As a profession, real estate often means meeting strangers in unknown environments during off-hours. In 2011, a mobile safety app company took a survey of 450 real estate professionals and the results revealed that 42% of women and 18% of men “occasionally felt unsafe” while working as a real estate professional. Sadly, these feelings of uncertainty can lead to disastrous consequences, but it doesn’t have to but only if you take certain precautions.
Using one of the many Smartphone apps and devices on the market or by following a few personal safety tips and you can avoid getting into serious trouble. To help, we’ve broken down eight of the most common situations where Realtors can run into trouble — and we give practical, real-world tips to help keep you safe.
Staying safe online
Criminals can easily find out everything they need to know about you online. For that reason, it’s absolutely essential that you watch what you share online. Avoid posting your home number or personal address online and limit the amount of personal information about you and your family on the web. Where possible, consider not posting a photograph.
Listing presentation safety tips
Often an agent will go to a private residence to pitch why they should be the agent to list the person’s home for sale. The risk is that you’re alone in a home with a complete stranger. The vast majority of times, this situation offers no dangers signs and no concerns, but there are occasions. To help, consider practising the following safety tips.
Make it a rule to always meet first-time clients in the office rather than at their home. If this is not possible, ask a colleague to accompany you to the home for the meeting. Remember to notify the office of when, where and with whom you are meeting.
When at the meeting, avoid sharing personal information especially details about where you live or any upcoming vacation plans. A good rule of thumb is to always bring your own water or coffee, so you can refuse any refreshments offered by the prospective client. Remember, even nice people can turn into nasty people if they can incapacitate you.
Buyer-viewing safety tips
Sometimes you may need to meet potential buyers at one or more homes for a viewing. If this is the case, aim to hold the viewings during daylight hours, avoiding twilight or night-time appointments. Before you go, leave the name and phone number of the client you are meeting and let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. (Of course, if you can convince a colleague to join you that’s even better.)
Make sure your phone is fully charged and you’re appropriately dressed (shoes that you can run in, if necessary).
Arrive early to prepare the property. This includes unlocking all doors and windows and opening curtains or window shades. All these steps can help you feel safer and give you a better idea of what to do if things turn ugly.
If it’s not possible to get inside the house before your clients arrive, then consider waiting for clients inside your car with the doors locked. When the client arrives, be observant of your surroundings. Pay attention to suspicious actions. To get a better feel for this new client, chat with them a little outside the home before going in. This will help you assess whether or not you should enter a vacant home with this stranger.
Whenever possible, always have the prospect walk in front of you. This enables you to keep an eye on them. If they ask to see the attic or basement say they are welcome to explore these areas and that you’ll wait for them in the lobby.
If you feel uncomfortable about the situation at all, trust your instincts and leave quickly using a prepared scenario. A quick “I have another appointment,” statement or “I’ve just been buzzed by an agent who is on their way to view this home,” can leave you enough gap to get out and away to safety.
Car safety tips
Agents often need to drive clients to buyer viewings or negotiation meetings. In these situations, always try and take your own car. If the buyer isn’t from the area and asks that you pick them up from a train or bus station or the airport, consider taking extra steps to ensure your safety.
Always lock the doors and wind up the windows when leaving your car, and check the backseat and underneath the car when getting in. Assailants can hide and wait for you. If it’s all clear, get in and lock the doors immediately.
When viewing a home, never park your car in the driveway. You can get blocked in and this can prevent a quick getaway if you need one. Instead, try to park on the curb and remember to top up your gas tank — consider a quarter of a tank as the absolute minimum before any viewings.
In-person negotiation safety tips
A client may need to hold an in-person bid and negotiation session when buying a home. Even if you know and trust your client, the home in question may not always be located in the safest area. Be aware that you could be attacked before or after you enter the home.
Pay attention to your surroundings and don’t park too far away from the home. Make sure your phone is fully charged and your office knows where you are, who you are with and what time you expect to be done. You may want to ensure you have easy access to mace or pepper spray, e.g on a keychain.
When you enter the home, consider locking the door if you’re in a suspicious neighbourhood. Then check to make sure other entry routes are also secure.
Open house safety tips
Open houses can make agents feel particularly vulnerable. One agent described the experience as feeling like a ‘sitting duck.’ To prevent difficulties consider schedule an open house with two agents rather than one. Just the addition of a person can be enough of a deterrent to would-be attackers.
Before the open house starts, prepare the home. This requires you to arrive earlier and to unlock deadbolts and other locks located in the home. At this time, consider what routes would provide easy access getting into and getting out of the home. Keep any valuables locked in the trunk of your car rather than bringing them inside with you.
Make sure you have a panic button on your watch or a security app on your phone you can activate in an emergency. It’s a good idea to enrol in a basic self-defence course (in the U.S., many real estate brokerages are now making this a requirement for their agents and staff).
Viewing a vacant home safety tips
Vacant homes pose a risk because it means the owner is absent and may not be coming home anytime soon. Where possible, try and verify the client prior to the vacant home viewing. This requires them to fill out an Individual Identification Form or a Working with a Buyer’s Agent Representative form. Of course, this isn’t always practical. If that’s the case, avoid twilight or night-time viewing and verify that you have full mobile phone reception in the area and before entering the home.
You may also consider choosing your clothes carefully. By avoiding high heels and short skirts and removing expensive jewellery, you can dress to allow yourself an easier escape (without fear of losing anything valuable).
Showing a model home safety tips
Like a vacant home, viewing a model home can be risky because it’s not owner-occupied. When possible, don’t meet prospects at the model home, instead ask to meet them at your office, first. If this isn’t practical, then consider asking a colleague to accompany you. The trick is to never enter a model home with a stranger as viewing schedules can be erratic and there is no guarantee when the next Realtor or person will show up.
When waiting for your new client, consider sitting in your car with the doors locked. This will stop any attacker waiting for you to enter the home and trap you inside.
While all this preparation may seem paranoid, it’s necessary. “If we have to be a little paranoid and take the time to research before rushing out and showing properties to people we don’t know, then so be it,” says Kathleen Cosner of Cutler Real Estate “Safety is no accident. Preventing even one violent crime is worth taking a few minutes.”
It truly is better to be safe than sorry.