Realtor Safety (video):
Very powerful and sad story of the importance putting safety first when showing property.
A safety plan begins with doing due diligence and, most importantly, walking away from uncomfortable situations. Insist on a first meeting in a public place. Verify the potential customer’s identity, and also let colleagues know your itinerary for the day.
“Get out as fast as you can,” are your thoughts as panic washes over you. You hear the eerie sounds of a door shuffling on its hinges. You look back to see only shadows but no movement.
You frantically fumble through your pockets in search for your keys. You pace and breathe quickly. You are spooked from being at this house — but no, it’s not Halloween or a laughing matter.
Whether real estate agent, buyer or homeowner, this can be the uncomfortable and, frankly, downright frightening experience that unfolds when real estate showing safety guidelines are not used.
Sadly, more often than not, we agents, homesellers and real estate buyers have been in precarious home showing situations that could spell danger.
Lee Davenport offers five simple tips to showing a home safely in honor of Realtor safety month (September) and in memorium of Beverly Carter (the Realtor who was attacked and murdered at a home showing):
Let this be our primary #squadgoals! Use apps such as StaySafe, bSafe (I love that it can make fake calls so that you can excuse yourself) and Bugle (in case you are loaded down with a tablet or laptop and your phone is out of sight and out of mind) to keep your family, friends and brokerage in the know of your whereabouts.
These apps can help you outsmart any would-be creep or criminal.
If you just got a call or social media message out of the blue from someone interested in viewing your home listing, be sure to vet the person.
As a real estate agent, your first time meeting the prospect in person should not be at the home of interest. I know, I know — you are busy and have a full day, the house is on the way, you don’t want to be late for your next appointment, yadda yadda yadda. All of those are poor excuses in comparison to your safety.
We all — not just children — have to be alert to “stranger danger.” Take the time, and meet the person first at your brokerage firm or a nearby busy public space like a local coffee shop.
Check the Realtor Safe Harbor app if the real estate property is in an unfamiliar area for you to locate a safe meeting spot.
You get bonus points for taking the interested person somewhere that has a surveillance camera that you both can be seen on and can be tracked on the safety app mentioned above.
We are in the age of social networking, so use social media to get to know the interested party. Use the name, phone number, email address or social media username you have to access their full profile.
Take time to explore various posts to get a feel for the potential client from both a safety standpoint and relationship building vantage point (should this prove to be a good sales prospect, you can better seal the deal).
Homebuyers, sellers and real estate agents should ask for business cards from the prospects no matter if they identify themselves as buyer, seller or real estate agent as there have been instances of impostors for each.
It is not invasive to politely ask for a business card so get over feeling awkward about it. Go the extra mile and have a sign-in sheet or app that clearly states that photo IDs must be shown because the business cards could be fake too.
Be sure to snap a picture of the ID directly into your calendar app for the time of the appointment. Should anything happen, your calendar app can easily be referenced.
Whatever you might think about the Snowden movie, know that cyber privacy breeches are real concerns. Do not wire funds to accounts that you have not verbally verified as authentic (don’t just follow directions in an email or text).
Be guarded with your account and identification numbers (social security number, etc.).
A property seller, a home stager or mover should not flippantly move your unlocked box with all of your vital documents in it. Nor should a potential homebuyer be able to walk into the owners’ home office with unlocked cabinets and drawers that have information on their business and personal accounts.
And unsecured emails shouldn’t contain confidential information no matter who the sender or receiver is. Slow down and think about what is at stake beyond just the moment.
It is definitely better to err on the side of caution and immediately report anything strange or risky that you encounter, be it verbal, online or in person.
Think safety first instead of taking the wait-and-see approach when it comes to reporting threats to the onsite security team or your local law enforcement. The more others know, the better.
Following up on our May Coffee Corner discussing Safety, and the fact that September is Realtor Safety Month, I wanted to share some additional insights on this important topic delivered by Realtor Magazine’ Graham Wood.
In Robert Siciliano’s eyes, no one is ever truly prepared to defend themselves against an attacker. “It goes against human nature,” says Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, who teaches personal safety skills to real estate professionals. “We inherently need to trust one another in order to survive.”
According to Siciliano, most of us went through “civilized conditioning” as children, where our parents taught us to be courteous to others. While that’s a virtue of society, it also teaches us to keep our guard down — and hampers our ability to assess true danger — when dealing with strangers. “As good as it is to make [kids] behave, it also suppresses their instinctual need for survival. So when they come into contact with a predator, they don’t know how to deal with it,” Siciliano says.
Having the physical skill to thwart an attacker is only half the battle when it comes to personal safety. The attitude you’ve learned to adopt in social situations may be the biggest hazard to your safety. That’s why some experts suggest reconsidering your outlook on the world, even if it’s uncomfortable.
“A lot of people in society choose to ignore what’s going on around them,” says Gianni Cerretani, a martial artist and mortgage loan originator with HomeBridge Financial Services who teaches a mental-preparedness safety course for real estate pros in Atlanta. A year ago, the Georgia Real Estate Commission approved his class for continuing education credits for local REALTORS®. “We teach that you have to deal with the fact that violence happens and criminals are out there. If you’re aware of it, you have a better chance of surviving.”
Is It Rude to Be On Guard?
