Maurice Taylor will never forget the day he joined other agents, family members and friends of Beverly Carter to look for her after she was reported missing.
“She was in my office, and a dear, dear friend,” says Taylor, ABR, CRS, C2EX, executive broker at CBRPM Group and principal instructor at Vivid Real Estate Learning Center in Little Rock, Ark.
Carter, 50, a top real estate agent at Crye-Leike Real Estate, was murdered in September 2014 in a botched kidnapping attempt while on the job. Her untimely death was the catalyst for a number of safety measures, including safety protocols such as the REALTOR® Safety Program and the Putting REALTOR® Safety First Course from the National Association of REALTORS®. Taylor became one of many instructors of these courses. Carter’s family instituted the Beverly Carter Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping agents safe through training and education.
The majority of real estate agents do not encounter dangerous situations while out in the field. That said, 14% of agents surveyed in a 2021 NAR Member Safety Report said they experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety or the security of their personal information, down from 23% in 2020.
In any case, in an industry that involves walking into sometimes vacant properties alone and working in close contact with a number of clients, many of whom are unknown to the professional, safety is an important topic. No matter how hot the market is or in what city or region a real estate professional is located, knowledge and awareness go a long way.
Tips to Help Agents Keep Safety Top of Mind
Before he entered real estate, Taylor spent 25 years in the Army and had experience teaching classes on a range of topics, which made safety training a natural fit after Carter’s death. Safety, he says, is a topic the industry should take seriously. It’s easy to get too comfortable and to take safety for granted, he adds. For his own agents, and staff, Taylor reinforces safety through education and by making the topic part of daily conversations. He regularly provides knowledge, tools and educational opportunities to his team.
Meet Clients in a Public Place
Taylor emphasizes using the office as a meeting space, and says that when the office isn’t a viable option, agents should choose a well-known, well-lit establishment. “Don’t go meet someone at a strange place,” he says, explaining that many agents will still meet clients in places that aren’t very safe.
Vet Clients When You Can
Before showing a client a home or meeting them somewhere, Taylor advises his agents to do as much vetting and to gather as much information as possible. “Do your due diligence and do your research to reduce or completely eliminate the possibility of something happening,” he says.
One of Taylor’s agents recently showed homes to a client who was a military professional. Taylor had the agent use a service called Forewarn, which is tailored to the real estate industry to instantly verify a prospect’s identity and potential risks before a first meeting. He also had the agent check in with the client’s commanding officer to verify the client’s identity.
Get to the Appointment Early
Even at 6 feet tall and 250 pounds, Taylor gets to his showings early so that he can unlock the doors, turn on the lights and survey the property.
“I plot out a way to get out if I have to get out. I don’t want to get into an altercation. I want to go home. If I have to run, I will run,” he tells his classes and his own agents.
Follow Your Gut
Taylor advises people to follow their gut. If something feels off, it’s okay to change plans. Safety is more important than the sale, he often says to his agents and in his classes.
Lead by Example
For brokers, Taylor says it’s important to lead by example. Set the standards for safety—and then follow them. Let your agents know that they can come to you with issues or concerns.
Taylor also makes sure that he or someone else can be a point of contact when an agent is out showing homes. With the agent mentioned above, Taylor checked in by phone while she was with her client. He called five minutes into the meeting and checked in again about 30 minutes later. “It’s a little cumbersome, but it is a small price to pay versus looking for one of your agents,” he says.
Stories of Close Calls Keep Safety Fresh for One Broker
A third-generation real estate agent, Tamara Suminski, ABR, CRS, C2EX, co-owner/broker with her husband at Beach Real Estate Group in Manhattan Beach, Calif., was rocked by Carter’s death. As a result, she dedicated herself to spreading the message of safety in whatever way she could. She helped write the content for NAR’s Putting REALTOR® Safety First course and was one of its inaugural instructors.
She’s taught the safety courses all over the country and is constantly reminding real estate professionals to stay vigilant. Suminski has heard about one too many close calls, she says.
A colleague of Suminski’s was working an open house alone when a visitor walked up to her and said, “What a lovely pearl necklace you are wearing.”
Suminski’s colleague thought it was a compliment, but the visitor said, “I think I will have that” and demanded that she surrender her necklace. She thought quickly, pulling the necklace from her neck and throwing it at the visitor while making her way out of the house as quickly as possible.
Carter’s death and stories like these mean Suminski takes no chances.
“Beverly Carter struck home with many REALTORS®. I vowed to never work an open house alone again,” she says.
Taking Measures to Keep Oneself as Safe as Possible
Suminski offers frequent safety updates and classes in her office. Her agents can decide which safety-specific apps they like most. She also reminds them to make sure their phones are fully charged, their cars have full tanks of gas and their phones are equipped with sirens or other safety features that might help them remove themselves from dangerous situations.
She and her partner, Chris, always go together for the first appointment with a buyer or seller, and they work open houses together. She advises her agents to partner up when possible as well. She also suggests that agents regularly practice using their safety and self-defense devices and accessories.
“You should definitely spend the time training so you are ready. If you haven’t practiced and something comes up, you probably will fumble and might anger the assailant even more and create a worse situation,” she says.
Suminski says that in the beginning of her career, she was not taught how to show a property or maintain her safety while in the field.
“I used to park in the driveway, not realizing I could be blocked in,” she adds.
She says it’s one of the reasons she’s dedicated to providing safety tips and training to her agents and countless others across the country. In her safety course, she teaches what she calls a “5-second safety scan.”
“You activate your brain to know what to do if something happens. When you get out of the car, do the 5-second rule again. Look around at your surroundings. Do it again as you are walking up to the door, and again when you get the keys out,” Suminski comments.
Other Safety Tips for Real Estate Professionals
Stay behind your client. You should never lead your client into a home, building or room, according to the NAR REALTOR® Safety Program. Use directional signals and hand gestures to lead your clients through a property, all the while staying behind them. Hank Hayes, founder of Intuitive Self-Protection, a nationwide training organization catering to both personal and corporate environments, goes farther to say that you should never go in the basement, attic or upstairs. Instead, give your clients the space they need to tour the home’s other floors and stay in an open and easily exited space.
Keep your distance. Stay at least eight feet from your client and don’t let that person out of your field of view, Hayes emphasizes. “Also, you can dress professionally, but wear shoes that you can run in.”
Limit the personal information you give out. Sometimes just a personal photograph can trigger a predator. Consider creating marketing materials without a headshot, and never use a home address or phone number in your contact information. Don’t use your full name with middle name or initial, and use your office address only if you feel the need to include any address at all, the NAR REALTOR® Safety Program suggests.
Check scam listings of your properties. The Beverly Carter Foundation suggests scanning social media sites such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Zillow and others daily to make sure someone isn’t scamming you or using your listed property in a scam.
Though we never want to assume the worst, especially in a relationship-driven business, safety is of utmost importance. When you go into situations with people you don’t know very well, switch on the thought process “that bad things happen to good people,” Hayes says. Vigilance is key. The more awareness you have of what's going on around you, the better prepared you are to protect yourself if needed.