Last month, a Virginia real estate agent was in the news after experiencing a brutal and terrifying attack at an open house. While the agent did survive the attack, she was hospitalized with extensive injuries and likely has a long recovery ahead of her.
Unfortunately, these tragic stories are far too common, and for real estate agents in the field, a very real fear. In the National Association of REALTORS® 2019 Member Safety Report, 33% of respondents reported experiencing a situation that made them fear for their personal safety or safety of their personal information. Twenty-eight percent of respondents also reported feeling unsafe every few months.
Thankfully, there are many ways to prepare for these situations and keep yourself out of harm’s way. Here are some strategies to stay safe while out in the field.
If you are meeting a prospect at an open house, an easy way to prepare is by showing up at least 10-15 minutes early. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the lay of the property and come up with a safety plan. This will also prevent you from turning your back on them while you open the door or lockbox. In addition to the safety benefits, this also gives you some additional time to set up and prepare the house for showing.
Another easy way to prepare is to make sure your cell phone is fully charged. For those of you who conduct all of your business from your phone, this may seem obvious, but sometimes we’re all caught without a functioning charger or an unexpectedly depleted battery. Check your cell reception when you arrive to make sure you can make a call if needed, and have emergency numbers ready to dial. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to dial emergency services discretely, iPhones and Android phones both have built-in ways to easily call 911 and share your location without having to dial or speak with an operator.
2. Limit Personal Info
When meeting with a stranger, make sure not to offer too much personal information about yourself. As a real estate agent, it can sometimes be difficult to separate your personal life from your business, but if possible, avoid sharing your home address or personal phone number with clients. A good rule of thumb is to meet prospective clients at your office or another public location before you visit a property with them. At the same time, it’s a good idea to collect information about the client before working with them- ask them to fill out a prospect identification form, and make a copy of their driver’s license or state-issued ID to keep on file.
While you’re protecting yourself, you should also take steps to protect your colleagues. If someone you don’t know calls or shows up to your office to inquire about another agent, don’t tell them your colleague’s location. It is a good practice not to give out any information about your colleagues, including their phone number- even if the person claims to be a friend or client. If you don’t know them, don’t take any chances.
3. Have a “Buddy System”
Most of us remember the buddy system from when we were kids, right? The same system can be equally effective as real estate professionals to make sure your colleagues are aware of your location and are expecting to hear back from you. When meeting with a prospect, call a designated colleague and let them know the address you are at, and that you will call them as soon as you are finished.
It’s important to make this call in front of the prospect. This ensures that they know someone else is aware of your location and will call for help if they don’t hear back from you.
4. Try to Keep Your Hands Free
This can sometimes be tricky, with all the various paperwork, devices, bags, or anything else you need to carry to conduct your business in the field. However, when your hands are completely full, it can make it difficult to defend yourself in case of an attack. Try to make sure you always have at least one free hand; if you don’t need a particular item with you, leave it in the car or at the office.
Speaking of the items you carry- pay extra care to any food or drink items you have with you. A few years ago, an agent in North Carolina was the victim of a date rape drug that was placed in her water bottle by a customer. If you have any food or drink items, make sure not to leave them unattended at any time.
5. Purchase a Hidden Safety Device
Companies such as Invisawear Smart Jewelry make accessories that hide security devices in plain sight. If you feel unsafe or think you are in danger, you can simply press on the jewelry to send a distress signal to authorities or designated emergency contacts.
If you prepare yourself and are always mindful of your safety, working out in the field doesn’t need to cause you anxiety. For more safety tips, reference this safety guide from the National Association of REALTORS®.