4: Agent Safety
No money in the world is worth not staying safe on the job. If it does not feel right, step away.
About This Episode
On this episode, we take a closer look at agent safety and present some simple methods to avoid becoming a victim. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the real estate industry averaged 77 work-related deaths each year from 2011 to 2016. Being prepared and trusting your gut is essential to having a long and safe career in real estate.
Hear from industry experts Michael McAllister, Joe Sinnona, Eden Elder, and Linda Nystrom as they discuss whether real estate has gotten safer and how they recommend for new and veteran agents alike to take precaution.
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JON: You’re closing up an open house as the sun is setting, and your attention is already off the job. You’re thinking about what you’ll make for dinner, how you’ll spend your evening, and whether those threatening clouds overhead will ever dump the rain they seem to be holding onto so dearly.
JON: As you lock the door to the vacant house, you hear footsteps approaching from behind.
JON: It’s a nightmare scenario for anyone working in real estate, but similar events are unfortunately common to agents across the country. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the real estate, rental, and leasing industries saw an average of 77 work-related deaths each year from 2011 to 2016. But don’t worry - there’s a wealth of information out there to keep you safe on the job!
JON: Hello and welcome to Shop Talk: The Real Estate Show. I’m Jon Forisha, and this week we examine the real estate industry’s potential dangers and how to avoid them.
JON: It’s impossible to work in real estate and not be aware of the risks inherent to the job. In fact, it’s an issue deemed so important to professionals in the real estate industry that the National Association of REALTORs has declared September to be National Preparedness Month. NAR has published a list of 56 safety tips on their website, and they include everything from being suspicious of taxis to changing locks on a new house or apartment.
JON: It’s an exhaustive list, and any agent would do well to take the tips to heart. A link to the list is included in the show notes, but instead of reading them to you here, we’re going to spend this episode focusing on a few big suggestions that’ll go a long way toward keeping you out of the danger zone.
JON: To start us off, here’s Michael McAllister, Founder and Co-CEO of The CE Shop.
MICHAEL: Safety is an afterthought for a lot of real estate professionals because they're confident, outgoing, friendly people. They don't think that there's any harm out there. They're trusting people. And for the most part, the world is a trusting place, but every now and then something sneaks up and bites them. So as far as tips for agents, what I would recommend is just always have somebody else know where you are, whether that's an assistant, if you have an assistant in your business, or another agent in your office, or certainly your managing broker, and use a calendar. Use a virtual online calendar that others can see, certainly that trusted person can see so they know where you are. And then certainly always just be smart. Just be smart. You know, certainly don't do a lot of things alone. Don't do things in the dark. Be aware of vacant properties. NAR has a great safety course. The CE Shop has developed a great safety course that I'd highly recommend to all agents.
JON: Many tips for realtors stress the importance of knowing how to defend yourself, and that could take a lot of different forms. An NAR study last year found that 25% of all male agents and 12% of all female agents carry a gun for personal safety. While that may seem high, keep in mind those numbers are countrywide, and certain areas likely have much higher rates of carry than others. 19% of all agents carry pepper spray, and a lot of sources recommend signing up for some kind of self-defense classes, which is surely never a bad idea. If it’s a situation where someone’s trying to grab your purse or bag and run away, then clearly a self-defense class could help, but let’s be realistic here. You’re not going to suddenly become the karate kid after a few nights spent on a mat in some gym. No amount of money is worth putting yourself in danger. When it comes to fight or flight, NAR recommends flight.
JON: Pay attention to appearances, both of yourself and the people you choose to work with. As great as that pearl necklace is, you might not need to flaunt it in your headshot or wear your expensive diamond rings while visiting a listing. If your appearance might make someone believe you’ve got gold lining your pockets, you could very well find yourself the victim of some kind of theft, so remember to dress professionally, but maybe not like the Queen of England.
JON: As a real estate agent, you’re in your car a lot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spring for the Bentley. Think about the practicality of your car and the electronic devices you travel with, since you don’t want to have so much with you that you forget a laptop or tablet behind. Many agents recommend leaving bags and other valuables in the trunk of your car.
JON: After the break, we’ll talk about safety apps and the benefits of working by referral.
