Brokerage

Don’t let anyone write agent safety off as a lost cause

Commentary: If everyone is on board, we can change the culture

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Since my August article on agent safety was published, the conversation on agent safety has unfortunately included the tragic loss of Beverly Carter, whose body was found in a shallow grave a few days after she was killed.

Sadly, the discourse on agent safety has yielded some voices who state that efforts to prevent such killings might be futile. “If a person is determined enough, we can’t stop them,” they say.

This puts a tragedy in the category of “occupational hazard.”

I refuse to accept that. While I will agree that we’ll never fully eliminate every single safety incident from occurring, we can drastically reduce attacks, thefts, harassment, and, yes, murders by a dramatic margin — if we have the guts to question an industry culture that hasn’t changed since the days of the rotary telephone.

Our occupational hazards should be lost sales, denied mortgages, bad home inspections and flat tires. Not death.

If three coal miners die on the job, it is front-page news and on the Sunday morning programs.

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If a taxi driver is shot dead by a bad fare, taxi drivers militantly band together to improve safety.

Our occupational hazards should be lost sales, denied mortgages, bad home inspections and flat tires. Not death."

A Western nurse contracts Ebola, and there is a call to quarantine off a continent.

Real estate agents die, and we shrug our shoulders. Realtor associations are silent. Thought leaders shrug their shoulders. Rank-and-file agents express doubt that we can change anything.

Are the lives of our wives and sisters worth as much as a coal miner’s or a taxi driver’s? We are dying out there, and nothing is going to happen until we do something about it. That doesn’t mean get scared. It means get smart.

Cultural transformation has to occur at every level of the industry.

Realtor associations, brokerages and our industry partners have to cooperate in educating both the agent population and the public as to why things need to change.

Agents have to act in a safer and less risky manner.

And the public has to understand why we institute what amounts to slightly different procedures.

I hold a unique position. I am a broker-owner, an MLS president and an advisory board member of a well-known syndicator.

I am therefore proposing a sweeping challenge to everyone I touch: an Agent Safety Project (agentsafetyproject.org) that will make everyone part of the solution.

  • I am calling on all brokerages, large and small, mom-and-pops to national banners, to institute pragmatic, sensible safety policies for their priceless human capital.
  • I am calling on all associations to make agent safety a mandatory part of their orientation and educational offering, and to promote it aggressively.
  • I am calling on our industry partners, especially those that connect us to the public, such as Zillow, Trulia and Move, to initiate clear and conspicuous consumer education, informing the public that agents have to identify and prequalify them before showing up to meet them for the first time at a listing. Of course, this point transcends safety — it is simply smart business, but it strikes at the heart of the matter.

Agents looking for a firm should consider safety policy as important as training and commission split.

Associations will foster far more goodwill among their members if they make safety a priority, and not just an elective course offered periodically.

And if the syndicators would partner up with us to educate the public on what needs to happen intelligently before looking at a home, that would be an absolute paradigm shift.

We will never be 100 percent safe. But we can be far safer than we are now and reduce not only the murders, but the attacks, home thefts of valuables and prescription drugs, and other security issues by having everyone collaborate.

Anyone within the sound of my voice who does not feel moved to respond to the call should ask themselves what environment they would want for their daughter, and act accordingly.

No one will do this for us. Those that we give our money — the associations, industry partners, and, yes, even our brokers through our commission splits — will only change the culture we have if we tell them to.

J. Philip Faranda (@JPhilipFaranda) 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.