Working in the field of real estate involves extensive contact with the public and requires agents to work alone in isolated situations and locations. These and other factors may compromise your personal safety and increase your risk for all types of violence. Crimes against real estate professionals like robbery, rape and murder are the most reported and highly publicized.
However, these are not the only risks. Agents may be exposed to other dangerous situations including harassment, threats, stalking and assault. Without completely changing the way you do business, it’s important to consider implementing some basic safety procedures while you’re working.
If possible, meet perspective clients in the office and collect preliminary information from them before showing or listing properties. During the first contact with the client, you should complete some type of client identification form. If it’s not possible to meet at the office, the form should be completed at a public location or on-site.
Explain that the information is collected for safety purposes and assure the client that it will be kept confidential. This should not present a problem for legitimate clients.
Obtain the basic information listed on the form and make sure it’s complete. Verify the information provided by requesting to see a driver’s license or photo identification.
Make a photocopy of the driver’s license or photo identification. If it’s not possible to make a copy, write down all of the information including: identification number, state of issue, full name, date of birth, address, etc. Ask questions if there are any discrepancies in information.
Creating an itinerary system is the foundation of a successful safety program. This type of system provides the office with critical information in case you ever fail to report as scheduled, make a distress call or become missing. It’s critical that someone know where you are and who you are with, so we suggest you report your daily appointment schedule, including appointment times, locations and client information using any of the following options:
· Call in to the Office
· Call in to a Voice System
· Call to a Family Member or Trusted Friend
· Leaving the Information on a Digital Recorder
· Recording the Information in a Log Book
· Leaving a Note on the Desk
Make sure the client is aware that you have reported your location and their identifying information. You can accomplish this by explaining that this is a safety precaution and making the phone call, writing the information in the log book, etc. in front of them. For example, you might say something like, “we have implemented a set of safety procedures in our office, so I need to obtain some basic information. May I please see a driver’s license or photo identification?”
After you have completed the form, you might say something like, “thank you for your cooperation, I am going to enter this information, call in this information, etc. It will only take a moment and we can get started.”
If the client is potentially dangerous, knowing other people are aware of your location and their identity may serve as a deterrent. Even if you decide not to implement an itinerary system, you could still use this strategy by calling your home voice mail and leaving the information. The most important aspect of this strategy is projecting that you are safety conscious and making the client believe someone knows where you are and who they are.
Important Note: Make sure you report any schedule or location changes that occur during your work day.
Check-In and Distress System
The emergency distress system is a tool you can use to signal distress and get help in situations where you do not want to alert the client to their intentions. The distress code should include words that are easy to remember and generally not used in daily conversations. It should also include some method for imparting your address or location.
Whether you use the office, an assistant, a family member or trusted friend to check-in. You should agree upon a word or phrase that everyone can remember. It should be something that would not be said under normal circumstances. For example, you might choose to call in and say, “Hi Linda, I am at 5240 Pine Way in Parker, can you pull the red file for that property? I have a question. In this example, the term “red file” indicates you’re in danger and need the police to respond.
It’s important to note that if you feel like you are in danger, and you are able, you should remove yourself from the situation ASAP. The distress code should be used for situations where you feel you are unable to escape and need the police to respond immediately.
If you need to call 911, try to use the phone at the property location so the address will be immediately identified by police dispatch. Remember, even if you have to dial and drop the phone, the police will respond. If you use your cell phone, make sure you communicate the address FIRST or the police will not know where to find you. With the amount of location changes involved in your profession, you might consider adding a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) service to your phone.
After you have given the address, you can provide additional information if you are able. Again…even if you have to yell the address into the phone and run, the police will be sent. Remember to keep the address of the location right in front of you in case you need to make a distress call.
Showing or Listing Properties & Conducting Open Houses
When you are showing, listing or conducting and open house at a property, we recommend that you:
· Take your own vehicle. If you must travel together make sure you drive so you have control. When you arrive park your vehicle in a well lit area where it can’t be blocked in.
· The client is not the only potential threat. Do not let your guard down with anyone, including the property owner, neighbors, other agents, etc. In addition, watch for other suspicious people in the area, watching you, following you, etc.
· Arrive early and preview the property if possible. Identify all possible escape routes and make sure doors and windows that may aid your escape are unlocked. Of course, you should balance the risk vs. the benefits of unlocking the doors. If you feel that the risks outside of the property outweigh the potential risks from the client inside, you may choose to lock the doors once you’re inside.
· Once inside, stay with the client, but let the client lead the way. Never turn your back on anyone or enter small, secluded or dark spaces. Keep your distance and talk from the doorway if necessary.
· In order to protect the property owner as well as yourself, do not lose sight of the client. Watch to make sure the client does not steal any items, plant weapons for later use or unlock any doors or windows for later entry.
General Safety Strategies & Reminders
In addition to the occupationally specific strategies covered above, here are some general reminders:
- Don’t decide whether or not a client is safe based on their occupation, gender, age, etc. Remember criminals are experts at deception. Use universal safety precautions every time with every client.
- Ask questions and listen for discrepancies and inconsistencies. Indicators of dishonesty should raise red flags.
- Always carry a fully charged cell phone in your hand or on your belt. Carry the property phone and/or cell phone with you during entire contact.
- Stay alert and aware. Don’t let anyone surprise you.
- Maintain a safe distance to increase your reaction time.
- If you have to physically defend yourself, act quickly and decisively to stop the threat and escape.
- Any defensive device (pepper spray, kubotan, etc.) you choose should be carried on your body where it is easily accessible.
Most importantly, listen to your instincts and suspicions. If you have the feeling something is not right, walk away. No sale is worth your life!
Listen to Pamela Hill discuss the topic of Realtor Safety on her Voice America Radio Show: Fear is Negotiable Business Survival Skills 101.