Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Comprehensive Guide to Agent Safety

A new client is a STRANGER. ARE YOU SAFE?

By now we’ve all seen the terrible news story about the real estate agent, Beverly Carter, in Little Rock, Arkansas who was murdered. As you might assume, being an agent myself, this is one story that really hits close to home. It has really made me sit back and think about the safety of other agents and what WE can do to prevent such a thing from occurring again.

If you’re not already aware, this is not the first time that this type of situation has occurred. There have been a number of incidents in the past where agents have been the victim of robbery, rape or murder as a result of meeting up with an unknown client. Many real estate firms have implemented safety procedures designed to keep agents safe when in the field, but I wonder how many of us really follow them? It’s quite easy to push aside such considerations when a new client wants to meet right away for what sounds like a “sure thing”. By nature, most of us in this industry are naturally optimistic and don’t like to think about anything negative, but this can work against us.

The truth is, that another word for a new client is a stranger. Yes, a stranger. Have you ever really considered the situation that you are putting yourself into when meeting a total stranger in an empty house? This is even more disconcerting if the home is located away from the more populated areas 5 miles from town or in the middle of a 20 acre parcel. Think about it. If a stranger called you on the phone and wanted to meet you for any other reason, would you go? That’s exactly what you’re doing when meeting a new client.

It is possible to prevent these types of situations from occurring by following some common sense rules when meeting someone for the first time.

Verify New Client Information BEFORE You Go 
Your first step is to verify that the person on the phone is actually who they say they are. If you know who someone is, then they are no longer a stranger. Obtain the person’s information including full name, current address, and current phone numbers. A work number is a great way to find out if a person actually works where they say they do. DO A GOOGLE SEARCH. Today it is virtually impossible to hide from the world and a quick search on the internet will quickly yield results about anyone.

First Meetings Should ALWAYS be in the Company of Others 
It’s a good idea to meet new clients somewhere other than an abandoned farm house for the first time, right? Explain that you would like to perform a “needs analysis” in order to better serve your client and arrange a meeting at your office or at least at a public place where there are plenty of other people around. This is a great time to ask for a driver’s license or other form of legal ID. You’re going to need this information sooner or later anyway…so why not do it in the beginning? Ask a co-worker to write down the license plate number and type of vehicle they are driving. Do the same for them when they are meeting a new client at the office.

If Possible, Take Someone with You 
Although it isn’t always easy to do, there is nothing wrong with meeting a new client with a “colleague” at a property. Obviously you wouldn’t want to be showing a home to a client with your best friend constantly by your side, but there is no reason that he/she can’t sit in the car and wait for you while you are showing a home to someone. If this is a problem for the client, something is wrong anyway.

Share Your Itinerary with Someone Else
ALWAYS let someone else know when you are meeting with a client, even if it is not the first time. A good policy is to have a “check in” policy for all agents when they are involved with a showing or even an open house. I had a dear friend that was sexually assaulted at an open house and THANK GOODNESS another agent came in just in the nick of time! Perhaps each agent should call the office every hour, or better yet, the office should call them. The same can be done with a friend or family member if you don’t want to bother your colleagues. The important thing here is that someone knows that you are OK and nothing is wrong.

Create a “Secret” Code Word or Phrase for Emergencies 
Making or receiving a phone call when you are having a problem won’t do you any good if you cannot tell the other person that something is wrong. Without unnecessary detail, it’s easy to imagine a situation where you are forced to say that everything is fine when it is not. Work out a special word or phrase that enables you to tell your “check in” person that all is not well. Two different phrases would be better. The first would mean that you are “not comfortable” with the person (or persons) that you are meeting with. The second would simply mean “Call the police, NOW”.

Examples of things to say that could get you help quickly without letting the person you are with know what you are doing could be as simple as “Everything’s fine, I’m GOOD AS GOLD” or “Everything’s going great, NO WORRIES”. Simple and innocent sounding phrases such as these should be predetermined with whomever you will be periodically checking in with as a way to get help if you need it. Obviously, if you cannot be contacted or fail to make contact at the proper time the police should be notified immediately.

ALWAYS be the Driver 
Maybe this goes without saying, but NEVER be the passenger when meeting with a client. Use your vehicle to transport the client or better yet, have them drive their own vehicle if possible. I fully understand the value of “chauffeuring” your client around town. It’s part of the service that you may choose to provide certain clients but it may not be the safest way to do things.

If you are the one driving at least you are the one that is somewhat in control. In an “emergency”, at the very least, you could slam on the brakes possibly startling an assailant long enough to get out of the vehicle and get help. Creating a minor traffic accident is another great way to get attention in a crowded area. As a last resort in a life threatening emergency you could attempt to pull your car next to something that will prevent your passenger from being able to open his door and then run for help. Make a lot of noise and remember the old trick; yelling “Fire” will get more attention than yelling “Help”.

Be Wary of New Clients that are “In a Hurry” and Want to Pay Cash 
If I were the “bad guy” I couldn’t think of a better way to entice a "would be victim” to meet me as soon as possible at “123 Nowhere Street” than to say that I’m in a hurry and I want to pay cash for property XYZ. DON”T DO IT. Arrange to meet this person in a public place or at the very least take someone with you. Insist on a valid letter of approval from a lender or proof of funds letter before showing this person the property.

Other Important Safety Tips to Remember 

When showing a property to a client, stay by the door. There is no need to enter the rear bedroom with him/her. They are looking, you are not. Be prepared for a quick escape if the need arises.

ALWAYS have your cell phone within easy reach when showing a home. Leaving it in the car won’t help in an emergency and be sure that 911 can be called at the touch of a button.

Use the “team approach” at a public open house. Always work with another agent.

Don’t assume that women are safer than men. It has often been the case that a woman will work with a male partner in order to “lure” unsuspecting persons into a bad situation. Usually the motive for this is simple robbery, but not always.

Finally, I humbly ask that you share this information with anyone that you think can benefit from reading it. If your office does not currently have safety procedures in place, now would be a great time to start.

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