Nobody makes a horror film about the risks real estate agents take every day.
But showing vacant properties, meeting strangers, and holding open houses can be a scary business, especially when you work alone.
Part of becoming a real estate agent is learning how to keep yourself safe against unlikely, but possible, dangers.
Here are some common situations that can go bad fast, unless you take the following precautions.
Meeting new clients
Let’s face it, new clients are what agents dream of. New clients can produce new listings and new sales.
But there’s some stranger danger attached to inviting unknown people into your car and walking them into a vacant house. The man accused of kidnapping and killing Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter said he targeted her because she was “a woman that worked alone.”
Most strangers are perfectly nice people. Still, you can never be too cautious, so here are some ways to stay safe when you're meeting someone for the first time.
- Meet new clients at your office, not at the property.
- If possible, don’t work alone; ask an associate to attend that first meeting and accompany you to the showing.
- Google the client in advance. Most people have some online presence — Facebook or LinkedIn profiles — that will give you advance information. Often, you can check a company’s website to see if the client really is, say, vice president of sales at X, Inc.
- Ask new clients to sign in at a receptionist desk. Introduce them to a supervisor or colleague, so other people know who they are.
- Photocopy your client’s driver’s license; say it’s office procedure.
- Tell your supervisor where you’re going, with whom, and when you expect to return. If your office has a sign-out board, make sure you use it.
- Meet new clients during daylight hours. If you must meet the client at night, arrange the meeting in a lighted place, and turn on lights as you walk through the house.
- Limit personal information in your advertising. Use an office telephone number and address.
- Take your own car to a showing, and ask a new client to follow you in his.
When you show a house, start thinking about possible dangers even as you choose a parking spot and walk to the home.
- Park in a well-lit area on the street — not in a driveway, where you can be blocked in.
- Look around for possible hiding spots along the driveway or street.
- Notice if anyone is loitering on the street.
- If you get an uneasy feeling about anyone you see around the property, wait for backup or reschedule the showing.
Showing a house
This is when you want to be extra cautious, especially if the house is vacant or a foreclosure.
- Never wear expensive jewelry or carry an expensive bag to a showing. Either lock your bag in your car trunk and just carry your cellphone, or clean out your bag so you only have your cellphone and wallet (without credit cards). That will make it easier to grab your cellphone in an emergency.
- Become familiar with the house before a showing, especially its exit points. When you enter the house, scope out escape routes in case of an emergency. Unlock all deadbolts to make a faster escape. Scope out the backyard. If it’s fenced, make sure you open the gates.
- If the house is vacant, look for signs that someone may have already entered the house, like an unlocked door, open or broken window. If you see signs of entry, stay outside, and call the police.
Ask homeowners to secure jewelry, prescription drugs, keys, bank statements, and any other valuables or items that might make it easy for a crook to steal their identity.
Always bring up the rear and let the client walk in front of you into the house. Throughout the viewing, walk behind the client, using gestures and commands to guide them through the house.
Don’t enter rooms with no exit, like attics, basements, and bathrooms. Just point out the area, and invite the buyers to inspect the rooms themselves.
Attend a self-defense class. Then, if the worst happens, you’ll have the skills to protect yourself. Many health clubs and community centers hold classes that could help you fend off an attacker. Of course, flight is always better than fight. If you can run, do it.
If you pack Mace, pepper spray, or another weapon, make sure you know how to — and are willing to — use it.
Make sure your cellphone is fully charged, and keep it at hand. Pre-program emergency numbers, like 9-1-1, so you can press one number to get help.
Open house safety
- You want lots of people at your open house. But sometimes, people who attend aren’t interested in buying or eating free food.
- To minimize possible dangers, try these tips.
- Don’t work alone, if possible. Ask an assistant or another agent to provide backup during an open house.
- Turn on all lights and open curtains, which shines light on your open house.
- Invite neighbors, friends, family to attend the open house. A packed house is a harder target than an empty house.
- Ask all visitors to sign in — and possibly provide an ID — so you have their names, addresses, telephone numbers, and emails on file.
- Make sure the house is empty before you lock up for the day. Check all rooms, especially bathrooms, before leaving.
- Beware of large groups attending the end of an open house. Sometimes, crooks will come en masse, and have one member distract the Realtor while the others ransack the house.
- If you see someone slip something into his pocket, leave the house, and call the police. Don’t confront the thief.
Leaving a house in a rush
If you sense something is wrong — sometimes your gut senses danger before your brain — get out of the house.
Tell your client, “I left an important folder in the car,” or “I think I left my lights on.” Then leave.
Always wear comfortable clothes during a showing — no stilettos — so you can move freely and quickly if you need to leave in a hurry.
Also, create an office “distress code” and rescue plan. If you get an uh-oh feeling, call a colleague and work “cumquat” -- or whatever -- into the conversation, then leave.
Use safety to your advantage
As an agent, you most likely know the possible risks of buying and selling properties. But many FSBOs go into the process without an extra screen of protection.
In our FSBO book, we lay out the possible risks in selling FSBO — risks the FSBO may not have even considered when they decided to sell on their own.
Knowing those risks might be the extra push they need to list with an agent — and guess who they're likely to list with? The thoughtful agent who gave them the book in the first place! Order your copies today!
Joe Nickelson is a real estate professional dedicated to helping home buyers and sellers achieve their dreams of owning property, and helping real estate agents stop using the sometimes-vicious tactics that weigh on their consciences. He believes that the Smart Agents books will, quite literally, change people’s lives for the better. Check out his full bio here!