NEW YORK — Let’s face it: Many real estate agents do not vet strangers before meeting them in homes for fear of losing a sale.
But in the wake of the kidnapping and killing of Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter, technology companies are coming up with mobile apps designed to leverage agents’ existing networks — their brokerage, multiple listing service or association — to keep them safe in the field.
Two such companies are real estate startups Real Safe Agent and Curb Call.
Austin, Texas-based Real Safe Agent LLC has created what the company says is the first safety system deployed at the MLS or association level and that allows everyone in the real estate community to play a role.
Here’s how it works: When first contacted by a prospective buyer, an agent sends him or her a text message with a link where the prospect can upload their picture and name. Agents can also request a picture of the prospect’s driver’s license and run a background check.
“The agent can tell the prospect it’s a safety protocol, or that it’s so they don’t have to type into their phone, or anything with which the agent is comfortable,” said Real Safe Agent CEO Lee Goldstein in a statement.
Then, the agent create the appointment in the company’s mobile app, noting the prospect’s name, the property location, date, time, and expected duration of the appointment. Once the agent arrives, he or she turns on the app’s “Showing mode,” which makes a false home screen appear on the phone.
If an agent becomes uncomfortable, the agent can press anywhere on the screen to send a request for assistance to all nearby agents, “buddies” previously specified by the agent, and “watch commanders” previously designated by brokers, MLSs or associations. Watch commanders monitor alerts through a Web interface that displays the alerting agent and the status of all the agents who can respond to the alert.
In order to receive and respond to an alert, nearby agents must be in the app’s “Listening” mode. Buddies and watch commanders can see which nearby agent is responding to the alert and when that agent has arrived at the property. They can also listen to what’s going on at the property through the phone of the agent in trouble.
“The Real Safe Agent system operates under the paradigm that a local real estate industry is a cooperative community, and designed to work within existing recommended safety protocols,” the company said.
Real Safe Agent recommends that when the assisting agent arrives, he or she enter the property as if they were previewing it — thereby neutralizing the potential danger, but not endangering the sale if the prospective buyer was not a threat.
The system can also send an “Are you OK?” message if the showing agent doesn’t turn off Showing mode after an appointment, send emergency alerts to police if there is an emergency, and allow agents to review prospects that other agents have said they’ve had trouble with.
Given that criminals will often “feel out” multiple agents before finding their target, the ability to share information with other agents about what they look like or are wearing “could be a lifesaver,” said Garry Marsoubian, director of data services for MRIS, speaking at Real Estate Connect Wednesday.
Real Safe Agent plans to roll out its safety system in beta in several MLSs on March 1. The cost to MLSs will be $1 per agent per month and will include safety training materials and “Train-the-Trainer” classes for MLSs, associations and brokers.
Curb Call, a company that provides an app that helps homebuyers connect with nearby agents, has launched its own safety feature within the app called “Radius.”
In order to use the feature, agents press “Begin Showing” in the app once they arrive at a listing. If an agent encounters danger, he or she can press a “Panic” button within the app that triggers an immediate text message to the agent’s brokerage as well as his or her emergency contact person.
If the agent leaves the vicinity of the showing without pressing the “End Showing” button, the app will automatically notify the agent’s emergency contact via text message and begin tracking the agent’s location in real time, the company said.
“A safer showing is a better showing and with location-aware smartphones in everyone’s pocket, it seemed almost obligatory to create Radius and offer it to our Curb Call-using agents for every single one of their showings — even the ones that aren’t originated by Curb Call leads,” said Seth Siegler, CEO of Curb Call Technologies Inc., in a statement.
“There’s no reason for agents to face unnecessary danger that modern technology can help to minimize.”