Realtor Safety… There isn’t a simple solution.

I’m not a realtor, so realtor safety really doesn’t directly concern me. However, I did work at a real estate agency as an office assistant for two and a half years, and the office I worked at was special. It sounds crazy to say, but it’s true. The people I worked with are kind, generous, funny, frustrating, wonderful people. The environment was constant teasing, constant eating (FYI: work in a real estate office, you’ll instantly gain 10 pounds. In one afternoon we had one company bring us bagels from Panera, one company bring us homemade strawberry pies and ice cream, and another company bring us boxes of cookies.), constant chaos, and constant fun. There were between 60–70 agents that worked there while I was there, and as is with any family, you’ll have whining and bickering, but it never lasted for too long.

So where was I going with all of this… Oh yeah. Realtor safety. People have been talking about safety a lot lately since Arkansas Realtor Beverly Carter was murdered by someone she was supposed to show a house to. I’ve read so many articles, so many statuses from realtors at other companies that people have liked & shared. I’ve read comments and statements from the realtors I know, and love. And it seems like everyone is in agreement that changes need to be made. But what changes? And how?

I sat at the front desk of not one, but two real estate offices. When I started at the first real estate agency, I was just part time. So when another office needed help, I jumped at the opportunity to make more money. For a year, I went to one office in the morning and then one office in the afternoon. And I cannot tell you how many times an agent would get a call about one of their listings, and run out to show the property. Usually they were safe and would at least tell me, or my boss, where they were going, but they typically jumped when a prospective buyer called. Real estate is commission based, and they wanted a pay check. You can’t fault them for that. I also saw plenty of times where the agent couldn’t go at that moment, so the person on the phone called someone else. When that happens, they lose a potential client.

After what has happened to Beverly Carter, people are demanding more security. And who can blame them? But the suggestions floating around out there are not practical, unless they’re used by every realtor at every real estate office in the country.

Here are the suggestions and my semi-educated thoughts of those suggestions:

  1. Meet at the office for the first time with proper identification.

Realtors are suggesting always having a client meet them at the office for the first time. They want to get a photo copy of their driver’s license during that initial meeting, and have the client already pre-qualified for a loan. Those are excellent ideas. But here is the problem: if a teenager wanting beer can obtain a fake ID, so could a person who is intent on doing you harm. When I started thinking about this, I realized that until I moved to Arkansas, I had no idea what an Arkansas driver’s license looked like. Until I moved to Virginia, I had no idea what a Virginia driver’s license looked like. So, states like Arkansas &Virginia, which are very military heavy states, have a huge amount of out-of-state people purchasing homes. Their licenses will already be unfamiliar to their potential agent, so how would anyone know if it wasn’t even a legal license? So, what can you do? Demand two forms of ID? Ask for proof of residency (like they do at the DMV)? Install software on your phones to scan a license and have all of their data pop up? There doesn’t seem to be a great solution. Not to mention, you’re bound to offend someone. Most potential clients will understand, especially if you tell them before you meet them what you’ll require, and tell them it’s an office policy. Others will be insulted, and may possibly go with a different agent. To a realtor that is established and has a good business, that isn’t a huge deal. To a brand new agent who is racking up fees and hasn’t made a sale yet, it hurts a little more.

Another risk of requiring that potential clients meet you at your office first is the time factor. When someone would call our office number about one of our offices’ listings, I would do everything I could to get the call to the listing agent. If the listing agent didn’t answer, I would attempt to transfer it to our agent on duty. I always had a heck of a time getting ahold of our agent on duty. Either they were on the other line, or in the bathroom, or wherever. I can’t tell you the number of times I had the person on the other line hang up on me because we couldn’t answer their questions quickly enough. If someone doesn’t want to hold for a couple of minutes, or want to give you their phone number so an agent could call them back, they’re not going to want to meet you at your office before seeing a house.

2. Obtain a concealed carry license and carry a handgun with you when you’re showing property.

So… Okay. I have this image in my head of a scared, paranoid realtor pulling a gun on a client and making them walk through the home with their hands raised, while they follow behind them with a weapon asking what they think about the kitchen backsplash. Obviously, that’s not how it would be. One of my realtor friends has already been pinning all kinds of discrete ways to wear your gun and have it concealed. Some agents I know already carry a weapon and carry it in their handbag. If you’re going to carry a gun for safety, don’t keep it in your handbag. The other day I rummaged around in mine for nearly five minutes searching for 7” long, neon green High School Musical hair brush (don’t judge me…). If you’re in a dangerous situation, you’re not going to have time to dig through receipts, lip gloss, a wallet and four million pens to get to your gun. Also, if you’re in a dangerous situation and can get to your gun, who is to say you’d be able to use it? I hate guns. HATE THEM. But my husband has one. He wants me to learn to use it, but I refuse. I’m convinced that if I ever faced a home intruder I could grab it, point & shoot. He tells me that shooting his gun in a moment of passion wouldn’t be as easy as I think. Regardless if you like guns or not, I imagine that shooting in a firing range, or shooting at cans in your backyard is a little different than shooting is when there is an actual threat on your life.