JON: Common sense would lead you to believe that only working on the good side of town means you’ll sidestep a lot of the potential risks, but that’s not necessarily true. If you know it’s the good side, so too do the people looking for an easy payday. In 2014, the assailants responsible for killing Arkansas agent Beverly Carter said they targeted her because she was a rich broker known for working in wealthy markets.
JON: Here’s Joe Sinnona, CEO of Sinnona Speaks Seminars, to say more:
JOE: No real estate has definitely not gotten safer. Unfortunately, we have some unsavory characters out there who target the real estate community. A near and dear course that I teach in the pre-licensing is safety awareness. And I speak of one particular real estate agent that I have grown very fond of. I never met her. It's Beverly Carter. I do know and am friends with her son named Carl who travels the country talking about realtor safety. And I have picked up on his message and that's my message to all agents, is to provide them with tips about staying safe on the job. I have adapted those tips into my own team because I felt that, you know, we're not living in a vacuum. We don't work out of a vacuum. And what we need to do is to be very vigilant and we have to have eyes in the back of our heads now when we're in a house, whether it's empty or whether it's a foreclosure.
JOE: We created a safe real estate agent app on our phones in the Long Island Board of realtors. It's free. And there are a lot of safe apps on your phone that you can download. I suggest that all men and women download this because no one is immune to this type of behavior that's out there. So I really encourage it. I want to thank Cart Carter for putting out the message and for constantly inspiring realtors out there. I think his mother's death really woke up NAR to focus on safety awareness in all real estate pre-licensing classes and CE classes. I think this is one of the best things that NAR has ever implemented for us realtors.
JON: Though you might think nighttime is riskier than working during the day, a 2011 safety report conducted by AGBeat, Moby, and SAFE came to find that most attacks on real estate agents occurred in the afternoon. Thursdays were the most common day to be attacked, and nearly one in three victims were men. Most attacks occurred when the victim was alone, and, unsurprisingly, the most common way to get an agent alone was by requesting the showing of a home. Most attacks took place in suburbs or rural areas and not in major metro areas.
JON: As Joe mentioned, he and his team helped to create a safety app to help agents avoid becoming a victim. There are several of these apps available in the app store, most of which require some kind of subscription, but some are free. You can find a list of these apps in our show notes. Some apps will help you run background checks on potential clients, while others let you set the duration of a meeting and can alert contacts if something happens during that time. If you’re working away from cellular reception when an emergency arises, though, even the best app won’t do you much good, so it’s important to consider your location when devising safety precautions.
JON: Just as with all business, it’s important to know who you’re dealing with. Social media makes it a lot easier to find particular details about a person, but not everyone uses it and it’s all too easy to lie when setting up a profile. If in doubt about someone’s name, ask to see their ID and maybe even make a copy of it. Meet them once or twice in a public place before being alone with them or letting them ride in your car. Always make sure you let someone else know where you are - or better yet, bring someone along with you if you’re feeling uneasy.
JON: Eden Elder, broker with Equity Colorado Real Estate, advises to always trust your gut.
JON: Do you have any tips for agents to stay safe on the job?
EDEN: Yeah. Be smart and trust your gut. No, I'm serious. Follow your office safety procedures, right? No money in the world is worth not being safe on the job. If it does not feel right, step away. And I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to follow your instincts. It really works for me. And, you know, there's so many tips and hints for realtors to be safe. So read them all, internalize them, follow them, and always err on the side of caution, right? But I've done open houses with my husband present. I've asked colleagues to help show houses with me and I've certainly used some old HR tricks to run general background checks on people I would say don't rely on social media. Don't rely on words or the promise of a nice professional fee. Just trust your gut instead. And it's truly the best advice I can give you that if it doesn't feel right, walk away.
JON: You mentioned old HR tricks to run background checks. Do you have any you’d like to share?
EDEN: Well, it is amazing how much you can find out about people just by looking them up online and using certain sites to find out some background information. So for me, I do business based on my sphere of influence and if somebody comes to me that I don't know and none of my friends know, then yeah, I will be extra cautious.
JON: So you are somebody who has had a few different careers through your life. Do you think that real estate is inherently more dangerous than your previous jobs?
