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Being a real estate agent may seem like a safe job, especially when you compare it to dangerous occupations, such as commercial fishermen, tree trimmers or law enforcement. But performing the responsibilities of a real estate agent does involve risk, and crimes aren’t uncommon.
Showing a property alone, meeting new clients, and throwing open houses for dozens or even hundreds of strangers exposes you to a lot of people — not all of whom have your best interests at heart.
As discount and online brokerages have swelled the ranks of agents, there’s never been more of a need for vigilance and awareness of safety. Here are 17 safety tips that can help agents avoid trouble and maintain their personal safety.
1. Meet new clients at the office or in public
It’s not wise to meet a client for the first time at a property, especially if you’re going to be alone with them. Invite them to the office to discuss their real estate goals, or meet them at a coffee shop.
When you do meet them, use a prospect identification form to record all their personal information, and take a photo of their ID for your records.
2. Do daytime showings only
Take clients to properties during the day, preferably during normal business hours. If a client insists on a nighttime showing, tell your manager or a colleague where you’re going and whom you’re going with.
During the showing, turn on all the lights at the property, and open curtains and blinds to maximize visibility.
3. Do your due diligence
Before you meet with new clients, look at their social media accounts to get a sense of their personality, and do a quick Google search of their names to look for red flags. If there’s cause for concern, but you don’t want to lose a potential client, consider running a full background check.
4. Let people know where you’re going and who you’ll be with
Real estate agents don’t sit in their offices all day. They’re generally on the move, going to showings and meeting clients. If you’re not in the office, no one may notice your absence — unless you make your schedule known.
Make a shareable schedule, such as a free Google calendar, that will let your colleagues know where you’re going. If something happens to you, they’ll know where you were.
5. Never advertise a property as ‘vacant’
Telling the public a property is vacant is inviting trespassers. Everyone from mischievous high school kids to vagrants will be looking for a place to crash. Avoid this inconvenience by keeping a vacancy quiet.
6. Treat vacant properties with caution
If possible, give a tour of a vacant property from the outside only. If you must go inside with the client, tread carefully in case there are unexpected people inside. Surprising trespassers can provoke rash and sometimes dangerous reactions.
7. Familiarize yourself with a home before touring it
Before you take a client on a walkthrough, visit the house alone and familiarize yourself with the layout. Note any narrow spaces, dead ends or other potential problem areas. Strategize ways to avoid them. Also, note if you have a phone signal in all areas of the property.
8. Let the client walk ahead of you
Try not to turn your back on clients, especially if you’re showing the property alone. Allow them to enter rooms before you so you can track their location at all times.
9. Avoid rooms with only one entry and exit
Don’t enter rooms with only one door, especially if they’re small. This can include walk-in closets, basements, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. Invite the client to enter and examine the space while you remain in the hallway.
10. Use a panic button app
Safety apps let you notify the police or emergency responders with the press of a button. Many of them also incorporate GPS tracking that will automatically transmit your location.
These apps can be a great tool for agents working alone. If a client starts acting in a threatening manner, or you suddenly realize you’re not alone in a vacant property, just hit the panic button instead of fumbling with your phone’s keypad.
11. Shield your personal information
Don’t put your personal phone number or home address online or on your marketing materials. That could lead to unprofessional and unwanted contacts. If you use a lot of digital devices for your business, consider cybersecurity strategies to protect your data from being hacked.
This rule applies to sellers during open houses, too. Ensure they don’t leave documents, such as utility bills or bank statements, out during showings. They could be misused for online identity theft.
12. Be sensitive to the unexpected
If a client shows up with unexpected guests, asks to go to a second location, or is acting in an erratic or suspicious manner, don’t be shy about terminating or delaying the appointment.
The same applies if you arrive at a property to find it open, unlocked or showing signs of unauthorized occupation. If something feels strange to you, it could be a legitimate cause for concern.
Don’t ignore your gut just because you want to close on a big commission.
13. Have an exit strategy
Rehearse an excuse to end the showing if something seems off. You could say another client is due to arrive any minute, that you have to call your manager about an important matter or that you forgot something in your car.
Just have some kind of cover story ready, so it seems convincing at the moment if you have to use it.
14. Be watchful when parking
A lot of safety tips focus on showings, but arriving or leaving an appointment can be a dangerous time. When you’re getting into or out of your car, you’re generally distracted and probably holding something in your hands, making it a perfect opportunity for someone to surprise you. Be extra vigilant around your car, and try to park in busy, well-lit areas.
15. Avoid parking in driveways
If you park in a home’s driveway, another vehicle can easily block you. Park on the street instead.
16. Leave valuables at home
When you’re at a showing, don’t wear expensive, ostentatious jewelry because this could make you a target for thieves. Try not to carry a purse either. Lock it in the trunk of your car.
17. Finish an open house safely
Just because a home seems empty after an open house doesn’t mean there’s no one there. Carefully search the entire property, including potential hiding places such as closets and bathrooms, before you turn out the lights and lock up.
Ideally, you’d be accompanied by a colleague or friend. If not, consider carrying some pepper spray.
Luke Babich is the CSO of Clever Real Estate in St. Louis. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.