Thursday, July 13, 2006

Security Precautions for Realtors

Recently, another savage violent act against a real estate agent has made the news. This time, a real estate sales representative working in an upscale development in McKinney was found brutally murdered in the model home in which she was working. I am personally familiar with a similar case in my home town of Coppell, Texas in which a female real estate agent was attacked and repeatedly stabbed during a home showing. In each case the agent was alone with a supposed potential client. Both crimes are similar in that they occurred during open house showings which have proven to be particularly risky for agents throughout the country. That the neighborhoods were upscale may have been a contributing factor in these and other similar crimes. When a customer asks to see expensive homes sales people sometimes forget security precautions in the midst of their excitement.

The situation in which these agents placed themselves is all too common in the industry. My wife and I have personally viewed hundreds of model homes that were attended by lone female agents. Rarely do we hear about attacks of male agents in these situations. Female agents who work alone in model homes are more likely to be targeted for robbery and sexual assault for reasons that are obvious to most. The following security precautions are written for agencies, builders and independent agents alike. I encourage agencies and builders to formally adopt and adhere to security procedures because they could save a life and because builders and agencies may be liable in the future for not being proactive in protecting their representatives. Train all agents and sales reps how to be safe.

1) Be aware that your chosen profession poses known safety risks that are real! Knowing this and being aware of your surroundings at all times is a step in the right direction.

2) Don’t work a model or open house alone. If the agency will not provide a partner, bring a friend. There is true safety in numbers.

3) If the home has a monitored alarm system, know the alarm’s panic sequence.

4) Builders – activate the model home’s monitored alarm system. Don’t pinch pennies by not having the system monitored prior to the home being sold. Besides the safety of your agents, you have office equipment and furnishings that are vulnerable to theft.

5) Take your cell phone. I generally don’t plug phone companies, but Nextel phones have direct communications (walkie-talkie) capability and provide almost instant communications. Carry the phone on your person – not in your handbag!

6) Make a plan to check in with your office on a routine basis. Let them know the address(s) you are going to. Once back at your base, let them know that too. If there is no staff at your office to check in with, leave a record of your intended destination on an answering machine or with an answering service.

7) Agree on code words that can be used to alert others that you feel you are or may be in distress. For example, “there’s a yellow light on the Jones contract” can communicate that you feel threatened or at risk. Likewise, “there’s a red light on the Jones contract” can mean send help.

8) Leave your best jewelry at home.

9) Adopt a businesslike rather than a provocative manner of dress.

10) Take a few moments to learn the layout of the home you are showing – from a safety standpoint. Plan an escape route in the event you feel threatened.

11) If you don’t know the customer well, have them follow you to the property in their car. Many of the agent assaults we know of have occurred when the customer got in the car with the agent.

12) Minimally, obtain a photo copy of their Driver License, or, pre-qualify the shopper. Explain to them that this is security policy. Simply filling out a buyer information form is not enough. You need to corroborate the information on the form against a driver’s license. Obtain the customer’s license plate number too.

Technology may provide some assistance to builders who show model homes as camera systems, particularly those that can be monitored over the Internet, are very inexpensive. Business partners may be persuaded to install their home video systems in models at no cost, as a sales tool. GPS guided personal security devices are hitting the market and should be considered by sales reps and agents. Some cell phones now include global positioning chips. Similarly, GPS chips can now be concealed in watch bands, bracelets and other items that can be worn on the body. Having said this, awareness and not electronics should be seen as the basis of an effective safety program.

Last, I encourage all real estate certification schools to provide safety training for agents-to-be. If not required by law, it is simply the right thing to do. It could save a life!