Did you know that September is Safety Month at NAR? This month, we are talking with Tracey Hawkins about being intentional regarding safety in the general course of business.
REALTORS® can be at risk when meeting strangers at empty houses, or meeting sellers at their houses alone. It is key to be prepared and use proactive solutions. Even though the likelihood of something happening may be small, the fact is the risk does exist. Our guest will inform you of these risks and will share some information that may surprise you, including stories of crimes against agents. You may not realize who the majority of the victims are. In this episode, you will find out and will learn so much more. This episode shares crucial information to keep you safe on the job.
Disclaimer: Some topics discussed in this episode may not be suitable for children.
[2:23] Monica introduces Tracey Hawkins and shares her biography.
[3:20] Monica welcomes Tracey to The Center for Realtor® Development Podcast to talk about safety and security.
[4:17] Tracey says that we're more aware of incidents with REALTORS® thanks to social media and more reporting. Incidents have always happened and continue to happen. Tracey talks about these crimes on social media. There are many forums where real estate agents talk about these crimes, so we're just more aware of them.
[5:18] The most important part of Tracey's message is "Let's prevent these crimes," using lessons learned. Tracey talked at the 2021 NAR Conference about lessons learned. She looks at the crimes against real estate agents, and without blaming the victim, let's learn from what happened in those crimes and let's pledge to do better.
[5:53] In the last two-and-a-half years, there has been a focus on male agents being victimized and the question is, why? In 2017 for REALTOR® Magazine, Tracey wrote an article about crimes against male agents. It was the most-read article of the year. She rewrote the article for RIS Media. In the last while, in almost every crime against REALTORS®, a male agent has been the target.
[6:43] Most recently, a male agent was murdered by his 85-year-old client. The agent had only communicated with the client online. It seems the client had bought the home after only seeing it virtually. After he closed on the house and moved in, he decided he didn't want it and wanted to "return" it. When the agent met the client at the home, the client shot and killed him and then shot and killed himself.
[7:55] Tracey talked to an agent who knew the situation. The agent's opinion is that the solution is that no one should be able to close on a house without seeing it in real life. But in the pandemic, that was not realistic. Many homes have been sold virtually without any problems. This was a case of a disturbed person. We can prepare but we can't prevent everything.
[9:30] Tracey shares a story from California. A brother and sister had inherited a property. The sister wanted to sell it but the brother didn't. Two real estate agents and a home inspector met them both at the property. The brother pulled out a gun and shot the two agents and the home inspector. The agents were wounded and the home inspector died.
[9:57] Tracey has always recommended agents follow the CITO (Come Into The Office) protocol for the first meeting. Failing that, the first meeting should be virtual, on Facetime, or similar. The pandemic made agents more apt to use virtual meetings. During the virtual meeting, you can gauge the disposition of the client, such as if there is a conflict between the sellers.
[11:06] Tracey suggests being more productive during a virtual meeting. Share your screen and show a few properties virtually. You can rule out properties without driving to them.
[12:34] The stories Tracey shared were not random strangers showing up. They were a client and potential clients. This opens up awareness beyond what we have been taught. Tracey has talked to thousands of agents and is active on social media. She has conversations with agents who think they have nothing to worry about. Criminals have cars; there's no such thing as a safe neighborhood.
[13:45] In the "nicer" neighborhoods, where you think you're safe, that's where criminals assume that the rich agents are. Tracey shares a recent story from Las Vegas of an assault against a female agent in a model home in broad daylight. It can happen anywhere, anytime. Always be alert and aware.
[14:27] Tracey's job is somewhat challenging. She works hard to get the message out to male agents. You may not think you need to hear what she has to say but it could save your life or save them some trouble.
[14:54] Monica returns to the idea of showing properties virtually, especially for clients who cannot conveniently come into the office. It's a great first step for safety and also for having a conversation about where the client wants to live and what kind of house they want. Before getting in a car and driving around, the agent will get a better vibe of what the client wants. It builds the relationship.
[16:03] Burglaries also happen. An agent in Tennessee was opening the door for clients. A gunman approached and said, "Run for your life!" The agent trusted his gut, threw his keys, and ran. He was not shot. The gunman stole the car, which was later recovered by police tracking his iPad still in the car.
[17:05] In Florida, a male real estate agent was in front of a listing and a gunman approached and abducted the agent. They drove to two ATMs where the gunman stole $500 at each ATM and then shot and killed the agent. Be aware, be alert, and know that it can happen. The male agents always tell Tracey how big they are, but they can be victimized, too.
[18:59] Tracey teaches agents to lead with safety and be the agent who is constantly talking about safety. When a caller asks you to come to their property, inform them that company procedure requires you to check them out and get some background information before you visit a property. That's for everyone's benefit.
[20:06] Don't assume that the person in the house is fine because they own a house. It might even be someone who has "jacked" the listing and is pretending to be the owner.
