For those of us in the real estate industry, September is national safety month. As agents and brokers, we tend to focus on the sensational when it comes to on-the-job dangers and, for the most part, ignore everyday hazards.
As a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and as someone who has worked with clients for 20 years, I believe there’s stranger danger and that we need to be careful. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the ordinary dangers that we face on a daily basis.
Working with real estate clients isn’t the most dangerous job I’ve ever had — not by a long shot. On my first job working in a kitchen, I had an accident that could have killed me, but instead maimed me for life. And that was while I was still in high school.
While working for the transit authority in an office next to the shop, I was exposed to high levels of particulate from diesel fuel exhaust. At the time, we didn’t fully understand the risks.
The point is, there are common everyday hazards for real estate agents. Some are deadly, and others are not. Some are visible, but others are invisible.
Open houses are a lot like trick or treating. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, but so many people like the tradition that it won’t go away. Sitting alone in an open house with signs drawing attention to it is a great way to notify robbers of an opportunity to walk in, loot the house and separate real estate agents from their wallets.
During the pandemic, having an open house, showing houses and meeting with clients in person isn’t safe — especially for those who work in counties with high rates of infection, older age groups and those with preexisting conditions.
There are other risks, too. Homebuyers love to see houses during rush hour and when it’s dark outside. A couple of years ago, I was injured on the job after I slipped and fell on some ice in the dark. I mostly could not work for two weeks. The pain was incredible and so were the bruises. Ever since that happened, I’ve been taking extra care when touring real estate in the dark, especially when the ground is frozen.
Once, while meeting with a client who wanted to sell his house, his dog bit my leg. It didn’t break the skin, but it ruined my slacks and left a big bruise on my leg. The dog was just protecting his territory.
What’s more, getting in a car accident is an occupational hazard. Most real estate agents drive a lot. Distracted driving is a major safety risk for agents who often talk on the phone as the drive. Nothing like getting all worked up over a call from a lender while cruising at 70 miles an hour.
Even if the call is coming through the speakers in the car, it’s still distracting and annoying. Sending or reading text messages while driving is deadly.
Much of the safety gear and advice for real estate professionals is built around finding the body after the crime has been committed. After an agent goes missing could be too late, and while it’s nice to find the person who robbed or killed the agent, it’s even better to prevent becoming a crime victim in the first place.
Obviously, life is full of risks, and we’re never really safe. But there are a few things you can do to reduce some of those risks. Here are a few basic safety tips to protect real estate agents from common hazards — both big and small:
- Wear a mask and socially distance when working outside of your home. Wash your hands often.
- Always fasten your seatbelt, check your mirrors and keep your car locked.
- Don’t talk on the phone and drive.
- Carry and use a flashlight when working after dark.
- If you must do open houses, don’t do them alone.
- Ask homeowners to let the dogs out or put them in a kennel.
- Don’t meet in person and alone in houses with people you do not know.
- Wear shoes that are sturdy, skid-resistant and something you can run in.
- Never walk on slippery floors in stocking feet.
- Never show your listings to anyone you don’t know without first seeing a preapproval letter from a lender. Call the lender, and verify the letter before the showing.
You may wonder about my policy of not working with strangers. It has to do with vetting my clients, and that isn’t about seeing their driver’s licenses.
If I feel at all uncomfortable about an in-person meeting, I bring someone along with me. I don’t ignore that inner voice that alerts me to danger. If someone I don’t know wants me to show them one of my listings right now, the answer is always, “no.”
A serious buyer can send me a preapproval letter and make an appointment with me to see my listing. I can either go alone once I have that letter and have talked to the lender, or I can bring someone with me. There’s absolutely no business reason to go waltzing out the door to meet a stranger who may not even be able to buy the house.
Mental health is important, too. Know when to say “no,” and know when to take time off. Mental health isn’t just about having a positive attitude. It’s about dealing with feelings rather than just dealing with positive feelings and pretending negative ones don’t exist.
There are times when people feel sadness or anxiety and that is alright — they are a part of the human experience.
Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.