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REALTOR® Safety: A Cautionary Tale

With the recent murder of a real estate agent in Iowa making the rounds on the news and blogs, safety has once again become a necessary discussion among REALTORS®. According to ABC News, more than 100 real estate professionals have been killed on the job since 2008.

None of this is meant to scare you, but it will hopefully prompt you to reassess some of your behaviors and be more cautious than ever before.

HAR used to have a partnership with the Houston Police Department called Project: S.O.S. (Sold on Safety) where HPD’s community liaisons would teach safety courses specifically tailored to REALTORS® and their business. Unfortunately, due to cutbacks, those officers are no longer available for that purpose, but we are considering other options that HAR might be able to provide to our members.

We are currently in discussions to offer self-defense and personal safety courses for our members, so please stay tuned for more information about those important classes in the coming months.

Above all, each of you must remain vigilant when it comes to safety. This includes safety on behalf of your clients as well.

There are the usual tips such as don’t leave anything visible in your car or don’t host an open house by yourself. Unfortunately, we now have to add this new tip: don’t answer your phone if the caller is identified as Blocked, Private or an Unknown caller.

Last year, quite a few of our female members began receiving inappropriate calls from a man claiming interest in viewing one of their listings.  He would ask about the property and then begin talking about scheduling a time for the REALTOR® to show him the house. At this point, he would begin asking about what kind of shoes the REALTOR® would wear while showing him the home and would sometimes ask about her feet or whether she had painted toenails. Most agents would understandably hang up the phone at this point. He would persist and continue calling; many times during the middle of the night even—sometimes as many as 50 times.

He would begin texting messages of a provocative nature to the REALTOR®.

A local police department arrested a man late last year who was allegedly making the calls, but we were never 100 percent certain that only one person was responsible because of the geographic disparity of the calls. All the members from whom we heard had advertised in local newspapers or home magazines (the kind that are available at the exits of grocery stores), and many times he would call all of the agents whose advertisements appeared on the same page.

Despite the arrest of this man, we have once again started to receive notice from members and another local police department that a new round of calls has begun. One of the REALTORS® he called in the past few weeks was able to identify his voice as being the same man who called her last year.

Luckily, he has not gone beyond the calls, but our members are understandably upset and disturbed that he might take it to the next level. Please be cautious and follow the tips about meeting a new client (see below).

If you receive a call or text from someone making inappropriate or harassing comments, please contact your local police department or county sheriff’s office first. Then, please email us at HAR at matt@har.com so that we can keep track of how many calls he is making and to whom. We have served as a centralized database for law enforcement since different jurisdictions don’t necessarily share information with each other to help catch the suspect(s) making these calls.

Please trust your instincts, especially if you begin to feel something isn’t right or that the situation has turned threatening or harassing. Business transactions come and go, but your life and safety are more important than any potential sale.

Safe Steps for Meeting a New Client

Here are 10 steps you can follow to help take the risk out of meeting prospects and clients:

  1. Make sure you are not alone in the office when meeting someone. If you are alone, call a friend or colleague before the client is due to arrive and ask them to call and check on you 15 minutes into the visit. Then call them back when the person has left your office.
  2. Ask each new client to stop by your office and complete a Prospect Identification Form, preferably in the presence of an associate.
  3. When the person arrives, get the make, model and license number of their car. Check this information yourself—don’t just take their word for it. You can do this discreetly by watching them drive up, glancing out at their car, or checking it when you leave the office.
  4. Use a registration book for all clients and other visitors. Be careful to make sure that everyone signs in.
  5. Photocopy the client’s driver’s license and retain this information at your office. Legitimate clients should not mind you copying their driver’s license. People freely show their licenses to the clerk at the grocery store when they write checks, and they show their IDs to rent a movie.
  6. Get personal references as well as employment and home information.Then check all references and verify employment and current address. Check county property records to confirm ownership.
  7. Introduce the prospect to someone in your office. A would-be assailant does not like to be noticed or receive exposure, knowing a person could pick him/her out of a police lineup.
  8. Always let someone know where you are going; leave the name and phone number of the client you are meeting.
  9. When talking to any client or prospect, be careful not to share any personal information—specifically, details on where you live or information that can allow the person to pinpoint your home.
  10. When showing a property, always leave the front door wide open while you and the client are inside. As you enter each room, stand near the door.

(Sources: Louisiana REALTORS® Association, Washington Real Estate Safety Council, City of Albuquerque, NM, Nevada County Board of REALTORS®, Pinehurst NC Police Department)

This article is part of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS’® 2008 REALTOR® Safety Week Kit.

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