Several years ago, Lisa Hill, President of the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association (ORRA) and Broker Associate at Keller Williams Realty at the Parks, received a call from a man asking her to show him a rural property at dusk. Feeling suspicious, she told him she’d let him know when she was on her way. She did—adding that her business partner was with her. The prospect never showed up. When she tried phoning him to check in, the call did not go through. “I tell agents to trust their gut because if something doesn’t feel or sound right, it probably isn’t,” she says, relieved she followed her intuition.
Safety is a top issue for agents and brokers. In today’s market, digital and physical threats exist, which is why it’s important to keep agents up to date on what’s affecting safety in the profession. Likewise, make sure they have the latest information on safety tips and technology, as well as time-tested tactics that are still effective.
Vet New Contacts
To avoid wasting time and risking danger, Andrew Bell, broker-owner at NextHome Assurance Realty in Jacksonville, Fla, urges vigilance when working with strangers. Before meeting with prospects, his agents ask for images of their driver’s licenses. After meetings are scheduled, they’re shared with fellow agents at the brokerage. Agents also circulate pertinent information about the prospect.
Anthony G. Askowitz, broker-owner at RE/MAX All Keys Real Estate in Key Largo, Fla., recommends integrating tech as well. “The old method of requiring a meeting in the office and making copies of ID to be left in the office with a showing itinerary is the minimum,” he says. Today, his agents use the TruthFinder app for background checks and try to make sure buyers have been pre-approved for a mortgage.
With his team, Cole Slate, broker-owner at Slate Real Estate in Northeast, Fla., instructs researching prospects via the FOREWARN app, which provides unofficial background checks. “In a business where we rely on referrals and new relationships, this app is a huge help when it comes to establishing safety and peace of mind out in the field,” he says.
Meet in a Public Place
When Robin Kencel, an associate broker with Robin Kencel Team at COMPASS, receives a request to see a property from someone she doesn’t know, she requires them to first come to the office to fill out paperwork. “If you don’t have a personal relationship with someone and it’s not a personal referral, put on your due diligence hat,” she says.
Similarly, Steve Snider, managing broker at One Sotheby’s International Realty in Aventura, Fla., suggests meeting new clients ahead of time at the office or a local coffee shop—not at a listing. “In a public place, everyone has seen you with that person, and there are a lot more eyes on the situation,” says Bell.
Share Your Location With Colleagues
“We tell our team never to go to a property if no one knows where they’ll be,” says Hill, who shares when she’s hosting open houses and conducting showings in real time on social media. For added safety, Joy Kim Metalios, managing director and broker at The Metalios Team at Houlihan Lawrence in Greenwich, Conn., urges setting up alert security measures on apps. For instance, tapping an “alert” button on the Supra Systems eKEY app will notify specific contacts if you’re in an unsafe situation and tell them your location. For iPhone users, consider sharing your location with team members via the iPhone “Find My” app.
“We have buddies on our team,” says Metalios, who supplies her agents with the Birdie Personal Safety Alarm. “We share our location with our buddy and notify them when we are on an appointment with a new client. We also team up with another agent for open houses and showings.” For open houses, Hill recommends asking mortgage lenders to attend and pre-qualify prospects.
To allow for enough time to scope out properties (including unlocking back doors and opening closets), Hill urges arriving early to showing appointments. Once at a property, Askowitz’s agents know to park on the street where they cannot be blocked in, keep their keys and cell phones on them, and follow customers around (not entering small rooms). Along with leaving the front door slightly ajar, Metalios counsels her team to remain near the exit and to tell clients their managers might be stopping by.
Create Code Words
In his brokerage’s policies and procedures manual, Bell lays out how to use specific code words. If an agent is meeting someone new, a team member can call them a few minutes into the appointment. On the call, the agent can ask the team member to grab them a green (for safe), yellow (for on alert), or red (for unsafe) folder, depending on how they feel. If they say red, the team member should immediately call the police. If yellow, the person who is not at the meeting should ask whether the agent needs an excuse to leave. If yes, the caller can pretend to be a family member, tell them they need to come home at once and stay on the phone with them.
Keeping a property safe means not allowing large groups to congregate in the space, says Askowitz. “If you expect hordes of attendees [at an open house], bring a second or even third agent to maintain order and keep an eye on the seller's possessions. Recommend that the seller remove medications from bathroom cabinets, and secure small valuables, such as jewelry and collectables.”
He also recommends that listing agents use electronic lockboxes, which can be programmed to only allow access during certain times and provide reports on who accessed the property and when.