Being a real estate agent is a dangerous job, but there are ways you can protect yourself, according to a Houston police officer who conducts seminars for Realtors in concert with the Houston Association of Realtors.

“The most important thing you can do is to always be aware of your surroundings,” said Officer Jesse Martinez of the Houston Police Department. Martinez has given seminars to 400 Realtors in the area as part of its Sold On Safety program with the HAR.

Criminals are looking for people who seem lost or preoccupied, Martinez said. That way, they can take advantage of the element of surprise to overpower their victim before he or she has a chance to fight back, he said.

Going into empty houses with strangers is dangerous, but there are a number of ways to minimize the danger, Martinez said.

“Never meet anyone at a residence without meeting them at your office first and getting a chance to interview them, exchange information with them and feel them out,” Martinez said.

“If they come and meet you at the office, you know how serious they are about purchasing the home,” the police officer said. “That would make me feel more at ease about the situation.”

Open houses also present dangers, Martinez said. He advises that agents not do open houses alone. “Take someone with you or let someone know where you are going to be and what times you will be there.”

Walk through the house and know where all the exits are. Don’t keep the back door locked; you may need to escape through it.

If someone comes to the house, meet them at the door, Martinez said, and if one or two people come in, escort them both through the house.

“Otherwise, the one person could keep your attention while the other walks around behind you and attacks,” Martinez said.

This doesn’t apply if a number of couples are circulating through the home, he said, only when just one or two people are there.

Don’t do paperwork at an open house, Martinez advises. It’s too easy for a criminal to take advantage of the situation to surprise you.

One trick Martinez suggests is to back your car into the driveway at a showing and wait for people to arrive.

Cell phones can be an important tool for prevention, Martinez said. “Have the police number in your phone so you only have to dial one number. Keep your phone on your body, not in your purse, so if something happens it’s within reach.”

If someone is acting suspicious, you may be able to deter him or her by feigning a call on the cell phone or making a real call.

“Say, ‘I’m over here at such and such address, and you’re on your way? You’ll be here in 20 minutes?'” Martinez said.

If you do see suspicious goings-on in a neighborhood, such as abandoned homes that are may be being used as drug houses, report them to the police, Martinez said. “You’re helping the police department, and also you’re making it safer for the next Realtor who shows the property,” Martinez said.

The Project SOS, or Sold on Safety, partnership between police and HAR is going into its seventh month. The program was created as a safety program for local Realtors, though Martinez’ advice is applicable to any agent.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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