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Agents in the Cross Hairs: Why Some Real Estate Agents Are Victims of Crime

Jun 24, 2010

Posted by

Dennis Curtin

Dennis Curtin, licensed as a real estate agent in 1973, began working for a small real estate brokerage in North Kansas City, Missouri. In 1975, Curtin Purchased his first RE/MAX franchise, which soon Read more

When you think of dangerous career choices, you think of taxicab driver or police officer, not real estate agent.  Yet, according to Realtor.com, between 1992 and 2001, 227 Real estate professionals were killed on the job and thousands more were assaulted.  To many criminals, Real estate agents are “easy targets,” working primarily one-on-one with clients and open to going to out-of-the-way locations without any cause for concern.

With the rise in unemployment and the increase in home foreclosures, open houses can be both a boon and a bust for Realtors®. The most common threat is ensuring that prospects do not raid the homeowner's prescriptions, firearms or jewelry, which has become more prevalent in the last five to ten years.

Awareness is key.  Go with your gut instinct, take control of the situation, let the prospect know they are dealing with a professional.

Dealing with Strangers

Meeting with and spending time alone with strangers is all in a day's work. Real estate agents regularly allow unknown persons into their cars and into their trust without a second thought.

Recently, my daughter, new to real estate, had an appointment with a client from the Internet, knowing nothing about him but his name.  When she told me, I quickly “Googled” his name and gladly discovered that he was an upstanding guy.  I even found out some details about him, like the fact that he was an accomplished marathon runner.  When my daughter met him, he was blown away with all the information we had obtained.  He immediately saw her as a true professional and he bought the house.  Not only did he become a client, but a friend.

Agents should always run prospects through a screening process.  When receiving a call or Internet lead, the real estate agent should have the client meet them at their office.  Once at the office, she/he should record as much detailed information as possible: photocopy their license and have them fill out loan pre-qualification forms. It is also smart to take the time to introduce the prospect to others in the office.

The safest way to deal with a stranger is to get to know more about them before you take them to look at homes.  Criminals are less likely to act when they can be easily identified, so gathering information and making introductions are great deterrents. 

Controlling an Open House

Hosting an open house is one of a real estate professional's greatest tools for selling and gaining new clients.  Though an agent will quickly scan a house for cleanliness, they rarely observe the home from the viewpoint of a criminal.  It is important to be familiar with a house's layout, various entrances, yard and the areas from which an attacker can hide.  Remember that an open house offers would-be criminals a guided tour to familiarize themselves with all angles of attack.

Before the open house commences, the agent should introduce herself/himself to the neighbors and park in a highly-visible spot that cannot be easily blocked in.  This will allow the neighbors to take note of all coming and going, and leave the car less vulnerable to theft and the agent to an impeded get-away.  Before opening, the agent should check all rooms for points of vulnerability, secure all windows and doors and plan several escape routes, in case of emergency.  The agent should also view the yard, noting fences and other objects that may slow a quick escape. 

I am a strong believer in utilizing portable surveillance systems.  For $200 to $300, you can get a surveillance system and signs to add to your open house kits.  These are a great deterrent to would-be criminals, as most of these predators prefer to take an easier target.

When prospects begin to arrive, the real estate professional should have a sign-in book recording the attendees’ names, address, telephone number, email address and so forth. The agent should lead the client through the house, without allowing the client to walk behind her/him, removing any element of surprise.  Agents should only accompany one group at a time, asking new prospects to wait in the main area, again giving the agent full view and control of those in the home.

When leaving an open house, always use the most visible door, never an interior garage or side door, where criminals can lurk undetected.  It is beneficial to carry pepper spray to protect against an assailant, but if it is unavailable, car keys held in the fist, with the keys laced sharp-end-out through the fingers will make even the lightest hit effective.

Security in the Office

As real estate professionals are often guided by their own schedules, it is not unusual for an agent to find him or herself in a dark, empty office with multiple unlocked entrances and no warrant for surprise when footsteps are heard approaching. This casual environment leaves real estate professionals in a position of vulnerability.

The easiest way for an agent to remain safe in an office environment is to have a safety system in place.  Installing electronic locks and a visible camera system is the simplest solution.  This type of system requires people to either buzz the front desk to enter or utilize an electronic code, which should be changed on a regular basis. 

Through this system, access to the office is limited to agents and there is no opportunity for a predator to enter the premises without notice.”

While at the office, agents should create a well-lit, open environment.  Opening blinds and turning on lights allows a passerby to witness any disturbance and creates a less appealing environment for a would-be criminal.  Adding the illusion of more people in the office, by turning on music in another room, is a great deterrent.  Also, when staying late, an agent should position her/his car closest to the door, decreasing her/his availability to the would-be attacker.

Pre-planning can go a long way. Forewarned is forearmed.  Viewing all aspects of your job with importance and safety-in-mind will go a long way to keeping you safe.

A Safety Tip Checklist:

a.)  Ensure your phone is charged and be aware of cell phone service

b.)  Don’t be shy about calling the police based upon mere suspicion

c.)  Never advertise a home as vacant.

d.)  Don’t wear flashy jewelry

e.)  Don’t wear clothing that limits your ability to run or protect yourself.

f.)  Develop a system of checking in with the office every hour by phone, to             establish your location

g.)  Establish a code word to alert co-workers that will signal “emergency”