This past weekend, an agent in my local market was holding a new construction home open when two men arrived, said they worked for the builder and were there to pick up materials.
As they loaded their truck, she became suspicious and called the police, who arrested the men for theft. That agent should count herself lucky, because she was alone in a vacant house with criminals who turned out to be mere thieves and not murderers or rapists.
The news is filled with unfortunate stories about our industry colleagues being attacked, beaten, raped and killed. Even beyond the news, many of us recall instances where we felt uncomfortable or in some sort of danger with a new prospect.
Those incidents don’t make the news, but there is a common thread we need to address: In almost every event, the agent was alone with a stranger.
Tom Grimes is a retired NYPD detective who speaks on agent safety in my local market. Many of the things he says resonate, but none more than this:
“Real estate agents make their living meeting with complete strangers in empty houses.”
CPAs don’t prepare tax returns in a model home alone with someone who called them off a Craigslist ad.
Architects don’t draft plans in a condo alone with an open house sign outside inviting any passerby to enter.
Pharmaceutical salespeople call on busy, well-staffed medical offices; they don’t drive to a remote location outside town to open the door for a complete stranger.
And yet that is precisely what thousand of agents do, every day.
This is madness. It has to stop.
It goes without saying that brokerages need to adopt safety procedures and policies, and strictly enforce them. It goes without saying that agents themselves need to exercise far more care, discretion and caution.
That doesn’t fix the problem. Agent safety is one of those topics discussed in the aftermath of a sad news story, but the root cause of the matter goes uncured.
The origin of the safety crisis is none other than ourselves. We are swimming against a current of decades of training the public to expect us to be on call at the drop of a hat to meet anyone, anywhere, anytime to earn a commission, as if the least busy agent is the best advocate to represent the consumer’s interests.
The public expects us to stop everything and just show up. It is in our pay model, our industry modus operandi, and has bled into our value proposition to the public. Our time, our safety and the time of the seller have had their value marginalized in our zeal to make a sales commission. We need to re-educate the public, and that starts with retraining ourselves.
We need to explain to consumers why we need to know if they are qualified before we meet them at a home. The public needs to understand why we can’t meet them on a moment’s notice just to earn a possible commission. We need to re-educate the public that a trusted adviser is worth setting up a real appointment with, and that safety is a consideration.
Saying no to a risky appointment takes discipline, but it has to be done, or the sad stories will continue.
With all the technology at our disposal, there has to be a better way of setting up safety protocols with consumers ensuring the security of our ranks that still convey our value.
How so? There are many answers, but we have to live in the question, with the operative term being “live.”
J. Philip Faranda is broker and owner of J. Philip Real Estate with offices in Briarcliff Manor and Pelham, New York. The author of the Westchester Real Estate Blog, he is 2014 president of the Hudson Gateway MLS, technology chair for the New York Association of Realtors, and a member of Zillow’s Agent Advisory Board. In 2013 he was a finalist for Inman’s Innovator of the Year.