In the car, at open houses or generally out and about, here are ways to keep yourself safe.
September was agent safety month in the real estate industry.
We’ve been thinking about agent safety all month, from our special report about how safe agents feel on the job to contributed articles about open-house safety and beyond.
This list is compiled from a variety of resources — the articles on Inman’s real estate agent safety resource page (which we update regularly), assorted sources online and my own experience taking and assisting in a women’s self-defense course.
I hope you find them useful!
In the car
Real estate agents are in their vehicles a lot. Minimize the chances of being caught vulnerable in a breakdown situation by taking these precautions.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full. When the needle hits the halfway mark, refuel.
- Follow your car’s guidelines for maintenance; get your oil changed regularly and don’t neglect routine upkeep.
- Stock your car with jumper cables and everything you might need to change a tire at minimum. Bonus points for a car battery charger and empty gas can.
- Hide $20 in your glove compartment or sunglass holder in case of an emergency (or simply a forgotten wallet at the pump).
- Learn how to change a tire. Practice until you feel comfortable doing it yourself. Keep a maintained and inflated spare tire (at least one) in your vehicle at all times. Keep your jack and other tools in good working order.
- Stash bottled water and nonperishable food items in your car.
- Keep at least one portable charger in your car — you never know when your car battery might die while your phone is running low. Recharge your portable charger regularly (once a month should do) so you don’t lose your backup.
- Think about the weather where you live. If the area is prone to blizzards, for example, keep a foldable shovel, blankets and extra coats/boots in your car for possible winter storms. Floods? You’ll want an extra pair of rain boots and an umbrella.
- Wear your seatbelt every time you drive or ride in a car. Have clients with you? Insist they put theirs on.
- Studies have shown that your ability to pay attention to the road drops dramatically when you are on the phone. Even if it’s legal in your state or municipality, hang up the cell phone when you have your hands on the wheel and feet on the pedals.
- Do you have roadside assistance — and do you know what the terms are? Trust me: You won’t regret spending an additional $50 annually when you finally need your car towed and your plan covers 100 miles of towing instead of 5.
When showing houses or at open houses
Part of your job involves spending time with strangers in private spaces — single-family homes. Here’s how to make that less of a dodgy situation.
- Preview neighborhoods before you list a property there. Check for cell phone reception and get a feel for how close each property is to neighbors. Familiarize yourself with where the police and fire stations are in the area.
- Park under a light where you can see your car clearly from the door. Do your best to park somewhere you won’t get blocked in (on the curb instead of in a driveway, for example).
- If you’re planning an open house or listing a house, it’s not merely good marketing to walk up and down the street and introduce yourself to the neighbors — it’s also a good safety precaution. Invite them to the open house. (Depending on whether you feel OK about the neighbor, you can also point out your car and tell them to come find you at the listing if it’s ever in their way.)
- Work in teams whenever possible. More than one person keeping an eye on things means fewer opportunities for something untoward to happen. If one of you doesn’t feel right about someone you’ve met, have a signal worked out and a plan for how to gracefully extract yourself from the situation or otherwise ensure your safety.
- Charge your phone fully before you get to the open house or listing.
- Know your way around the house before you are there alone with a stranger. At the very least, check the floor plan — you will want to know in which rooms you might be most easily trapped and where your potential escape routes could be.
- Pay special attention when walking around a vacant home for the first time (which should always be done in the daylight). Look for signs that someone might have broken into the house: open doors or windows, wood pallets or boxes or even step stools outside the house that might have been used to grant access, extension cords leading from doors or windows to outside or a neighbor’s house. If you see any of those things outside, don’t enter; call the police instead.
- Look for graffiti on walls, trash in corners, food in the kitchen and other signals that someone might be living in a vacant listing. If you think a vacant listing might be occupied by someone who shouldn’t be there, your first priority is to get yourself to safety and then call the police and inform them.
- Protect your clients by compiling a checklist of things they will want to secure or remove from the house during open houses and showings — examples include jewelry, prescription drugs, financial statements, extra sets of keys, mail and other items that could compromise their identity security or financial security, or that might be easy to pocket. Arrive at the open house early enough to walk through it with listing clients and help them flag and put away any items of value they might have missed.
- Turn on the lights and open the curtains while you’re walking through the house with clients — this will showcase the house in its best light, anyway!
- Hang bells on outside doors of the listing when you’re sitting in an open house so that you can hear people entering and exiting the property.
- When you’re killing time at an open house, do it in a room that has good reception and where you have the most escape routes.
- Definitely bring your mobile device — think twice about bringing the laptop and purse to an open house or showing. Those are probably better off stashed in the trunk of your car, and you’re probably better off stashing them there before you drive to the open house, not after you arrive.
- Have open house guests sign in. Offer some kind of giveaway so they’re more likely to give you a valid email address, or a door prize drawing that they can cash in with a code emailed or text-messaged to them.
