As a child, all our parents and elders raised us not to open the door to strangers and certainly not to let them inside. Real estate agents are required to do just that during showings and open houses. Building skills and awareness around safety is a top priority at our brokerage, and we recently offered self-defense training to help agents plan and prepare against the worst.
It is important for agents to know how to defend themselves if they were to be assaulted or approached in a threatening manner. We hosted a women’s self-defense class for our agents, taught not only by one of the best martial arts professionals in South Florida but also by one of our very own agents: Howard Freedland.
In the class, the agents learn the fundamentals of preventing themselves from being a target in the first place and tactics if they are attacked.
“I found it really helpful, and got a lot of great feedback when I shared it on my social [media],” ECHO Fine Properties real estate agent Savannah Scafidi said. “It was good to learn situational awareness and how to use the items you have on you to defend yourself and get away.”
FACT: The National Association of Realtors surveyed 3,268 respondents for their 2021 Member Safety Report. Only 38 percent of Realtors reported having taken a self-defense class.
How agents can protect themselves
Fifty percent of women said they carry a self-defense weapon or tool, such as pepper spray, firearm, pocket knife, taser, battery-operated noise maker, baton or club.
Not all agents are going to feel comfortable carrying a gun, and it’s not legal in all jurisdictions. That’s why more brokerages should encourage their sales team to enroll in self-defense classes.
ECHO Fine Properties agent Homaira Mangal said the class “forces you to think about the potential dangers of our field that I rarely think about because we are in a ‘safe’ area. [I] found it very helpful. [It] reminded me of the tools I have if I’m ever in a situation that I need to escape from.”
Strategies for agents to safely meet with clients
Besides weapons and our own body strength, there are other tools, and tactics agents can equip themselves with to stay safe and fight off attackers. Meeting new clients should be treated similarly to online dating.
Real estate agents are in the people business. They are constantly meeting with clients, many of whom they’ve never met before. These meetings are often conducted alone.
Sixty-five percent of the time, agents schedule their first meeting in an office or a public setting. Don’t meet at a listing or prospective listing. Despite this warning, 35 percent of Realtors said they met new or prospective clients alone at a secluded location or property. The other risk factor of this scenario is there may be limited or no cell signal, so they’d have no way of calling or texting for help.
Notify a colleague, relative or friend where you will be and/or use an app for them to be able to track your location. According to the NAR survey, 60 percent of members use a safety app, and women are more likely to do so than male agents.
Also, drive in separate vehicles. Don’t drive clients around unless you know you can trust them.
The buddy system is another strategy to help keep real estate agents safe. Have someone else present at open houses, listing appointments and showings. This additional person can be a colleague, the seller or an inspector, for example. A prospective witness reduces vulnerability.
The dangers of open houses
Open houses are one of the most dangerous scenarios in real estate because you don’t know ahead of time who is going to show up. It is very different from a scheduled appointment. Anybody can walk in off the street. Thirty-seven percent of Realtors hosted an open house alone in 2021 and 18 percent reported feeling unsafe while doing so.
Open houses are advertised, so a person who is on the prowl for a victim can easily cyber-stalk an agent and know the exact address they’ll be at and the exact time they’ll be there. This is why celebrities and notable figures often post photos and videos after they have left a location, not in real-time while they are presently there.
This is not a new issue. Back in 1996, before social media was introduced, multiple real estate agents throughout Florida were raped and robbed, according to Tampa Bay Times.
Open houses are not the only danger. Agents should be cautious of vacant and model homes, and unlocked or unsecured properties, where clients are not the only prospective danger, but also squatters.
In addition to being in a home with a potential predator, walking to and from your vehicle comes with a risk, as well as exploring a new community. When you are out in the field, familiarize yourself with the neighborhood to tell clients about the area — proximity to schools, restaurants, shopping, parks, etc. — or you might have downtime and take a walk or go out for a meal or coffee.
ECHO Fine Properties agent Yasmine Hito, who took the self-defense class, said, “Even if I wasn’t in a real estate business, I would still have wanted to learn how to protect myself. Especially when I am by myself at night, for example in a parking lot at a mall or shopping center, I try to watch my surroundings.”
Safety should be a top priority for all brokerages and agents.