In recent years there has been a sharp increase in attacks on real estate agents while showing properties to potential clients.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, since 2003 the real estate industry has seen about 75 deaths a year as well as numerous rapes and robberies.
The nature of showing real estate leaves these agents vulnerable to attack. Agents meet complete strangers in empty homes and sometimes even have to deal with squatters and disgruntled former home owners.
The key to staying safe is to reduce your risk and learn how to defend yourself. Here are some helpful safety tips:
♦ Always verify client information: Ask your client for a phone number and a physical address. Verify the number by calling it and asking for your client. Or better yet, surprise call the client at his or her place of business. Don’t use the phone number the client gave you, look up the business yourself and ask for the client by name.
♦ Never meet an unknown client at a property. Set up your first meeting with a client in a safe, neutral setting such as your office. Introduce them to your colleagues and write down the client’s license plate and note the model and make of their car. You may also ask to make a copy of the client’s driver’s license.
♦ When showing a property, tell someone in your office where you are going and when you will be back. Call the office to check in often or have someone call you at a designated time to check on you. Set up a series of code words to alert them to various situations, such as when you feel uncomfortable during a showing or have an emergency situation.
♦ Never get into a car with an unknown client. Ask the client to follow you in a separate car. Keep your car doors locked while driving to the property.
♦ Always look around before you get out of your car. Take note of who is there and what they are doing.
♦ Park in a well lit and visible area where your car can’t be blocked in. Keep your doors locked.
♦ Keep your car keys with you at all times. Install a keyless remote system in your vehicle so you don’t have to fumble with keys if you need to get away quickly.
♦ When returning to your car, look around the area before approaching your car to make sure no one is waiting nearby.
♦ Always carry a fully-charged cell phone at all times and program it to call 911 at the push of a button. Carry the phone in your hand at all times, not in your pocket or briefcase.
♦ Never host an open house by yourself. Take a friend or colleague or hire an off-duty security guard or police officer to attend the open house. If you must hold an open house alone, stay near the door and let the client walk through the property themselves. Keep all your valuables locked in the trunk of your car.
♦ Meet the neighbors before holding an open house. Tell them you’ll be holding an open house and ask them to call you or the police if they see anyone or anything unusual. Give them your business card with your mobile number on it.
♦ Have a guest registry at an open house. Ask all visitors to sign in and include information such as their name, driver’s license and vehicle information.
♦ Don’t wear expensive jewelry to a showing or open house. Skip the heels and dressy shoes and wear comfortable shoes you can fight or run in.
♦ Never show vacant properties by yourself unless you already know and trust your client.
♦ Always carry pepper spray or mace in your pocket.
♦ Always follow your client through the property and never let him or her get behind you. When you approach a room, let your client enter the room by themselves while you stand at the door. Note where the exits are and always position yourself between the client and the nearest exit.
♦ Use only your first initial and last name on “For Sale” signs to conceal your gender.
♦ Take a self-defense course. Basic self-defense training will teach you what you need to know to assess a dangerous situation and how to either flee or fight back. Take a refresher course every year so you don’t forget the skills you learned.
♦ If you feel uncomfortable with a client during a showing, tell them you are expecting your colleague to arrive at the property at any moment.
♦ If the open house is at a vacant property that was foreclosed upon, take extra precautions. Walk around the property to look for signs on the doors and windows of a break-in or forced entry, even on the second floor windows. Then, knock on the front door and listen. If you don’t hear anything, open the door, stand to the side and announce your presence. If anyone is squatting inside, you want to give them the opportunity to leave without a confrontation. If you still feel uncomfortable or uncertain, don’t go inside alone. Ask someone to come with you or contact the police if you suspect someone is inside.
♦ Before an open house, check all the exists to make sure they are fully functioning. Any door that is blocked, locked or leads to a fenced-in area should be noted.
♦ If a property you are showing has a security system, learn how to use it. Turn on the features that signal when an exterior door has been opened. Learn how to use the security system’s panic button. Test the security system before the open house or showing to make sure it is working correctly.
♦ Most importantly, trust your instincts! Listen to your intuition and don’t discount any troubling feelings you might have about your client. If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is. This is a survival instinct and you should pay close attention to it.