In the world of real estate, safety is extremely important, and when it comes to protecting lives and client properties, conventional wisdom says it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Crime experts like law enforcement explain that being safe includes understanding the three components of every crime: means, motive and opportunity.
Even with minimal effort at the forefront of safety strategy, brokers and managers can help to reduce the number of attacks made on real estate agents.
“I agree that with education, support and a focus on the fundamentals of safety and precaution, future attacks could be prevented,” said Matt McLennan, broker of Century 21 McLennan & Company in Methuen, Mass. “With inventory on the rise and buyer demand remaining strong, more and more agents will be showing homes and holding open houses in the coming weeks and months ahead, and we must do everything we can to protect our family of agents.”
Most brokers agree—and unfortunately, experience shows—that the need for safety applies to all real estate agents no matter their age, gender identity or stature, and due diligence in the way of prevention is critically important.
Taking Safety Seriously at the Start
“Having an office right off the 75 corridor about 100 miles south of Atlanta means that we have a lot of people coming in and out, and I tell my team of younger and more senior agents to always be aware of your surroundings,” says Helen Hunt, broker with Century 21 Homes & Investments, in Warner Robins, Ga.
For the past 15 years, Hunt’s office has implemented a safety strategy of only conducting open houses with two or more agents. “We expect our agents to be polite and friendly, but we also make them acutely aware that customers could possibly be a threat. We’re doing whatever we can to eliminate the opportunity for harm.”
On first contact with prospective agents, Hunt talks about the company’s culture of safety and the importance of taking precautions. She uses an app called Forewarn, which she makes available through a special offer from the brand’s parent company, Anywhere.
The app, Hunt adds, vets potential clients before anyone in her office meets them in person. Forewarn shows a range of information like a person’s age, criminal background, bankruptcies or liens and the kind of car the prospect drives. “If anything feels questionable, we double up with what could be another team member or even a spouse.”
Creating a Culture of Safety
For Debi Jensen, broker of Century 21 All Professional in Port St. Lucie, Fla., safety looks like creating a range of protocols aimed at precaution. She uses code words with her staff and requests pictures of driver’s licenses for prospective clients before showing a home. She also encourages agents to have a constant awareness of their surroundings and to make sure they’re prepared long before the client arrives. “We want our agents to get [to the property] before the client so that the door is open and the buyer isn’t lurking behind,” added Jensen. “Some of our agents carry pepper spray and other protection devices. They work rather well.”
Jensen also urges her team to take self-defense classes, and for those with a permit to carry a concealed weapon, she recommends a class in the fundamentals of handling a gun. “You have to be conscientious when it comes to the safety of your agents, especially when consumers expect immediate satisfaction,” said Jensen, referring to the inclination to “stop everything and go.”
Plan for Safety Early and Reiterate Often
Balancing those time-sensitive consumer expectations and keeping his agents safe are constantly on the mind of McLennan. “Everything's easier when it's not busy, but when there is a frantic market, systems in place have a greater likelihood of breaking down and agents may forget the prevention measures we speak about all the time,” he says.
He advocates for predetermined safety measures, like planning a received phone call should things feel off for the agent. “Having a storyline go-to ahead of time, like a family member calling with a medical emergency, is important and will help in getting out of the home. It’s always better to have that plan in place.”
Having a plan in place might mean an agent has to get out of their comfort zone to protect themselves. This might look like dropping good manners or etiquette and being direct. “If an agent is feeling unsafe, they no longer should be polite,” explained Hunt. “Be transparent. Tell the client that they’re making you feel uncomfortable and leave the home immediately with your phone in hand.”
McLennan also notes that safety means prepping the listing and always having a way out. Likewise, an agent should remove anything of interest from themselves and the listing, including valuables like jewelry, cash and prescription medicines. Some often-overlooked threats to eliminate include, for example, the block of steak knives on a kitchen island. “Most buyers would never think of stealing,” McLennan says, “but the thrill or enticement would intensify, for example, if there’s a Mickey Mantle rookie card sitting atop a table or mantle.”
“REALTOR® safety is a priority. Prevention protocols need to be a part of the office culture and happen organically throughout the day,” Hunt says. “That way, safety is not only an acquired, deeply ingrained habit or skill but more importantly, it becomes second nature.”