For years, our industry has been telling agents “always take someone with you” as a means to agent safety. Although a small percentage of agents will follow this advice, another small percentage would fail to consider it — even if they were meeting with Freddy Krueger.
However, the vast majority of agents never take anyone with them, not because they can’t, but because our industry and psychology have not given them a reason to.
The real question is “why don’t agents have someone accompany them to an appointment?” If you ask, typically you’ll get short answers:
- It wasn’t convenient.
- I didn’t want to bother anyone.
- I’ve done this before, and nothing is going to happen.
Or a combination or variation of all three reasons, plus a handful of other excuses that people come up with.
How do we get past these attitudes as an industry? Simply telling people it’s a good idea has not been effective in reducing crime in this profession.
Furthermore, using the same logic after an agent has been attacked is blaming the victim, which is unacceptable, lazy and unproductive. If we take the time to understand why most agents don’t bring someone with them to appointments, we can develop tools and strategies to change those habits.
As with almost every human problem, the best place to start is with the underlying psychology that’s working against us. I primarily see three principles that come into play.
The first principle preys on our most basic fear and motivation — that of survival. In today’s world, paying bills, making a mortgage payment, etc., equals survival.
Money provides our food, clothing and shelter. At one point or another, we have all felt the fear of not being sure how we are going to pay bills next month, or worse, not being able to pay bills this month and being unsure about next month as well.
This situation is real to us; it’s a tangible threat for which we have a real memory, and it serves as a strong motivator. Fortunately, few of us have ever been the victim of an attack by a prospect.
Although we can intellectually imagine it occurring, we don’t feel it, and of course, we have no memory of it because we didn’t experience it.
So why do agents meet with people they don’t know alone in strange houses on short notice? Simple — it’s because the tangible threat of not making a sale and paying bills next month always trumps the intangible threat of being attacked.
The second principle that works against us is insidious in nature; it preys on our own experience and works to disarm us.
A group of 30 female agents and 20 male agents, who were never attacked, were asked: “When showing a home to a prospect you’ve never met before, how often do you feel uncomfortable to the point where you wished someone was with you?”
The possible answers were never, rarely, sometimes, often and always.
Out of 30 women, no one answered less than “often,” and out of 20 men, 19 did not answer less than “sometimes” (one answered “rarely”). Most agents have been on countless appointments and felt uncomfortable almost every time, and each of those times, nothing bad has happened.
Most agents have been conditioned to believe that nothing will happen because nothing has happened before. To put it in slightly more clinical terms, we have positively reinforced a negative behavior.
The positive reinforcement (or reward) of not being attacked has strengthened the negative behavior of meeting with a stranger alone in a house.
So why do agents do inherently dangerous things without taking any precautions? We have inadvertently taught them to do so as an industry.
The third principle that works against us is the same one we can use to make dramatic safety improvements in the industry.
As humans, we categorize and compartmentalize our experiences. Unless there was something uncommon about a showing that made us have an emotion that we don’t normally have, our brains take all of those showings and categorize them.
We might remember the facts about each showing, but the emotional impact we feel when we think about showings is an amalgamation of all of them.
The result of all this psychological mumbo jumbo is that we don’t differentiate one experience from another; they all get categorized as a showing with a prospect.
How does this work against us? We fail to distinguish patterns that should raise red flags because we group all these experiences together and then apply that grouping to the showing we are about to conduct.
So, why hasn’t “always take someone with you” made our industry safer? Because without a motivating experience, differentiation and prioritization, things that are always important are deemed by our brains as never important.
Simply stated, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
As an industry, how do we overcome the natural tendencies of human behavior and motivate agents to take someone with them on an appointment? Part of the answer lies in helping agents identify red flags that differentiate a high-risk appointment from a low-risk appointment.
A simple tool for accomplishing this is the EAR system:
- Evaluate the prospect, property and situation
- Assess the overall risk
- React appropriately
The EAR system is a simple system for assessing risk. Apply a positive number to some characteristics, apply a negative number to others, and adjust your behavior based on the number. The following are some characteristics and their value:
- The prospect is a stranger -1
- They found me on the Internet or from a sign -1
- Cash buyer -2
- Looking for a foreclosure -1
- From out of town -1
- Referral from a previous client +1
- Close friend or relative that referred you +2
- You confirmed the prospect with the referrer +3
- You verified pre-qualification +2
- Prospect can’t articulate specifics of what they are looking for in a home -2
- Prospect says they can only meet at a specific time and that time is after dark -2
- Prospect says they are an investor looking for empty homes -1
- Prospect says you can’t call them back -3
- Prospect stumbles over lifestyle questions -2
- Prospect is specific about what they are looking for in a home +1
- Prospect is flexible with meeting time and date +1
- Prospect is open to seeing other homes +1
- Prospects freely gives phone number +1
- Prospect says they will be bringing kids +1
- The property is off the beaten path -2
- There is poor cell phone reception or none at all -3
- The property is poorly lit -1
- The property has a basement -1
- The property has only one exterior door -1
- The property is in a typical suburban neighborhood +1
- Good cell phone reception +1
- The property is well lit +1
- There are multiple exit doors +1
- One story home +1
- You can’t put your finger on it, but something is unsettling -8
Let’s look at an example situation:
- A buyer calls you saying he or she found you on the Internet (-1).
- The home he or she wants to see is a one-story house (+1).
- The buyer is not entirely sure what he or she is looking for beyond a one-story but liked this house on the Internet (-2).
- The buyer says he or she works until 8 p.m. and can’t meet in the morning before work (-2).
- The house is in a crowded neighborhood (+1), and it has good cell reception (+1).
When we add up the numbers, they equal to -2. This situation is moderately risky, so this might be a situation where you want to take extra precautions and possibly even bring someone with you.
The above is by no means a complete list. If you have an item you think should be added, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The EAR instruction sheet and a spreadsheet is available here.
And always remember: get real, and sell safe.