EDEN: Not really, Jon. Actually in previous jobs I've had the dangers of, let's say, getting hurt in a manufacturing environment. I've had to deal with all the dangers of being a road warrior. When I was a consultant, I had to deal with the justice system. Dangerous, right? Knowing what is legally allowed or disallowed. When you make business deals, there are all kinds of dangers to look out for in this world, and I believe every job comes with its own form of danger, so let's put it this way. I think as a realtor, it's a whole lot easier to get yourself or your clients into legal dangers than it is to get yourself in a physically harmful situation, but we know it's out there. We know it happens, so I certainly don't want to make light of the situation, so even if the probability of something dangerous happening to you is low, the end result, of course could be fatal. So certainly be aware. Be smart and trust your gut. I do not want people to think, especially new people coming into a realtor job, that this is a super dangerous job and you should shy away from it. Not at all.
JON: Like Eden, some agents consider safety when writing their business plan. Working with your known sphere of influence is a great start to vetting new clients. You may choose to only work in your immediate neighborhood or farm area, where you know everyone down to the mailman and can easily configure an escape route if the situation calls for it. Even better, some realtors are able to work exclusively by referral, meaning that even brand new clients have at least a few mutual contacts that can vouch for them.
JON: Linda Nystrom, managing broker at Envision Realty, had this to say:
JON: So in your years in the industry, has real estate gotten safer?
LINDA: I don't know that it's really gotten safer. I think it's just the same pretty much as it has been every ever since I started. You have your safety class to know about safety and you learn certain things you should do and shouldn't do and kind of just try to prepare yourself in order to make sure that you stay safe. But the industry itself, I don't know if it's gotten any safer. You're still putting yourself out there and maybe in some ways even more so than you did before because you meet people on the internet, everybody knows where you're at, where you're going. And so you never know who can be where you're going or at the house where you end up going. So it could be that it's even gotten a little worse than what it was.
JON: And how does working on referral make it safer for you? Or does it?
LINDA: Well, it does, absolutely. You don't meet people that you don't know or you could, I mean, maybe you don't know, but someone has known them that you worked with before and if you worked with them before, you have had a good working relationship or else they wouldn't refer them to you. So that's a good starting point. And knowing the client that you're going to be working with, at least you have that safety, once you're going in, if you're looking at houses and you're going to see what's in there and you're a group going in together. And so the safety aspect is a little bit bigger in that sense. You still never know what you're going to find. The different type of price range that it comes to, what you're looking at helps sometimes with some of the safety things. You don't have to necessarily go into a lot of places where it might not be quite as safe. As far as the referral goes, to get back to that, I think that it's huge to know the people that you're working with to stay safe.
JON: So do you have any tips for agents to stay safe?
LINDA: Well, I think that it's crucial that they take the training that you always get. It just teaches you a few things that you should be aware of and what could help prevent, that you end up in a situation that's just not safe for you. The other thing is of course, if you work people that you know, that's great. If you don't have the luxury of doing so, try to find out as much as you can about a person and meet in a public place before you go and view houses. So you get a little bit of a feel for the person before you meet them at the house that you have never seen or a person that you've never met.
JON: While it’s difficult to compare the dangers of one job to another, there are some unique risks facing real estate agents. Sure, there typically aren’t any wood chippers you might fall into, and falling asleep on the job usually won’t result in a bus careening off a cliff, but mistakes do happen and unfortunately there’s no shortage of people looking to take advantage of someone who has keys to houses.
JON: As unpleasant as it might be to read about the dangers of the job, being aware of them may keep you from becoming a victim. Once you’re prepared and have a plan for any situation that could arise, your safety protocols become second nature and you can focus on the fun parts of working in real estate. Staying smart and trusting your gut during every aspect of the job will go a long way towards keeping you safe.
JON: That’s it for this episode of Shop Talk, thanks for listening! You can subscribe to us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there, leave us a review! It’s simple but it goes a long way toward helping other people discover the real estate stories we share here.
JON: Join us next time as I sit down with Eden Elder to talk about the importance of education and how to build a successful real estate business while raising five kids.
JON: Shop Talk is a production of The CE Shop.