3. Show property with a buddy, or get your spouse to go with you.

In my opinon, this one is the least practical. Real estate is a competitive, commission based business. Most of the agents I worked with are successful and incredibly busy. We had quite a few teams in our office (usually groups of 2–3. They always work together, and always split the commission) and even all of the members of the team didn’t go show property together. I don’t think it’s feasible to expect a coworker to go with you to show a property, taking time away from their business, if they’re not going to get paid for it. Now, sometimes I would see an agent ask another agent to go with her occasionally, when she was especially anxious about meeting someone. And once in a while is fine. But you can’t expect someone to baby sit you all the time, unless you’re willing to give up some of your commission and make it worth their while.

I think asking a spouse to go with you is even less practical. Real estate is commission based. You have the potential to make a lot of money. But you also have the times where nothing goes according to plan and you can go months without bringing home a single pay check. Some of the agents I worked with were really good at budgeting, and being able to survive on the months they brought home nothing. Actually, less than nothing, since you still have to pay your realtor fees. Others had a part time job. And others were married to someone with a job that paid regularly. Real estate is a lot less stressful if you have the security of a working spouse, and don’t have to worry about how you’ll pay your water bill every month. So, the agents that are married, and have spouses that work, cannot call their spouses and have them tag along every time they show property. If they’re not working, then sure. But most of the times, that’s just not practical.

4. Don’t hold open houses alone. (Or at all.)

This one I can 100% get on board with, and it’s easy to do. Open houses are held on Sundays, typically. So many of the agents I worked with did have their spouses go with them to those. Others would pay newer agents in the office to assist them with an open house. Either way, I think it would be much easier to have someone hang out with you at an open house for a few hours than it would be to get someone to accompany you to show property.

While I think it’s easier to get someone to do an open house with you, I personally think open houses should cease to exist. A lot of the time no one even comes. And you’re sitting there for three hours twiddling your thumbs. Sometimes a lot of people come. And if you’re there alone, it’s difficult to answer questions, and it’s more difficult to make sure that all of your client’s belongings stay safe. If someone is actively looking for a home, and has a legitimate interest in that home, they will make an appointment to come see it. So, while I think open houses are a waste of time, I also don’t think they’re safe. When we had our home on the market, we were those nosey people who went to a nearby open house, just to see our competition. There was one agent on duty, and she was completely alone. She had a sign-in sheet, which she made us sign, but told us we didn’t have to write down our real names/addresses. The sign-in sheet shows your client that people came to look at the house, and can be a helpful tool for an agent to follow up with people who came to look at the home. But it’s only helpful if people give their correct name and contact information. And since a lot of open house traffic is people who are simply curious about the house, they’re not going to want to be contacted.

5. If you’re uneasy, or nervous around a new client, follow your gut.

If you do decide to go show them property alone, take advantage of the office staff or a friend. Before you leave to show a listing, give the office manager, a receptionist, your broker, your spouse, etc. all of the information you have about who you’ll be with and where you’ll be. Tell them what time your appointment is and request they call you in exactly 10 minutes. Or tell someone you’ll call them in 10 minutes, and if they haven’t heard from you to call the police or send help. If you threw caution to the wind, and you’re showing a property and feeling uneasy, don’t go into parts of the house that feel unsafe. I worked with an agent that refused to go into basements and would wait outside while the customer checked out the basement.

6. Stop plastering your pretty face all over everything.

This one is hard. With real estate, you’re selling more than a house, you’re selling yourself. You want potential customers to pick you, out of all of the realtors in the area. One way to get people to remember your name is to put your picture on everything. Realtors send out calendars with their business card attached (with their picture on it), they have their photos on signs, they have their photos on magnets stuck to the side of their cars, their photos are in magazines next to pictures of their listings, and those magazines are at every grocery store in the country. Not only is your face plastered all over your marketing materials, but so is your full name and your phone number. No one needs to know that much information about someone they don’t know. Beverly Carter was a beautiful woman. Did her murderer see her photo and stalk her? Is that why he targeted her, out of the hundreds of realtors in the Little Rock area? We don’t know yet. But in my opinion, if you’re talking about realtor safety, the amount of information about realtors that’s accessible to anyone on the planet should be where the conversation starts.

I’m not trying to be negative and say that any of the safety ideas people are suggesting won’t work. I don’t think the driver’s license idea is a perfect solution, but it will help. And seriously, follow your gut. If a client gets angry or annoyed at things you’re doing to ensure your safety, that’s client I wouldn’t want to work with. Remind your clients that you want to work with them, and help them find the perfect home, but times have changed and the way you do business has to change as well. Ask them how they would feel if a complete stranger wanted to meet their wife, mother, or daughter at a vacant house, and had little regard to her safety precautions. I do think that nothing will help unless it is standardized across the board. There are so many professional organizations for realtors, and every local board, as well as the National Association of Realtors needs to make the policies standard. There are a lot of reasons to pick one agent over another. One taking their safety more seriously than another should not be a point of competition.