Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.

September is Realtor Safety Month.

A huge part of me wishes there wasn’t a need for a safety month. The realist in me understands that every month should be agent safety month.

For safety is always first, always necessary, always important. As a “lone worker” you face additional safety risks and are far more vulnerable than the typical worker-type.

Volumes have been written here and elsewhere about agent safety. We’ve all seen and heard things like don’t do open houses alone. Meet new clients in an office. Don’t dash off to meet someone at a vacant house. Be aware. Trust your gut.

These are all sensible things to think and talk about. All of them could (and should) be repeated frequently as repeatedly pounding into our heads sometimes seems to be the only thing that works.

Agent safety has been a passion of mine since the first time my wife drove off to meet a new client alone. As a member of the board of directors for the Beverly Carter Foundation, I see the positive impact safety awareness and training can have.

I dread the day, however, when an abduction, assault, rape or murder of another agent shows up in my news feed. And it will happen again.

So I’ll keep writing about agent safety, talking about it, and trying to get the message out.

The particular effort you’re reading right now is going to focus on what I think is the single most important aspect of agent safety (and anyone’s personal safety for that matter).

It’s called situational awareness.

In a nutshell, situational awareness is simply being cognizant and aware of your situation and surroundings. It doesn’t mean to live you life in fear and paranoia, with your head on a swivel, your heart rate elevated from the adrenaline coursing through your veins.

But you should be aware of your situation and surroundings, always. Any safety expert worth a flip is going to tell you that avoiding or preventing an attack is far preferable to slugging it out with some would-be assailant.

And situational awareness is going to be what helps you avoid situations before they even start.

No, practicing good situational awareness habits won’t prevent every possible bad thing that could happen. Sadly, worthless as criminals are, they are quite relentless in their pursuits. Good awareness will however, stop or reduce the impact of many actions.

I’ll give you a personal example.

A couple of months ago, I was in Barcelona, Spain. Having spoken at an event near there, my wife and I were enjoying a few days touring that wonderful city and countryside.

One morning we were waiting for a tour van to pick us up for a half-day tour. There was a sign posted at the tour office desk that thieves worked the area and to watch your personal belongings. Our tour guide reiterated that message to us as we waited for the van.

As we waited, I of course wandered off to take some photos. It’s what I do. Having captured what I thought was a great street scene image, I leaned against a wall to edit the shot on my phone.

Can you see where this is going?

Being a fairly seasoned traveller, I was well aware that pickpockets and petty theft can be an issue in certain tourist spots. I saw the sign, I heard the guide’s warnings. I was wearing my cross-body, slash proof, pickpocket resistant bag.

And there I sat, phone in hand, totally absorbed in making a photograph.

I was absorbed to the point that I didn’t even hear our guide shout out: “Watch your belongings!” as she spotted two punks working the area and marking potential victims.

The next thing I knew, someone was grabbing my hands, and someone else was ripping my phone away.

They both took off running faster than I could say “you little mother f**ckers!”

My $1,200 iPhone was gone.

(Fortunately, no personal info was compromised. There are some important things you need to do and understand if your phone gets stolen. I wrote about it here. Caution, the recounting of the theft contains some adult language.)

There were dozens of people milling about. Most holding phones. Many with cameras, purses, backpacks. All kinds of things for these two guys to steal.

So why me?

Because I was an easy target. Because I had let my guard down. I had turned off my situational awareness.

These guys were pros. They knew how to spot a mark a mile away, and I’m sure they had zeroed in on me long before they approached.

“That guy. Totally into his phone. He has no idea we’re even here.”

Had I paid even the slightest attention, they likely would have just moved on to the next person lost in their phone. Simply lifting my head up might have been enough to reroute them.

Getting your phone stolen in Barcelona sucks. Getting raped or killed is far worse.

I put myself into a situation that made me a prime target for a phone theft: Please don’t put yourself in a situation that jeopardizes your life, your body or makes you a target.

It’s a mindset

Situational awareness is more of a mindset than a skillset. You don’t need ninja-like reflexes to practice good situational awareness.

The primary factor in establishing a situational awareness mindset is simply recognizing the fact that threats exist. Denial is a powerful thing. “It can’t happen to me” has been said by many that it did happen to.

Again, you tend to work alone. You may drive a nice car and wear a nice suit. Lots of crooks think all agents are rich. And you’re alone, or can be manipulated into being alone. There are bad, evil, nasty people out there. There are threats. Accept and understand that.

Understanding you need to take responsibility for your own security helps build an awareness mindset. The police do an amazing job, but they can’t be everywhere, and they’re most certainly not in your open house, at a showing, walking a plot of land or with you when some prospective buyer says they’re all-cash, relocating and need a house next month. ZOOM! Off you go to meet them, knowing nothing about them.

A final piece to the awareness mindset is the old adage: “Trust your gut.” The number of crime victims who have said “something didn’t feel right … ” is significant by virtually every account. Your subconscious brain is far more tuned in to your “flight or fight” reflexes, and those can practically predict something nefarious is imminent. Trust those instincts.

The situation matters

As previously mentioned, this article isn’t a call to live your life in fear, and to dive deep into the depths of paranoia. That’s just not a healthy place to spend much time.

There are different levels of situations and awareness.

Most experts in the field will tell you it’s best to operate in the “yellow” or “relaxed alert” level.

Being completely oblivious to your surroundings, as I was in Barcelona, is not the right level of awareness, ever. (Well, that level is fine if you’re in your recliner binge-watching Netflix. But not if you’re out and about.)

In a relaxed alert level, you’re in tune with your surroundings, observant, but still relaxed. You’re not tense and uptight. Think of it like driving defensively. You’re alert to potential danger, but relaxed and not white-knuckled gripping the steering wheel.

Use all your senses. Most people immediately think of sight, and only sight, when they consider being situationally aware. But your ears and even nose can pick up on things in your environment as well. (Pro tip: Watch that headphone/earbud volume. Drowning out all ambient noise favors the bad guys.)

Practice makes perfect

Good situational awareness techniques and observation skills can be learned, practiced and honed. There are resources all over the internet about how to develop situational awareness skills, and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes out of their busy days to read through this material.

Even just understanding that situational awareness is a thing, and that there are skills you can develop with relative ease can go a long way to helping ensure your safety.

It’s a crazy world out there, and your job can put you in positions that can compromise your safety. Yes, it’s a hassle to have to deal with this stuff. Yes. you may very well lose a client and some money turning away potential business.

But your safety, your life, has no price tag. Please: Think about your safety, think about your situational awareness. Get some training. Read the resources linked to below.

Be safe out there, this and every month.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizo tna broker’s license with eXp Realty.

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