[20:34] Forewarn® for Real Estate is an app for REALTORS® that does a basic background check in a few minutes. Tracey has interviewed them for a couple of her articles. If some of the agent victims had used Forewarn®, they might never have met their assailants. Forewarn® reports on criminal convictions, but many criminals have not been caught. So Forewarn® is a layer in your safety process.
[21:28] The U.S. Department of Labor considers real estate sales and leasing a high-risk, hazardous occupation. You meet strangers in empty houses. Build safety into your business. Let clients know safety requires you to check them out before going to meet them. Let clients know they have to get valuables, guns, envelopes, and prescriptions out of sight in an open house. Be the safety agent for your clients.
[23:17] The agent must say out loud to the seller, that the agent cannot be responsible for belongings in the house. The agent can make a waiver for the seller to sign. Provide a checklist of things for the seller to lock away or hide to keep them safe. Tell the seller, no one should know who lives in this house. Take down family photos. You will represent safety to that seller and stand out from other agents.
[26:50] If the house is empty, you can offer to go by and check that it is locked and secure. But you may be taking on liability with this offer.
[28:40] Monica asks Tracey about these practices: Before going to meet someone at a house, on the phone get their full name, phone number, email address, their REALTOR® if they have one, and who is coming with them to the showing. Also, tell them you will be checking their driver's license outside the house. If unexpected extra people show up, you have a chance to listen to your gut feeling.
[30:58] Tracey loves that Monica is listening to her gut feeling, instinct, intuition, or whatever you want to call it. All agents need to do that. If your gut is telling you you're not safe, believe it and get out of the situation. If you do not have the first meeting in your office, meet at a coffee shop where you are known, where if something happens, it will be noticed. Or borrow vendor meeting rooms in different parts of town.
[33:59] Tracey's sister, an agent for 34 years, only meets new people at her office. You meet a professional at their office. Wherever you meet, let the client know you have a safety plan that includes knowing whom you are meeting and that you will need some information. Be consistent for one and all, so you don't get into trouble with fair housing discrimination. Make it your everyday safety practice.
[35:40] When you rented a movie at Blockbuster, you showed your ID. Of course, it is reasonable to show an ID to make the largest financial transaction of your life. A legitimate client will accept safety practices. It needs to be a part of your safety plan and it needs to be consistent.
[36:20] Tracey's tools for safety include smartphones and smartwatches. You can call for help or show your location from your watch. Set up the safety settings of your smartwatch and smartphone. Google Maps has a free location-sharing feature. Every agent needs to use it. Google Calendar can be shared with your office for your work appointments. Google View can show a street view of where you are.
[38:30] Someone should always know where you are. But, whenever there is Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity, your information is being shared, so be on alert. You might be playing golf, but somebody knows where you are.
[39:55] Tracey's suggestions about carrying weapons. The number one defensive weapon agents use is pepper spray. Next are firearms, and then knives. Know the difference between tear gas, Mace, and pepper spray. Mace is a brand name. You want pepper spray. Look for OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) on the label. The spray has an expiration date. Test it. Know how it's going to spray when you need it.
[41:17] Any safety tool, whether it's your phone, or whether it's a gun, or your pepper spray, needs to be accessible. In some cases you want it to be visible, like pepper spray, as a deterrent. Practice and test the pepper spray every six months.
[42:24] Tracey sells pepper spray to agents. She tells them to take it outside and practice with it, become familiar with it, and test it every six months.
[43:04] Some agents tell Tracey their husband wants them to have a gun but they are afraid of it. If you are afraid of a gun, you're not going to carry it. If you are not comfortable using it, it is more likely to be taken from you and used against you. If you are comfortable with a gun, take care of the legalities first. NAR does not have a policy on guns. They refer you to your regional or local association.
[43:57] If you get the clearance of your local board or association, talk to your company and find out if they have restrictions on carrying a firearm. Then, don't just get a license and call it a day. Enroll in firearm safety classes and be there regularly. Practice regularly so it becomes muscle memory and when it becomes time to use it, you are confident. Tracey shares a Colorado story where an agent had to shoot.
[45:18] If you are going to take martial arts or self-defense classes, you need to be committed. You need to do it. Tracey shares a Virginia story where an agent was hit 10 to 12 times in the head area with a wrench. She was a black belt. She put up a fight. She survived, with a long road to recovery. Enroll in self-defense classes, take more than one class, and take them regularly. Get muscle memory.
[45:59] All of these things are layers in your safety plan. First, be proactive. Then have weapons of pepper spray or firearms. Take self-defense classes. Tracey wishes proactive safety education was mandated. Monica believes proactive safety education is working for some of us and shares a story of an alert agent who protected herself from a potential assault from someone lurking around an open house.
[47:54] Tracey says that 71% of REALTORS® surveyed have not taken a safety class. Tracey wants to change that. Meanwhile, she tells agents to rely on their gut, but also not to judge a book by its cover. Look at photos of Sam Walton and Ted Bundy. You would not know from looks which was the richest man in the world and which was a serial killer. Look at behavior. Judging wrongly could cost you your life.
