Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over 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.
This article was last updated August 8, 2022.
The headlines are all-too-frequently chock full of horrific reports of agents being assaulted, raped and murdered. Although the statistical odds of a horrible thing happening to you are low, the simple fact is you are a “lone worker,” and as such, you’re a target for the evil people in the world.
What’s far more likely to happen than physical attack are things like slips and falls, car accidents, theft (including robbery, identity theft and wire fraud) and more, but that doesn’t make headlines and rarely gets discussed.
Agent safety isn’t just about what can happen at showings and open houses. Agent safety is about protecting you and your clients every day from a wide variety of potential problems.
I’ve served on the Beverly Carter Foundation (BCF) board of directors for over two years, and agent safety is near and dear to my heart. The foundation was started shortly after the tragic death of Arkansas agent Beverly Carter.
It’s “dedicated to the ideal that every agent goes home safe every day by providing scientifically based research, information, consulting, training, and support at little to no charge to every MLS, association, brokerage, and agent.”
It makes me physically ill when I read another story of an agent attack. As an agent and broker, the husband of an agent, a BCF board member, and friend of countless industry professionals who I hold dear, I’ve spent hours researching and speaking about agent safety.
It’s important, no, imperative to take safety seriously. No one wants to live in fear that something terrible will happen to them on the job, but you can — you must — keep safety in the forefront of your mind, always. Please.
To that end, here is a list of 61 safety tips I’ve compiled over the years. Some will seem stunningly obvious; others may be new to you. But even if you’ve heard everything below repeated endlessly, please take the time to read through it.
- “I hope it doesn’t happen to me” is not a self-protection plan. Remain diligent.
- Never hold an open house alone. Partner with another agent, a lender — someone.
- Meet new clients in a public place, not a listing. Your office is ideal. Not handy? Ask a title company or attorney if you can borrow a conference room. Have that initial chat in a coffee shop. Your policy should be never to meet a new client alone.
- Buddy up. Work with an agent friend or two, and accompany each other on initial meetings and showings, open houses, door-knocking and anywhere else you might meet new people.
- Trust your gut. Your instincts are sharp. Listen to them.
- If you feel uncomfortable, leave the situation.
- Practice good situational awareness. Prevent tragedy before it happens.
- Take a self-defense class.
- Practice self-defense frequently. A couple of classes you took three years ago won’t help if you don’t practice techniques often.
- Carry a weapon. Yes, this is often controversial, but it is a viable option. Handguns are one of several options: pepper spray, mace, a knife.
- If you want to carry a firearm, you have to practice a lot. There’s a reason law enforcement officers spend hours on the range. Without “muscle memory,” your chances of appropriately reacting when faced with danger are slim. A gun in your purse, strapped on your hip, wherever it may be, won’t help if you can’t use it properly in the middle of the most significant moment of fear and adrenaline rush of your life.
- Use a safety app.
- Carry a “personal safety device” (jewelry or a device designed to alert emergency officials).
- Always tell someone where you are going, who you’ll be with and when you expect to be home/back in the office.
- Establish an office code word for trouble. “The red file” is frequently used. You call your office: “Hi, I’m showing 123 Main Street and forgot the red file. Can you email me?” The “red file” code word has been frequently published, possibly making it more likely to alert whoever is with you. The idea is to use a word or phrase that everyone knows means “I’m in trouble” without alerting the person or people who are with you.
- Don’t advertise a listing as vacant. Vacant listings attract bad people.
- Keep your phone charged.
- Lock your car at showings and open houses. The last thing you want to do is drive away with someone crouched down in the back seat.
- Look inside your car before getting in. Yes, even if you locked it.
- Be bright. Don’t show homes or hold opens when it’s dark outside. Yes, that may limit your hours for showings. Deal with it. Your safety is way more precious than a paycheck.
- Consider adding a cloud-based camera to open houses. Simply knowing a property is under surveillance can be a crime deterrent.
- Require open house visitors to sign in. Yes, this can be faked. But it’s better than nothing.
- Have an office policy that requires potential clients to submit a photo ID at initial contact. Could this cause a potential client to walk away? Sure. Safety first!
- Ditto for requiring a photo ID at open house sign-in.
- Advise sellers to put away and secure firearms, tech, jewelry and prescriptions. These are the most targeted items for which thieves look.
