Staying safe from predators is increasingly important in today’s world — especially given high-profile attacks on real estate agents. Here are more ways to keep yourself from danger.
How to avoid presenting yourself as a victim
To avoid being picked for the “interview” in the first place, be aware of the way you portray yourself on social media and on both your personal and company websites.
As real estate professionals, you should have private social profiles just for personal friends.
Check your privacy settings to be sure you are sharing intimate details of your life only with the people in your personal sphere. Your real estate social media accounts, however, should be purely for business.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be personable, and even humorous, with your posts.
Any personal images should be businesslike and preferably not full-length. Avoid selfies or photos that might be more appropriate on a dating site. It’s always best not to wear expensive or flashy jewelry or watches. You should always dress professionally and appropriately for your market and clientele.
For safety’s sake, agents should never meet a strange prospect at the property. The National Association of Realtors recommends that agents meet prospects at their office first, not at the property for sale. Clients should complete a prospect ID form with a photocopy of their ID that the agent should share with the office staff.
Unfortunately, this does not always keep you safe. There have been several incidents where agents have followed this procedure and still been attacked. One of these occurred in May 2014 in Salisbury, North Carolina, when a female real estate agent was kidnapped and raped at the showing, even though she made an appointment to meet her prospect at the office and colleagues saw the perpetrator there first.
The California Association of Realtors offered more far-reaching recommendations in a recent safety video: “Before meeting a client, conduct a background check; ask for name, phone number, email address, home address and date of birth, and ask them to text or email you a picture of their driver’s license or government-issued photographic ID.”
But if a criminal with nefarious intent who has supplied this information, that is still not enough to keep you safe. Verifying that the photo ID and the prospect’s address are valid, along with running some other checks, including checking with sex offender and criminal offender lists, is the best way to screen out potential assailants. (Disclosure: I am the founder of Verify Photo ID, a startup that handles this process.)
Your safety is your No. 1 priority, so don’t think twice about offending the prospect by asking. Everyone is expected to submit a photo ID to check into a hotel, get on an airplane or rent a car — so why shouldn’t it be the standard in our industry?
A prospect declining to supply qualifying information or submitting a photo ID is a huge red flag, so this, along with your intuition, will determine whether you become a willing victim. Take extra precautions or make an excuse and don’t meet.
When you are with a prospect, don’t ever let them take control. It’s always best to travel in your car, never the prospect’s, and dictate your own terms of the showing, not theirs. If you get an uneasy feeling, or sense that something is a bit off, pay close attention to those feelings. Listen to and pay attention to your intuition, and if you need to, make your excuses and terminate the appointment purposely and quietly.
“I’ve had a lot of scary situations on this job,” said an unnamed 39-year-old rape victim, a Zanesville, Ohio, Realtor in December 2014. “If anyone can take anything from this, I hope Realtors get that. When you go to a house and your hair stands up on your neck, and you feel something’s wrong — leave.”
Intuition invariably knows more about a situation than you are consciously aware of, so learn to acknowledge these messages. Welcome these signals, and don’t be afraid to act on them, or just say no whenever you feel it’s appropriate. We are prewired with a personal alarm system for good reason.
Peter Toner is a third-generation real estate agent and founder/developer of VerifyPhotoID.com, a safety app that verifies, with just a prospect’s phone number, the identity of prospects before they meet with an agent in three simple steps.