Given that being an agent so often requires meeting with strangers, agent safety is a perennial topic in the real estate industry and one that often seems intractable. This is in part because the vast majority of agents are independent contractors and brokerages, associations and multiple listing services are reluctant to require personal safety protocols.
One of these associations is the National Association of Realtors, which nonetheless has dedicated September as “Realtor Safety Month” for several years and began issuing member safety reports in 2015. And this year’s Member Safety Report from NAR found that more Realtors are carrying weapons for self-defense in 2020 than they were in 2019.
The report also found that 4 percent of 3,007 respondents reported being the victim of a crime while working as a real estate professional, down from 5 percent in last year’s survey. One percent said the crime was identity theft while less than 1 percent each said it was robbery or assault. The survey’s margin of error is plus-or-minus 1.79 percent.
Of those who reported being the victim of a crime, 35 percent said the crime occurred “after receiving a threatening or inappropriate email, text message, phone call, or voicemail” while 17 percent said the crime occurred during an open house. Seven percent each said it was “While meeting a new client for the first time at a secluded location/property,” “While driving a client in your car,” or “During a showing.” More than half, 55 percent, said it was under “Other” circumstances.
About half, 49 percent, of respondents reported being aware that crimes against real estate professionals are mostly predatory in nature rather than random acts of violence while 43 percent said they were not aware, according to the report.
Realtors were more likely to say they had not experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety or the safety of their personal information in 2020 than in 2019: 72 percent vs. 67 percent.
Of the 23 percent who reported that they had experienced a situation that made them feel unsafe, 31 percent feared for their safety at an open house and the same percentage felt unsafe during a showing. More than a quarter, 27 percent, reported feeling unsafe while meeting a new client for the first time at a secluded location or property and the same share reported feeling unsafe after receiving a threatening or inappropriate email, text message, phone call or voicemail.
A quarter of female respondents and 15 percent of male respondents reported experiencing a situation that made them fear for their personal safety or the safety of their personal information, down from 40 percent and 21 percent in 2019.
Location did not seem to matter much. Respondents were most likely to say they feared for their safety in a rural or suburban area (23 percent each) followed by a metro/urban area (21 percent) and small town (20 percent).
While safety advocates often implore agents to not meet new or prospective clients alone at an open house or at a secluded property, 51 percent of respondents did the former and 39 percent did the latter in 2020. Of those that hosted an open house alone, the vast majority, 75 percent, did not feel unsafe while 23 percent did.
Still, 72 percent of respondents said they have personal safety protocols in place that they follow with every client, up from 66 percent in 2019. This was more likely among females (75 percent) than males (64 percent). Just over half, 55 percent, of respondents said their brokerage had standard procedures for agent safety in place. About two-thirds of respondents, 67 percent, said their real estate office had standard procedures for safeguarding and proper disposal of client data and client information.
The report did not detail what these protocols or procedures were, but noted that “The typical respondent meets prospective clients whom they’ve never met before either at their office or in a neutral location 61 percent of the time.”
When asked if their local Realtor association offers safety training as part of their new member orientation, half said they didn’t know, 38 percent said yes and 12 percent said no.
Just under 4 in 10 respondents, 38 percent, said they had participated in a self-defense class while the rest said they had not. Just under half, 49 percent, said they carried self-defense weapons, up from 44 percent in 2019. The most common weapons are pepper spray (19 percent), firearm (14 percent), and pocket knife (7 percent).
Women were more likely to carry pepper spray than men (26 percent vs. 5 percent) and men were more likely to carry firearms than women (21 percent vs. 11 percent).
More than half of respondents, 58 percent, said they used a smartphone safety app to track their whereabouts and alert their colleagues in case of an emergency, up from 53 percent in 2019, according to the report. The most commonly used app listed was Find My iPhone, which 36 percent of respondents said they used.
The report said “many” members notify a spouse, friend or family member of their location before showing a home without specifying a percentage. Females were more likely to use apps or safety notification procedures compared to males: 64 percent vs. 47 percent.