Your Safety Comes First
The majority of people probably would not walk into a secluded house with a stranger. Real estate professionals do it every day. That’s why the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), along with individual brokerage offices across the country, is re-evaluating techniques for promoting agent safety. In the meantime, real estate licensees can take smart steps to better protect themselves.
Advice to help real estate professionals avoid risky situations:
- Set initial meetings with new clients at the office, not in the field. Office meetings set a professional tone for the agent–client relationship. Plus, they provide an opportunity to make a copy of your client’s driver’s license and have the person fill out a Prospect Identification Form. Many brokers now require this to provide a safer working environment for licensees. Sometimes, that extra step is all that is needed to put a stop to a criminal’s plan.
- Record new client information electronically. If meeting in the office proves impossible, take a picture of your client’s driver’s license and car license tag and send it by email or text to your broker or office manager. Use technology to your advantage. Protect yourself by creating a digital paper trail.
- Keep your jewelry under wraps. Do not use glamorous pictures of yourself wearing expensive jewelry for advertising. Criminals see agents with diamond accessories and pricey watches as prime targets. Try to look classy without dressing especially flashy.
- Limit the personal information you share. Your client does not need to know your son has a game tonight and is the school’s soccer star. You can get to know your client and still build a quality business relationship without providing too much information about yourself, your family or where you live.
- Separate personal from professional. Do not share your home address or phone number on any advertisement. Having separate email accounts for business and personal use provides anonymity as well.
- Make your clients feel known. Introduce your prospect to someone in the office when you meet them for the first time. Would-be assailants want to stay inconspicuous so they can avoid detection. The more eyes that are on them, the less likely they will attack.
- Let someone know your plans. Always let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Leave the name and phone number, plus any additional information you have collected, of the client you are meeting.
- Help your brokerage keep tabs on you. It is a good idea for brokerage offices to have an employee check-out board on a website or at work to list your name, destination, customer name, the date and expected return time.
- Don’t list properties as vacant. Avoid listing properties as “vacant,” since advertising an empty house can be seen as an open invitation to criminals. Going to a vacant lot and finding squatters there rarely ends well.
- Never park in the driveway. When you’re showing a home, it’s safer to park at the curb in front of the property instead of in the driveway. This allows more visibility to neighbors if a conflict occurs. It’s also much easier to escape in your vehicle if you don’t have to back out of a driveway. Additionally, leaving your car in a driveway means the perpetrator could park behind you, making it more difficult to leave.
- Show properties during the day. Always show properties before dark. Do not lower any shades or draw any curtains or blinds.
- Choose a safe word or code. Establish a distress word with a relative, close friend or coworker. A secret word or phrase that is not commonly used but can be worked into any conversation for cases where you may feel threatened. Example: “Hi, this is Jane. I am at [address]. Could you send me the red file?” A simple phone call with the distress phrase could alert someone that you are in danger.
- Leave your belongings in the car. Do not take your purse or laptop bag into the house. Lock it in the car trunk before you arrive.
- Always have your phone. Take your cell phone with you at all times, in case you need to call for help.
- Have a security app. Install a panic button and/or security app on your phone that allows you to easily call for help in a covert manner.
- Let clients walk in front. While showing a house, always let the prospect lead. Direct them instead of walking in front of them. For example: “The kitchen is on your left.” This allows you to keep an eye on them.
- Avoid attics and basements. You don’t need to follow clients into dark, windowless parts of houses, such as attics and basements. This will help prevent you from getting trapped there. If clients want to view those areas, you don’t need to go with them.
- Look around your car. When you are getting into your car alone, look in the backseat and underneath the car. Lock the doors immediately when you get inside.
- Dress for the weather. If your car breaks down, or you need to escape a dangerous situation on foot, you will need to be dressed appropriately.
- Take a self-defense class. A good course will help teach you the proper maneuvers to physically fend off an attack and cover defense strategies, assertiveness and powerful communication tactics.
- Never hesitate to call for help. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Do not hesitate to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.
- Trust your first instinct. Often there is a reason why your intuition tells you something feels off. If you don’t feel comfortable about a situation, figure out an alternative or ask someone to go with you.
Above all, remember the biggest asset to your business is you. You can’t serve your customers if you don’t protect yourself.