- Before leaving an open house or showing, lock the doors and windows.
- Only bring what you need. There is no need to have your wallet, money or credit cards at an open house.
- Check out NAR’s Safety Resources for Brokers page.
- Check out NAR’s Realtor Safety Program page.
- Take NAR’s Realtor Safety Matters course.
- Does your broker have a safety plan? If not, demand it, and help create one.
- Does your local or state association offer safety courses? If not, demand them and help create them.
- Remember, safety is non-negotiable.
- When showing or touring an open house, keep the client in front of you.
- Always have an exit. Stay between the client and the door.
- When closing an open house, walk through and check all rooms and closets to ensure no one is hiding. Be prepared to react (run!) if they are.
- Keep your phone in your hand at showings and opens.
- Flight is almost always a better option than fight.
- If it comes down to it, fight. And scream. Claw, kick, jab keys into eyes.
- If a client makes unwanted advances and doesn’t understand that “no means no,” fire them. Could you lose a transaction? Yes, deal with it. Your safety is far more important than a paycheck.
- If a client makes an unwanted advance, don’t lie (I’m married or have a significant other), and don’t say, “I’m flattered, but … ” It’s not flattering. It’s creepy and potentially dangerous. Tell them in no uncertain terms, “No, this is a professional relationship.” If they don’t get it, fire them.
- Let buyers drive themselves. Gone are the days when agents need to haul around clients. You’re a professional real estate agent, not a taxi or Uber driver. You’ll probably save on car insurance too.
- Don’t be too public. Don’t share too much personal information. When advertising your business, consider leaving out your photograph, home phone number or home address in the newspaper or business cards. Don’t use your full name with your middle name or initial. Use your office address — or list no address at all. Giving out too much of the wrong information can make you a target.
- Don’t get blocked in. At showings and opens, park on the street, not in the driveway where someone can easily block your car in.
- Lock the doorknobs, but not deadbolts when showing or holding opens. That will help keep unwanted visitors outside but make it easier to get away if necessary.
- Don’t text and drive, ever. It’s best not to even talk on the phone, even hands-free. Focus on your driving. If a call or message is that important, pull over (and lock your doors).
- Spot and avoid danger using the 10-second rule. Take 10 seconds to ask yourself questions and assess your surroundings from the moment you arrive at your destination to meet with a client. Plan an escape route.
- Consider using only your first initial and last name on signage to conceal your gender and prevent anyone other than a personal friend or client from asking for you by name.
- Don’t use the same password for every account/login you have. Consider using a secure password manager to hold and create passwords.
- Enable “Find My iPhone” (Find My Device for Android phones). This feature will help you locate a lost phone, and more importantly, it allows you to lock out the phone in the event it’s stolen. (Here’s how I know all about stolen phones.)
- Invest in a secure hotspot. Hotspots are handy when cell and Wi-Fi are spotty. Always be connected.
- Pre-program essential numbers on your cell phone. Emergency contacts, roadside assistance, 911, your office.
- If you feel like you’re being followed, don’t speed away. Keep calm, and drive to a public place or police station. Do not drive home.
- Always use the password/lock feature on your laptop, phone and tablet. If those are lost or stolen, you don’t want anyone else having easy access.
- Work with your sellers to consider video surveillance options. Be sure to understand local laws.
- Meet the neighbors. Introduce yourself to the neighbors around your listings and opens. They can be eyes and ears while you are there or away.
- Follow your office data security policy. If they don’t have one, demand one. It’s a must-have in this day and age.
- You spend a lot of time in your car. Pack an emergency kit that includes water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, batteries and a blanket. A solar-powered phone charger comes in handy. Be prepared.
- Help others stay safe. If you’ve been contacted by a suspicious person, been involved in a situation, or just felt something was wrong, talk to your fellow agents, broker, and association.
- Keep your face out of your phone. Never walk in an unfamiliar area while looking down or texting. Keep your head up, and stay alert.
- Think about safety — all the time. Help other agents do the same. You are important to someone. Be diligent, be aware, think.
That’s 61 safety-related things to think about, implement and practice. It is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a good start.
If you had to pick out only two of these tips to follow every time, I’d go with “trust your instincts” and practice situational awareness.
Stay safe. Please.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.