BY: JOHN V. GIARDINELLI, ATTORNEY AT LAWCASEY MCINTOSH, PARALEGAL
“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. REALTORS® can be vulnerable to robbers, thieves, squatters, angry ex-homeowners, hostile pets, stalkers, rapists, and murderers. With this in mind, it is no wonder that the real estate profession is sometimes considered a dangerous career.
Recently, there have been reports of a man in the Menifee area, calling on female agents at a local development and visiting the office on numerous occasions. He has also been seen sitting outside of the building in his car. The man’s disarming behavior has been reported to authorities and is under investigation, but it is an important reminder to real estate professionals to stay alert and aware.
The last several years have seen an upsetting increase in the amount of violence towards real estate professionals. There have been many harrowing tales of open houses and home tours gone awry, and many experts have attempted to address the issue of REALTOR® safety. The following is a compilation of the best tips and tricks in the industry.
- Always trust your instincts in any given situation. If a potential client does not seem trustworthy or you do not feel comfortable, don’t take a risk just to make a sale.
- Meet potential clients at the office first. Do not meet people for the first time at the property you are showing. Criminals hate witnesses and meeting people at the office generally ensures that someone else will see them and know who they are.
- Gather as much information on potential clients as possible. At minimum, get a copy of the person’s driver’s license or other identification. You can also have them fill out a more detailed “Prospect Identification Form,” which is available on NAR’s website (www.realtor.org).
- Tell your coworkers, friends or family members where you will be and who you will be with when you show a property or have an open house.
- Try to finish showing properties well before the sun goes down. Avoid showing properties after dark
- If you must show a property after dark, arrive early and open every blind or shade, and turn on all the lights.
- When possible, show homes with a coworker.
- Follow clients through doors and into rooms. Do not go in first.
- Avoid going into basements and attics. These rooms are enclosed and muffle calls for help.
- Unlock all doors and windows in the home, and make sure you have an escape out of the backyard should something happen.
- Always have your cell phone fully charged and on your person in an easily accessible place (i.e. front pocket).
- Download personal security apps such as StreetSafe. StreetSafe has a discrete “Silent Red Alarm” that communicates your location and profile information to the local 911 center. If the situation is not yet significant enough to call 911, the “Walk With Me” feature will put you in touch with a live safety advisor who will offer tips and call the police if the situation escalates.
- Make sure you get cell signal where at the property you are showing.
- Insist on driving to the property separately from the client. If you must drive together, make sure it is in your car.
- Always have your car’s gas tank at least ¼ full.
- Park in a well-lit, visible location.
- If you have to walk to your car alone at night, call your friend and chat until you’re safely in your vehicle.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Follow NAR’s “10-Second Rule” and take 2 seconds when you get to the property, get out of your car, walk toward your destination, arrive at the door, and enter the door to make sure you feel safe.
- Keep marketing material professional. Criminals have been known to choose victims based on their pictures.
- Dress professionally. Do not wear loose clothing or scarves that a perpetrator could grab onto.
- Check the rooms and backyard after an open house to make sure everyone is gone. Be prepared to defend yourself.
- Agree on a distress code at the office. NAR recommends saying, “Hi, this is Jennifer. I’m with Mr. Henderson at the Elm Street listing. Could you email me the RED FILE?” This alerts the office, but hopefully not the perpetrator.
- Have an “out” for threatening situations, such as fictionalized phone call, or saying that another agent is on his way.
- Never say you’re alone, even if you are. If someone shows up to your office when you’re the only one there, casually mention that someone else is with you.
- Carry pepper spray on your key chain and/or a Taser gun to protect yourself.
- Take a self-defense class. Many community associations offer these courses for free.
Personal safety should always be a REALTOR®’s top priority. Although you may miss out on a sale, you may also be avoiding a potentially dangerous situation. In times like these, common sense goes a long way. If something doesn’t seem safe or doesn’t feel right, find a way out.
More REALTOR® safety information can be found on NAR’s website (www.realtor.org), C.A.R.’s website (www.car.org), and various locations on the Internet.