In recognition of the risks that many real estate agents face on the job, the provider of a safety app originally designed for university students has begun marketing the product to real estate agents.
Adoption of SafeTrek, which features a panic button that can alert local authorities of emergencies, skyrocketed in the wake of the high-profile murder of a real state agent in Arkansas, according to Zach Winkler, co-founder of SafeTrek.
“I am a Realtor and this gives me some assurance when looking at investment properties for my clients,” reads a review of SafeTrek from Apple’s app store. “It’s a help for looking at the short sale or foreclosed homes that I don’t necessarily feel 100 percent safe going into alone.”
Available for iPhone and Android devices, SafeTrek’s appeal rests largely on its ease of use.
A person holds their thumb down on a “safe button” when they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, and then takes one of two actions:
They can release their thumb and enter their four-digit passcode to disarm the app’s alarm.
Or they can release their thumb and not enter their passcode. Taking the second action triggers an alert to a call center that then texts and calls the user, and prompts the local police department to dispatch a car to the user’s location.
The call center pinpoints a user’s location down to a five-meter spatial resolution, and sends that information, along with user’s personal information, to local authorities.
The app’s downloads by real estate agents spiked in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter in September of last year, said Winkler.
That’s led SafeTrek to market the app to real estate agents. The app now has a webpage dedicated to real estate agents with the title “Realtor Safety. Made Easy.”
Over 200,000 people have downloaded SafeTrek, and a “significant amount” of them are real estate agents, according to Winkler.
“When the Arkansas incident happened with the real estate agent, we saw a massive influx of downloads from real estate agents,” he said. “We didn’t understand the market; didn’t know agents had safety problem. We do now.”
SafeTrek is in talks with Keller Williams about adding the real estate company to its affiliate program. An organization part of SafeTrek’s affiliate program earns 10 percent of every payment made by a user referred by the affiliate.
SafeTrek’s creators originally developed the app to help students at the University of Missouri stay safe in the wake of reports of sexual assault and robberies around campus.
While a safety app may provide a layer of protection to real estate agents, some industry reformers say agents should avoid putting themselves in risky situations in the first place, and have called for stricter procedures for vetting potential clients before showings.
The problem is that “we accept as normative the idea that any agent should even entertain the idea of meeting a client at a property without first meeting at the brokerage office or facilitating some sort of initial screening,” wrote Dylan de Bruin, who created the “Realtor Safety Pledge” with Joe Schafbuch, broker-owners of 90-agent firm Century 21 Signature Real Estate in central Iowa.
Industry voices championing agent safety have also said that helping agents avoid dangerous encounters requires resetting consumers’ expectations of real estate agents.