A real estate agent in Ottumwa, Iowa was assaulted and tied up when they arrived to a showing of a home. The attacker robbed the home and left the real estate unharmed. In just a couple of month in West Des Moines, while working at a model home, Ashley Oakland was shot in the head and chest and died from the injuries. The criminal has not been caught.
Les Sulgrove, president of the Des Moines Area Association of Realtors stated, “Prior to Ashley’s death, we had started to talk about Realtor safety and distributed safety materials to our members. This was in response to the Ottumwa, Iowa, agent being assaulted,” and went on to say, “It still never hit home that it could happen to us.”
Due to the attacks, the Iowa Association of Realtors invited safety instructor Andrew Wooten to conduct safety seminars throughout the state in June of 2011.
Wooten is a certified crime prevention practitioner and president of workplace safety firm Safety Awareness Firearms Education (SAFE). Wooten has worked with real estate professionals for 25 years and has partnered with the National Association of Realtors as a safety trainer.
The majority of his clients are real estate associations and large brokerages like Coldwell Banker and Century 21, he explained
Re/Max established its own safety program in 2003 known as, Safety Awareness for Every Realtor (SAFER), after the murder of a young sales associate in British Columbia. The program offers live sessions, online video streams, satellite broadcasts, and DVDs, the company reported.
Moby, a company that develops personal safety mobile applications performed a survey that found 61 percent of more than 450 surveyed real estate professionals reported that their office, firm, or local or regional association offers safety presentations at least once a year. The rest stated they were never offered any type of safety training.
According to this survey, close to 42% of respondents stated it was the responsibility of every organization in the real estate industry to provide safety training for their agents.
Moby just happens to be one of several safety apps now available on smartphones. The free app provides users the opportunity to alert chosen contacts with their GPS location should users need assistance. The app is available on the iPhone and BlackBerry platforms.
At the time of this writing, Moby has partnered with Michigan’s MiRealSource multiple listing service, the Iowa Association of Realtors, the, franchisor Keller Williams Realty, and the Women in Default Services trade association to promote the app to their members and agents.
Other apps include FORSSE, a subscription-based app available on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smartphones and Real Alert, a $1.99 iPhone app developed by Austin real estate agent Michelle Jones.
Being a real estate agent can be hazardous
A major part of being a real estate agent of course is attracting and meeting strangers in vacant homes for showings.
Wooten explained, “Anybody who works with the general public faces a higher degree of victimization than somebody who’s in the office all day.” The majority of his advice is from insights that he has learned from interviews with prison inmates that attacked agents and rape survivors. His #1 advice is to trust your gut.
“Ninety-nine percent of all my survivors all say the same thing: ‘Andrew, I knew something wasn’t right. When I was doing the open house (I heard) that little voice. I didn’t feel good. But I ignored it,’ “he stated.
“Listen to yourself, trust yourself. Unfortunately, the little voice … may be the only warning sign you get. If it says, ‘Something’s not right,’ get out.”
One of the best safety measures agents can take is to check out a property and its neighborhood before showing a home or having an open house, he explained.
His advice includes introducing yourself to the neighbors, checking for cell phone reception, noticing any animals around, looking around the house for hiding places for criminals, and visiting the local police and fire stations and tell them you’ll have refreshments if they should stop by.
For agent that do not have the time to check out the house or the neighborhood he provides 10 safety measures agents can do on the day of the open house or showing.
These tips can be found in a safety video offered in the Realtor Safety section of the Realtor.org website:
1. Park when you can easily get to your car without walking far and be sure you cannot be blocked in.
“Before you exit your car, look around. Can you see the front door? Are there trees or shrubbery within 10 feet that can serve as a hiding place? When getting out of the car, keep looking around. When you get to the front door, turn around and walk back — are there places where someone could surprise you?” Wooten said.
2. Visit the closest neighbors, introduce yourself, point out your vehicle, and invite these neighbors to the open house.
“Meeting the neighbors will drive people to the home and is a great source of referrals,” Wooten said.
3. Talk to your clients about their valuables. Before you have a showing of a home, ask your clients to help you create a list of the valuables in the home and ask that they put them in a safe place including extra sets of keys, mail, prescriptions drugs and other items. You can always ask the client to meet you an hour prior to the showing to ensure these valuables are placed in a safe place. This can help you protect yourself in the case of valuables being stolen or tempting a robber from attacking you to steal these items.
4. Pay attention and when possible work in teams. The most common place for a real estate agent to be attacked is at the front door while they are opening the lockboxes. If you cannot have someone with you, turn your back to the door so you can see if anyone approaches.
Sign up your affiliates, such as a home inspector or title officer, to sit the open house with you. “Not only will they jump at the opportunity, they will bring goodies and giveaways,” Wooten said.
5. Create your escape routes. Check out the home and find the best way to get in and out of rooms. If the backyard has a fence with a gate, be sure the gate is unlocked. A good escape route is to open the garage door, but leave the door entering the home locked. Use signs to direct clients to the front door.
6. Set up the home for safety. Hang decorative bells behind every outside door that you have unlocked, this way you will hear when someone enters the home. Do not bring your laptop to an open house, it can be stolen or someone could open up the unsecured wireless network and steal your identity.
Only take exactly what you need. You should put your purse in the trunk of your car. When choosing a room to wait for clients choose one with escape routes and the most cell phone bars.
7. When a guest arrives, introduce yourself and ask them to sign in.
“This is your time to do a ‘checkup from the neck up,’ ” Wooten stated, and went on to say, “Ask yourself, ‘Is this someone I’m comfortable with? Do I want to be alone with this person?’ If not, enlist your support team. Make sure there are others around you as you work with this person.”
8. Always let the client, go first. If a man says, “Ladies first,” to a female agent, the agent should say something like, “You are such a gentleman, thank you. But I really want you to see this home, and if I can direct you where to go, I think you’ll gain a further appreciation for this home.”
“Both men and women can be violent, so this advice applies regardless of the visitor’s gender,” Wooten said.
9. Always allows potential clients to enter certain rooms alone, ones without escape routes such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, and walk in closets. You can just direct the client into the room and stand back for them to enter.
10. When it is time to close up for the day it is best to have someone there. Opening and closing times are the most vulnerable.
Working in teams is for both men and women, Wooten said.
Wooten stated that prisoners who have attacked agents have said, “Regardless if they’re male or female, if there’s one agent in the open house working (alone) I know I’ve got (that agent). But if there are two or more, I’m out of there.”
Crimes happen to men just as frequently as they happen to women, Wooten explained, though there are some differences. “Women are more often stalked than men are, and stalkers tend to get violent at the intended victim’s home. Therefore, Wooten advises agents to heed his “three L’s for home safety”: locks, lighting and landscaping.”
1. Locks: put in anti-bumping deadbolt locks on all doors.
2. Lighting: put in motion-detector lighting outside all four sides of the home, and install timers for interior lights so that the home appears occupied even when it is not.
3. Landscaping: To ensure shrubs cannot be used as hiding places, trim to a maximum height of 3 feet and cut trees so they hang no lower than 10 feet from the ground.
Men are more likely to be attacked in parking lots, Wooten said. He advises agents to pay attention as they are walking to and from their vehicles. Whether or not they see someone who is hiding from them, “the perception is that ‘I see you.’ (Criminals) want the element of surprise,” Wooten explained.