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Being a real estate agent can seem like a safe job, especially when you compare it to dangerous professions, such as commercial fishermen, tree trimmers, or law enforcement. But perform the responsibilities of a real estate agent involves risks, and crimes are not uncommon.
Showing a property alone, meeting new clients and hosting open houses for dozens or even hundreds of strangers exposes you to many people, not all of whom have your best interests at heart.
As online discount and brokerage have swelled the ranks of officers, vigilance and security awareness have never been more necessary. Here are 17 safety tips that can help officers stay out of trouble and maintain personal safety.
1. Meet new clients in the office or in public
It’s not wise to meet a client for the first time at a property, especially if you’re going to be alone with them. Invite them to the office to discuss their real estate goals or meet them at a coffee shop.
When you encounter them, use a prospect identification form to save all their personal information and take a photo of their ID for your records.
2. Only do daytime screenings
Bring customers to properties during daylight hours, preferably during normal business hours. If a client insists on a late night visit, tell your manager or coworker where you’re going and who you’re going with.
During the visit, turn on all the lights in the property and open the curtains and blinds to maximize visibility.
3. Do your due diligence
Before meeting new clients, check their social media accounts to get a sense of their personality and do a quick Google search of their names to look for red flags. If there is cause for concern, but you don’t want to lose a potential client, consider performing a full background check.
4. Let people know where you’re going and who you’ll be with
Real estate agents don’t sit in their offices all day. They are usually on the road, going to visits and meeting clients. If you’re out of the office, no one will notice your absence unless you make your schedule known.
Create a shareable schedule, such as a free Google Calendar, that will let your co-workers know where you’re going. If anything happens to you, they’ll know where you were.
5. Never advertise a property as “vacant”
Telling the public that a property is vacant invites intruders. Everyone from mischievous high schoolers to drifters will be looking for a place to sleep. Avoid this inconvenience by keeping a quiet vacation.
6. Treat vacant properties with caution
If possible, show a vacant property from the outside only. If you must enter with the customer, be careful in case there are unexpected people inside. Surprising intruders can cause rash and sometimes dangerous reactions.
7. Familiarize yourself with a house before visiting it
Before taking a client on a guided tour, visit the home alone and familiarize yourself with the layout. Note any tight spaces, dead ends or other potential problem areas. Develop strategies to avoid them. Also note if you have a phone signal in all areas of the property.
8. Let the customer walk in front of you
Try not to turn your back on customers, especially if you’re only showing the property. Allow them to enter rooms before you do so you can track their location at all times.
9. Avoid rooms with only one entrance and one exit
Do not enter rooms with only one door, especially if they are small. This can include walk-in closets, basements, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. Invite the customer to come in and examine the space while you stay in the hallway.
10. Use a panic button app
Security apps allow you to notify the police or emergency services with the push of a button. Many of them also incorporate GPS tracking which will automatically transmit your location.
These apps can be a great tool for agents working alone. If a customer starts acting threatening or you suddenly realize you’re not alone in a vacant property, just press the panic button instead of fumbling with your phone’s keypad.
11. Protect your personal information
Don’t put your home phone number or home address online or on your marketing materials. This could lead to unprofessional and unwanted contacts. If you use a lot of digital devices for your business, consider cybersecurity strategies to protect your data from hacking.
This rule also applies to vendors on open days. Make sure they don’t leave any documents, such as utility bills or bank statements, during visits. They could be misused for online identity theft.
12. Be sensitive to the unexpected
If a client shows up with unexpected guests, asks for a second location, or acts erratically or suspiciously, don’t hesitate to end or delay the appointment.
The same applies if you arrive at a property to find it open, unlocked, or showing signs of unauthorized occupancy. If something seems strange to you, it could be a legitimate cause for concern.
Don’t ignore your instincts just because you want to close on a big commission.
13. Have an exit strategy
Repeat an excuse to end the screening if something is wrong. You might say another customer is due to arrive any minute, you need to call your manager with an important question, or you forgot something in your car.
Just have some sort of cover ready so it looks compelling for now if you have to use it.
14. Be careful when parking
Many safety tips focus on visits, but arriving or leaving an appointment can be a dangerous time. When you get in or out of your car, you’re usually distracted and probably holding something in your hands, making it a perfect opportunity for someone to surprise you. Be extra careful around your car and try to park in busy, well-lit areas.
15. Avoid parking in driveways
If you park in the driveway of a house, another vehicle can easily block you. Park on the street instead.
16. Leave your valuables at home
When attending an exhibition, do not wear expensive and ostentatious jewelry, as this could make you a target for thieves. Try not to carry a handbag either. Lock it in the trunk of your car.
17. End an open house safely
Just because a house seems empty after an open house doesn’t mean nobody’s there. Thoroughly search the entire property, including potential hiding places such as closets and bathrooms, before turning off lights and locking.
Ideally, you would be accompanied by a colleague or friend. Otherwise, consider carrying pepper spray.
Luke Babich is the CSO of Smart real estate in Saint Louis. Connect with him on Facebook Where Twitter.