Agent's guide to staying safe on the job

It's about becoming empowered, not frightened

At age 20, I bought a multifamily home as an investment; it took me a year of working with my agent, Susan. I didn’t have much money at my young age, so we were looking at low-income properties; I saw drug dealers and even prostitutes at some of them. It dawned on me then that Susan was exposing herself to hazards all the time as part of her job.

In fact, she had quite a few stories. One of them featured me as a major player. In one house she showed me, I walked in on a half dozen crackheads in a basement — they scared the heck out of both of us. All I could do was yell at them as they dispersed. This event inspired me to create a program for her and her agency.

I’ve been thinking about safety for my entire life. When I was 12, my 8-year-old brother and I were mugged. The year after, a friend told me she’d been sexually assaulted. Over time, I heard more personal stories of rape from people I knew. It made me realize that this crime happens a lot more often than we think. Before I learned to drive, I knew what I wanted to do with my life: help others defend themselves against the dregs of society and help them prevent themselves from becoming victims.

I grew up to be a bouncer and bodyguard. Then I became certified by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, among other state associations, as a continuing education safety instructor.

One of the messages I hammer down is that anyone can learn to protect themselves. And that it’s the things we do every day — bad habits, being too trusting — that make us vulnerable. When I emphasized this point on talk shows like “Montel Williams” and “Maury Povich,” I would do things like dress up as a gas company worker and trick people into letting me into their home. It was simply too easy.

Security isn’t just about disabling a mugger with a right hook. We hear a lot about street safety, airport security and workplace violence, but there’s another area that obviously needs more attention: security for the real estate professional.

When people are asked to think of a dangerous job, they usually think of a police officer, a firefighter, someone who handles heavy machinery, a stunt driver, pilot, tree worker or roofer. Nobody thinks that a job involving a lot of desk work, phone calls and walking around inside houses could be dangerous. But it can be.

If I were an average woman, I think I’d feel safer cutting down a tree than meeting a man I’ve never met before at a vacant property. For all I know, his accomplice could be waiting inside the house — a foreclosed house or newly constructed house may not be locked. Anyone could be in there. Men can also be attacked, of course, but women are especially vulnerable.

Real estate agents can learn to protect themselves and exit a threatening situation. This is about becoming empowered, not frightened. Your safety comes first, not the sale. Here are some tools every agent needs to acquire in order to be as safe as possible in a surprisingly dangerous career:

  • Strategies for recognizing an unsafe situation.
  • Strategies for preventing unsafe situations.
  • Methods for recognizing and getting out of danger.
  • How to respond in an attack.
  • Verbal self-defense.
  • Physical self-defense.
  • Strategies for brokers and associations that can maximize agent safety.

You’ll never be on your deathbed thinking, “Gee, I should have pushed harder for that sale.” A sale is never worth risking your life.

I have more tips coming for real estate agents in upcoming articles that will help protect you — and your clients.

Robert Siciliano is CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com and a personal security and identity theft expert.

Email Robert Siciliano.