The Internet is an interesting place. We can be anyone we want to be, and so can the people we meet online.

About a year ago I met with a prospective buyer who found me on the Internet and he turned out to be more than a little scary. He wasn’t at all interested in buying real estate. He wanted to meet me because of something that he found on the Internet about me.

We met in a coffee shop where I often meet with clients and write contracts. I ended the meeting but he didn’t want to leave, and even after he did he sat in the parking lot in his car watching the coffee shop. I left about 10 minutes after his car left the lot.

He was seriously creepy and maybe a little crazy. Most of the people I meet through the Internet are wonderful. It is like we have known each other for years the first time that we meet. I couldn’t ask for better clients and friends.

There are some crazy people on the Internet, too. Having a Web presence like mine is a bit like standing in a well-lit room with the drapes open when it is pitch black outside. Someone can be outside looking in. They can see me but I don’t even know they are there.

Using the Internet as a way to meet buyers and sellers is not any safer or any more dangerous than having an open house. There is some personal risk to agents with each, and each year a few of us are killed on the job.

With the people we meet online it is especially important to meet them in person at a real estate office or in a public place before meeting them in a vacant home. This may seem like common sense but I know too many agents who pick up the phone and get all excited when someone wants to see one of their listings. They are off and running with no thought about their personal safety.

This phenomenon seems to get worse when business is slow. Agents trip over each other for the opportunity to show a home. Having the opportunity to show a home or to earn an income is important but not so important that we should forget about safety.

Please don’t go into a vacant property with someone you don’t know. If a meeting can not be arranged prior to the showing call another agent and have them come with you. Ask questions when someone calls to see a home. Sometimes the potential buyers are not kooks but they are a complete waste of time. Even when business is slow we all have things to do that are better uses of our time than showing an unqualified buyer a home. We are not some type of free public service — we are small businesses.

When meeting people for the first time listen to that inner voice. It is your friend. We all have a kind of built-in instinct that we are taught to ignore. When we are afraid we try to overcome it or ignore it when we should be listening to it.

We don’t know anything about the people who meet us through the Internet. From both a personal safety point of view and from a business point of view it makes sense to get to know something about them before we head out to show them houses.

Be careful out there.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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