never ran background checks, nor encouraged its Realtors to run background checks, on potential home buyers previously unknown to the company.”
Sarah Anne Walker was hosting an open house at a model home in McKinney, Texas when she was stabbed 27 times by a man out on parole who had just happened upon her open house.
71-year-old Ann Nelson was robbed and beaten with a fireplace poker while showing a home to a man who had contacted her as a prospective home buyer.
In Orange County, a real estate agent was raped and killed by a man masquerading as a prospective home buyer after finding her photo online.
Although crime doesn't have a time of the year it is most prevalent, the real estate industry does.
With the real estate market naturally slowing down this time of year, many agents will take a meeting with a stranger because business is slower.
Real Estate Agents Speak Out About Fear
NAR is well aware of that agents put themselves at risk every day. “An unfortunate aspect of the profession requires members to meet strangers,” said Sara Wiskerchen, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
Their response has been to offer their agents safety tools, and awareness classes and they publish an annual safety report. The 2018 Member Safety Report was compiled from a survey sent to over 58,000 Realtors.
When asked if they felt unsafe when meeting a new client at home instead of their office or coffee shop, 44 percent of the women and 25 percent of the men said they feel unsafe about 40 percent of the time. It is also important to understand that real estate is local - if the area in which you practice real estate is high-crime, then obviously the risks are higher. That, in no way, says that if you are selling real estate in a low crime area, you should not take precautions.
The report shows that almost half of all local agents use a locator app on their smartphone. However, Danielle Montana, spokesperson for Forewarn, a safety app launched in 2017, observed in a CNN report, “locator safety apps only kick in after an agent goes missing or doesn’t check in, and may simply come too late.”
Private Companies Respond
Real Safe Agent
The company Real Safe Agent has been making progress with Realtor boards across the country to have their product included in the local board value proposition.
The Real Safe Agent system gets deployed by participating Realtor boards and is available for all of their respective real estate agents.
Forewarn, developed by data-analytics firm Cogent, estimates that agents are now scheduling 40 to 50 percent of their showings with people who have not been pre-vetted by another agent.
The app, available only to licensed real estate agents and brokers, allows an agent to enter a phone number and get an instant background check including criminal history, verification of car and home ownership, mortgage liens and address history.
Other private companies are also stepping up. "A real estate agent makes a living meeting a complete stranger in an empty home," says Tracey Hawkins, owner and safety product speaker at Safety and Security Source. Hawkins created a program for selling foreclosed, real estate owned (REOs) and abandoned homes called Real Estate Agent Safety for Distress Properties.
“Agents may encounter squatters, angry former homeowners or even encounter abandoned pets that may be aggressive," says Hawkins. "These properties are often meth labs or pot-houses, and encroaching upon them is dangerous."
"They announce their open houses, therefore would-be criminals know where they are," says Hawkins. “Stalkers can target them at an open house or go rob their home with information that they can find easily on social media websites.”
Guard Llama, has taken a different approach and developed a safety device resembling a key fob. It has an emergency button that can be pushed if an agent feels threatened. The signal is sent to Guard Llama and police are dispatched to the location.
Tips on Realtor Safety
Real estate safety means planning ahead and making yourself a less appealing.
Don’t make yourself a target by wearing expensive jewelry
Whenever possible, take someone with you instead of meeting a client alone
Always make sure that someone knows where you are and who you are meeting
Carry a small handgun, pepper spray, or another type of weapon with you
One of the most beneficial ways to stay safe is to carry a safety alert device that sends a distress call to the police as soon as you press a button
The Bottom Line
One thing that all safety experts agree on is that even with all the new tools and technology, Realtor safety comes down to one thing; listening to your own instincts.
Many of the stories told by real estate agents who have been victims of crime say that they ignored unusual behavior by the client prior to the attack. When in doubt, trust your instincts.