- Ask open house guests to see business cards and even photo IDs (consider giving away a case of beer or a few bottles of wine for the door prize if you feel like you need an excuse or a reason to ask). Snap a photo of them so you have a record of who was in the house and approximately when, just in case you need it.
- Prospects should always walk in front of you — women faced with a “ladies first” insistence can fall back on demurring that the client should really walk through the home and experience it without someone in front of him or her.
- Don’t walk into rooms with no escape routes (examples include walk-in closets, laundry rooms, basements, attics and many bathrooms). Point them out and allow clients to walk through them independently.
When meeting clients for the first time
Another reality of your life: You will meet with strangers who want to work with you. How do you do that in a way that isn’t flirting with disaster?
- Find out as much information about your prospective client as you can before meeting. Verify their identity — ask for their full name, contact information and a photo of their driver’s license and use a program like Verify Photo ID to, well, verify it.
- Don’t ever meet a client alone for the first time. The Realtor Safe Harbor app can help you find a meeting place if you aren’t sure where to go. We recommend you meet all clients for the first time in your office.
- Vet clients on social media and Google before you meet them for the first time. If they aren’t on social media at all but have told you they have a job that indicates they should be, that’s one red flag. Keep your eyes open for posts that indicate unstable personalities, and do your best to ensure that what you find on social media and the rest of the internet about your client doesn’t contradict what your client has told you.
- If it sounds too good to be true, or the client is being extra pushy, that’s a hint to be extra careful. All-cash offers that are contingent on you dropping everything to show a property? That might be a scenario where you want to absolutely insist on bringing a buddy or two with you.
On the internet/in marketing materials
You need to market your business — but there is such a thing as too much information. Here’s how to keep your personal identity separate from your public one online:
- Use a separate email address for home and work.
- Get mail for work? Have it sent to your brokerage office or to a P.O. Box.
- Consider separate lines for home and work. This might not be realistic, but a service like Google Voice can route calls from a Google Voice number to your “main” line.
- What can you discover about yourself using Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other places where your digital presence might be public? Open an “incognito” tab or sign in to a public computer and do some recon on yourself. Plug any holes that reveal more than you are comfortable sharing.
- Is your birthday listed on your social media profiles? Some companies use birthdays to confirm identity — so you could be handing a scammer the keys to your account. Consider making that information private.
- Don’t wear expensive jewelry in your marketing photos, and if you feel compelled to post something like that on social media, make sure it’s only visible to a select few friends.
- Don’t pose in front of your car or your personal residence.
- If you’ll be away from your home for an extended period of time — for a vacation or a baseball game at a city an hour or two away, for example — wait until you get back home to post about how awesome it was.
Protecting your clients
- Always obey the speed limit and all traffic laws when you are driving clients in your car; your ability to show concern for their safety will reflect well on you professionally. (Better yet, have them get to the property or meeting place on their own.)
- Alert your clients about possible money-wiring scams well before the time comes to work with earnest money, down payments or closing costs. Give them clear and explicit instructions about how to get their money safely from point A to point B, and continue repeating those instructions throughout the process.
Is there more you can do to keep yourself or your employees safe? Always!
- Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel quite right about a client or situation, don’t hesitate to get yourself out immediately. You might not understand in the moment what behavior or turn of phrase triggered that gut feeling, but you’ll never be sorry you heeded it.
- Consider taking a self-defense course. Many police departments offer courses geared toward women specifically and for affordable rates. A good program will include both practical ways to keep yourself safe (like all the suggestions above) as well as hands-on training for breaking holds so you feel confident that you will know what to do if that moment arises.
- People who want your information will go to great lengths to get it. Know under what circumstances your doctor, dentist or even your vet might give out your contact or home address information. All of those service providers will likely be happy to give that information only under the circumstances you delineate.
- Let people know where you are going! Put appointments or meetings on your Google calendar with names and contact information and make it public to your brokerage office, or use an app to alert a network of friends that you’re heading out. Don’t ever venture out, to meet anyone or attend to something by yourself, for work or pleasure, without telling at least two people (preferably more) where you are going and when you plan to return.
- Document and report any safety concerns to the appropriate authority — whether that’s your broker or the police.
- Wear clothes that you can move around in.
- Don’t walk around with your nose in your phone or juggling a bunch of items. Walk with purpose and look alert.
- The more physically fit you are, the better able to deal with a dangerous circumstance you will be. You want your body in good enough shape to handle the adrenaline rush and then run away effectively, so train accordingly, whatever that means for you.
- Put a decent passcode lock on your smartphone, and if you have an iPhone, make sure Find My iPhone is enabled so you can remotely wipe your device if the need arises.
- Considering carrying a weapon to keep you safe? By all means — but please make sure you are comprehensively trained in its use, and do not reveal it to anyone unless you are prepared to use it on them. If you hesitate, your attacker could take the weapon away from you, turning a very bad situation into an even worse one.