Opinion

4 reasons why money overrides safety in real estate

Why a push toward increased agent safety in real estate might not be permanent

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Vivian Martin.

Andrew VonStein.

Do these names ring a bell? How about Beverly Carter?

Carter was the real estate agent who was murdered in September 2014 while showing homes in Missouri. Real estate news would lead one to believe that her murder has led to changes and even improvements in how real estate business is conducted.

Color me pessimistic, but I do not believe that any change that has occurred is permanent. It never will be until several basic factors are changed within the industry.

Why do I believe this? Martin and VonStein were real estate agents murdered in September 2010 outside Kent, Ohio. Both were showing vacant units — one an apartment and the other a bank-owned property. In the aftermath of these crimes, there was an outcry from the real estate community demanding that safety become a higher priority.

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The outcry in Ohio was as fervent — at least on the outside– as it was in Missouri and neighboring Arkansas. The Ohio Association of Realtors rolled out a video series on safety that ran into 2012; there were safety awareness seminars all over the state sponsored by brokerages, local boards and city police departments. It was top of mind, then slowly faded away.

The fault doesn’t lie with anyone in Ohio; it rests with human nature. Humans who derive their only income from direct sales are susceptible to certain risks that lead agents to place money before safety. These factors include:

1. An agency vs. a brokerage business model. Outside the most conservative brokerages, the agency and combination models have shifted strongly in the agent’s favor over the past 30 years. This has led to agents becoming more empowered and working in coordination with — rather than for — the brokerage. From a safety perspective, this has diminished the brokerage’s ability to control agent activities and generate required activities and procedures. Try to get 50 agents to meet for a sales meeting. For a safety training, you’d have better luck corralling cats.

2. Money. What money? With the recession barely in the rearview mirror, the budget for safety planning and training remains under extensive pressure. Combine that with the real estate community’s traditional reliance on the “school of hard knocks” to educate agents and you end up with a passive view of formal safety training. With brokerage profits continuing to be under pressure, don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

3. “If I don’t, someone else will.” Sadly, this battle cry is largely true. As long as safety is left up to the agent, it becomes a balancing issue, with money squaring off against safety. It only takes a single rogue agent — or the threat of one–to lead agents to abandon safety measures to keep from losing a client. When you have five minutes to return the prospect’s call, it generates a business style that often is at odds with safety.

4. Fake it till you make it. I had a listing recently that was priced roughly three times above the market average for the area. After five showings, it became evident that buyer’s agents in that price range were required to drive a Lexus. Giving the public the idea that agents have more wealth than the average person makes agents potential targets. “Success” marketing draws the public’s attention, but not necessarily the kind of attention originally sought. Too often, agents are naïve about the dark side that can arise from these types of marketing efforts. The concern with “faking till you make it” is that these agents have not had the same experience as those who have truly “made it.” And that inexperience leads to an increased naïvety when it comes to safety.

These four factors have combined to create an environment in which safety often is not the real estate agent’s first thought. We should all hope that the circle of violence against these agents can be broken so that Beverly Carter’s legacy doesn’t fade away as quickly as Martin’s and VonStein’s.

Toby Boyce is a Realtor with Howard Hanna Realcom Realty in Delaware, Ohio.