Cerretani was inspired to begin teaching safety after the case of a man disguised as a woman who brutally attacked several agents in the Atlanta area. The suspect, Jeffrey Shumate, was arrested last year after one such incident, but he has been linked to other attacks dating back to 2000. His first intended victim was Alicia Parks, an agent who was showing him a vacant property. “He was wearing white high heels, black stockings, and bright pink lipstick,” recalls Parks, GRI, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty Lanier Partners in Gainesville, Ga. “He had on leather gloves, and he said his hands were severely burned and he didn’t want anyone to see them.”
Though she says she was on high alert from the moment they met, Parks thought the incident was a joke — even after the man began using provocative language. But after calling her his girlfriend and trying to get her to follow him to the back of the house, she knew she was in trouble. The meeting only came to an end after Parks accidentally set off the home’s alarm system, prompting the man to flee. “I didn’t even mean to set it off. I just pushed the wrong numbers,” she says.
Parks had an odd feeling when she first spoke to the man over the phone, but she went to the showing anyway. “Just the way he talked to me on the phone, he was so insistent that I come show him that house right away, and it was vacant. But I didn’t know him so I didn’t want to judge him.”
Siciliano, who helped formulate the original REALTOR® Safety initiative with the National Association of REALTORS®, says most people ignore gut feelings of fear or mistrust because they don’t want to come off as rude. They also don’t think ahead about safety because they adopt the mistaken idea that if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen to them.
“They live under the myth that if you’re prepared for a dangerous situation wherever you go, you’re paranoid,” he says. “It’s the it-can’t-happen-to-me syndrome.”
Modifying Your Frame of Mind
Cerretani aims to change how people think about safety. Teaching physical combat is an important component of safety training, he notes, but “to try and teach someone who has never done self-defense in their lives how to do martial arts training in a four-hour class is a waste of time. They’re never going to retain that information.” So instead, he focuses on mental tips such as these:
Look at yourself as a victim. “We ask people, ‘How would you attack you?’” Cerretani says. That question gets people thinking about the weaknesses in their daily routine. Are you often working alone outside the office? Are you aware of whether a door has been locked after you’ve entered a home with a client? Are you leaving a listing when it’s dark? Are your keys in your hand before you get to your car? “One or two people in every class say they don’t lock their house. People aren’t aware that they’re not aware of their vulnerabilities.”
Be hyperaware in “transitional zones.” Stepping out of your car and into a parking lot, or entering a gas station, particularly at night, are situations in which your level of safety can swing widely. “If you really pay attention to a gas station at night — we call it the ‘watering hole’ for criminals — there’s so much commotion going on that it’s very easy to have a criminal activity happen,” Cerretani says.
Watch people’s hands. Certain hand movements — such as balled-up fists — can signal an intention to attack. Other places to pay special attention to include beltlines and underneath shirts to determine whether a person is carrying a concealed weapon.
Focus on what’s near you. Most people focus on their final destination or goal, which can leave them vulnerable. For example, when entering a parking lot, those who are looking for their car are more focused on what’s further away. “If attackers are closer to you and you’re looking far out, you’re vulnerable,” Cerretani says.
Watch your back when you’re on your phone. Put your back against a wall when you’re engulfed in texting or talking on a device so no one can come up behind you and surprise you.
Is the Industry Better Prepared?
Timperis Robertson, founder of the Interactive Real Estate Academy, works with Cerretani to set up his safety class at real estate offices in the Atlanta area. She took his course before it was added to the CE curriculum, and she says it had a big impact on the way she thinks about her day-to-day routine. “It really makes you think about where you’re most vulnerable,” says Robertson, who is also a practitioner with First Home Realty in Lithonia, Ga. “It touches on the situations we face or may face every day. Those are things we don’t think about. We’re just so happy to have a client interested in a property.”
While it takes a concerted effort to change your thinking around safety, it appears many real estate professionals are making strides. With 42 percent of REALTORS® saying they use a safety app on their smartphone, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2016 Member Safety Report — a staggering leap from the 13 percent who said so in NAR’s 2015 survey — a sea change is evident in the way pros are preparing for danger.
More REALTORS® also say they carry a self-defense weapon in the field, the most popular ones being pepper spray, a firearm, or a pocket knife. However, fewer indicated that their brokerage has standard procedures for agent safety — 44 percent in 2016 versus 46 percent in 2015 — a possible indicator that agents are taking on more ownership of their own protocols.
Still, it can be difficult to get agents who have never experienced an attack to think about common-sense safety measures, says Kimberly Allard-Moccia, who helped develop the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®’ first safety class. “You think you’re going to just run if something happens,” says Allard-Moccia, GRI, broker-owner of Century 21 Professionals in Braintree, Mass. “Let’s face it: If most of us in the room are over 50 and wearing inch-and-a-half heels, you’re not going to make it.”
If you don’t think about safety ahead of time and prepare for the worst, “you will cycle in denial and delay,” she adds, “and that’s when you become a victim.”
We had a very enlightening Coffee Corner seminar on Realtor Safety this past Tuesday, and would like to share a Realtor Safety Check List prepared by Special Ops Agent, Russell Ricalde.
A recent study found that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted, in one form or another, during their lifetime.
If you want to better protect yourself during future showings, it’s good to know how to best avoid any altercations prior to them happening.
For a copy of the Check List, please click here.