[50:30] Monica recommends a book, Verbal Judo, and asks for Tracey's recommendations on de-escalation. Tracey tells of an agent who showed up for a listing appointment and walked into a sibling dispute. She said she would go back to her car and when they reached a decision they could come out and invite her back in. Tracey also suggests a fake phone call to retreat from an uncomfortable situation.
[52:29] Having an implied witness to whatever may happen is helpful. Tracey has group discussions and role-plays in her classes. Agents learn from each other when they hear the different stories and the techniques others have used. Role-playing prepares you for situations that might take you off-guard when it's hard to think on your feet.
[53:54] Safety education needs to be a part of new agent orientation. New agents have no clue what they don't even know.
[54:54] Tracey's last words for the episode: Agents are interested in putting video content on social media. Use those platforms to talk about safety! Be the safety agent for your area. Post safety tips. Be a resource. Provide safety content for people to copy instead of sending out the same email every other agent is sending. Lead with safety. Use expert-created content that Tracey and others have curated.
[56:25] Monica thanks Tracey for caring about us and sharing this important safety information.
[58:14] Monica invites the listener to listen to Donny Allen's episode on safety, Episode 44. He discusses different things than Tracey discussed. Monica invites you to share Tracey's episode with your friends to help them be safer in these crazy times.
[58:52] Check out the new Center for REALTOR® Development website at Learning.REALTOR.
"I live and breathe real estate safety." — Tracey
"I think one of the reasons there are not more [crimes against REALTORS®] is the proactive preparation that agents are making." — Monica
"There are things that we can do but we can't prevent everything." — Tracey
"Use that virtual opportunity to be more productive. … Take that time in your first meeting to share your screen and show a few properties and you can rule out properties that just are not a fit, right there virtually, so you're more productive and you're working safely. So the two go together." — Tracey
"My job, without inducing fear, is to let agents know that it happens everywhere. It happens at all times. And if one more person says anything to me about 'I only go to good neighborhoods,' I'm going to scream!" — Tracey
"Ask the police about 'good neighborhoods' and how many times they go there for domestic violence!" — Monica
"The nicer neighborhoods, … that's where the good stuff is and that's where criminals assume that the rich agents are. So when I look back at crimes against real estate agents, I see them happening in model homes. … It can happen anywhere, anytime. You need to always be alert and aware." — Tracey
"My job is always challenging. People don't think they need to hear what I have to say when what I have to say could save their lives." — Tracey
"When you hear that the U.S. Department of Labor considers real estate sales and leasing a high-risk, hazardous occupation, then that makes you pay attention. You make a living sitting in empty houses waiting for strangers to walk in. You make a living meeting strangers in empty houses." — Tracey
"Someone should always know where you are when you are working, no ifs ands or buts about it. That means open houses." — Tracey
"Any safety tool, whether it's your phone, or whether it's a gun, or your pepper spray, needs to be accessible. In some cases you want it to be visible, like the pepper spray as a deterrent." — Tracey
"Enroll in [firearm safety] classes and be there on a regular basis so that it becomes muscle memory; when it's time to use it, you are confident." — Tracey
"If you are going to take a martial arts or self-defense class, you need to be committed. You need to do it." — Tracey
"That's one of the things about proactive education, that when people are applying it, we don't know what we've thwarted. So, we have to just believe that it's working even though we don't know it and that's the good news is we believe that it's working for some of us." — Monica
"It easy to put [safety] off. Until it isn't. We don't want any of you to be a statistic. So if you don't have a policy already, I would encourage you to set it this week. Put that on your goal list. And attend a class this month." — Monica
About Tracey Hawkins
"Tracey, the Safety Lady" Hawkins is a former real estate agent who has taught thousands of agents across the country to live and work safely for over 27 years. Hawkins is the real estate safety writer for The Close and a safety expert and contributing writer for the National Association of REALTORS® REALTOR® Magazine, MNNews, realtor.org, contributing writer for the National Association of Residential Property Managers/NARPM, Houston REALTOR® Magazine, and RIS Media.
"Tracey, the Safety Lady" was selected to speak at the National Association of REALTORS® national conference in 2021 and 2022! Tracey has also presented at the Triple Play REALTOR® Convention and EXPO. She has been recently selected as a 2022 RISMedia Newsmaker in the Crusader category.
She was selected to speak nationally for the National Association of Residential Proper Managers (NARPM) and realtor.com in 2021.
She has created the country's only real estate agent safety designation, the Consumer Safety and Security Specialist (CSSS). She also created the only broker, manager, and owner office safety policy certification workshop with an office safety policy handbook and the property management safety certification program.
- Visit Tracey's website: https://www.safetyandsecuritysource.com/about
- Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, by George J. Thompson and Jerry B. Jenkins
- Safety Tips for REALTORS® with Donny Allen
- Forewarn for Real Estate
- Visit Monica's website: FuntentionalLiving.com
- Visit Monica's blog: FranklinTNBlopg.com
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Email Monica
- Get Monica's book
- Center for REALTOR® Development
- Explore microcourses at learning.realtor