REALTOR® Safety Series: Personal Safety in the Field

Real estate is a very personal business. You’re not selling people a blender or a car. You are helping your clients navigate their purchase or sale of property, potentially one of the most stressful times in their life. As such, every phone call, every inquiry is a new opportunity to make that personal contact and foster business.

We are coming out of an unprecedented and volatile chapter of real estate history. Among all the well-intentioned buyers and sellers out there, there still remain people looking to take advantage of a real estate professional for no reason other than the fact that they saw your name and phone number on a billboard, a yard sign, or a website. It’s an occupational hazard, and you should be prepared always to protect you and yours.

Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting some of the many safety concerns impacting REALTORS® today and heighten our subscribers’ awareness. The first is, perhaps, the most important. Money and personal effects can be replaced; you, however, cannot.

Crude, Lewd, and Rude

You’ve heard it probably from a colleague before. Crank callers and lewd suggestions on the other end of the phone line at 2am in the morning often lead to nothing other than lost sleep for the recipient. But this can easily escalate into harassment. If this does become the case, keep a log of the times and number of calls and the nature of these calls. Be sure to keep all text messages to forward to law enforcement. They will have other instructions and suggestions when you contact them.

Luring to a Vacant Property or Meeting Alone

Never meet a new client alone. “Stranger danger” doesn’t go away after you trade in your short pants. At RMLS™, we have received calls from agents who have corresponded with individuals who become irate and even threatening when the agent refuses to meet the “client” alone. Red flag. A true prospective client will not have a problem following your office’s policy of meeting in the office or a public place like a café or restaurant. Also, be wary of people asking overtly personal questions, asking to work specifically with a particular type of person. There have been reports of people requesting to work with only female agents alone, for example.

Robbery During a Showing or Open House

It happens. Usually this happens when it’s a slow day and there are no others in the house. If that is the case, give them your wallet. Never confront your assailant. They are unpredictable, and, therefore, very dangerous, if cornered. Usually, they will push you or anything blocking their way to escape, but consider the alternative. Let’s not…just give them the wallet.

Other Ideas

Always be aware of your surroundings, and always trust your instincts and intuition.

  • Tell people where you are going and when you’re expected back.
  • Take someone with you.
  • Take down your client’s license plate number and leave it with someone at the office.
  • Never underestimate the power of self-defense training and pepper spray.
  • When showing a house, don’t let your client come between you and the door.
  • Keep your phone on your person and in an accessible area.

Always limit your vulnerability as much as possible when alone or meeting someone for the first time.

Further Reading

Go to for more information and tips on keeping safe in a variety of scenarios. Following are articles with more information:

Next time: Scams Specific to Real Estate

Relationship Management: 4 Safety Essentials Every Agent Needs to Know

It’s REALTOR® Safety Month and we are happy to be able to raise the safety awareness of our subscribers with this article, which originally appeared in the September 2012 REALTOR® Magazine Online.

Your customer relationships can put your safety at risk. Here are four things you can do to make safety a bigger priority.

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey & Image by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

In the real estate business, you want to seem friendly, outgoing, and approachable in welcoming new customers and attracting prospects. But doing so could also put your safety at risk.

The dangers that lurk within the real estate industry is a lesson some practitioners have had to learn the hard way. A study last year found a rise in violent attacks against real estate professionals, with 16 assaults and seven murders reported, according to a 2011 REALTORS® Safety Report. Real estate professionals who were meeting clients alone at showings were found to be the most vulnerable to robberies, assaults, or murders, according to the study.

Many real estate professionals can recall an incident when they’ve felt uneasy about their safety while touring homes with clients. (See ‘Safety Lessons That Saved My Life…’ or ‘How I Stay Safe’) In fact, about 42 percent of female real estate professionals and 18 percent of male agents say they’ve “occasionally” felt unsafe, according to an online survey of 450 real estate professionals conducted by Moby, a safety mobile app company.

So what’s one of your greatest allies to staying safe in real estate? Trusting your gut.

“That gut feeling is a survival instinct in our bodies,” says Adam Contos, vice president of RE/MAX who created a REALTOR® safety curriculum for the franchise’s S.A.F.E.R. program. “If we feel something is wrong, there probably is something wrong. …Don’t ignore signs just to chase a commission. A commission isn’t worth your life, nor is it worth your peace of mind in an industry where you can have great success. Don’t take unneeded risks.”

Contos, who worked in law enforcement as a former SWAT team commander and taught police officers security measures prior to his real estate career, recommends four essentials to improving your safety in real estate.

1. Be prepared. Find out as much as you can about new clients prior to taking them on home tours with you, says Contos. Too often agents don’t take the time to properly screen their clients before taking them to showing appointments in vacant homes.

Jan Pringle, the education director with the Kansas City Regional Association of REALTORS® who also teaches agents about safety, says she advises agents to require all potential buyers to first visit the office to review paperwork prior to showings. She’ll then tell her agents to ask clients for their pre-approval letters for a loan. If they don’t have one, she’ll tell agents to send clients for a loan approval next before agreeing to show them a single property.

“This easy step not only protects the agent, but also forms strong bonds with real buyers,” Pringle says. “I don’t think the bad guys will go so far as to be documented for a loan approval. Plus, unmotivated buyers are weeded out as well.”

Also in preparing beforehand, look at the properties you plan to show. Know the exits. If it’s a vacant, foreclosed home, ensure squatters aren’t present. If someone is inside the home, never enter, but contact the police immediately.  Contos recommends agents do a thorough check of the property’s exterior before entering, looking for such clues as window screens that have been pried off, front doors kicked in, or any evidence of someone living there by peering inside the windows. Even if you just feel something is off, Contos suggests contacting the police to have them check out the property beforehand.

2. Bring a flashlight to all of your showings. “It’s probably one of the most effective defense tools,” Contos says. A large, bright flashlight that fits in the palm of your hand (not the miniature keychain flashlights) can surprisingly serve as a deterrent to would-be predators. A flashlight “gives the people you are with a sign that you are prepared for something to happen,” Contos says. You can use it to shine a light on objects that you want to point out in a home to potential buyers. But “it’s also something in your hand that is construed by bad people as an item that a prepared professional carries with them,” Contos says. “Police and security personnel carry them. It would cause those who want to do harm against you to think twice.”

Some real estate agents say they carry a weapon with them to their showings for added comfort. In fact, an informal poll in 2010 of 320 REALTOR® Magazine online readers found that 26 percent say they carry a handgun, nearly 20 percent carry pepper spray, about 11 percent carry a knife, and 2 percent carry scissors. About 39 percent say they carry nothing.

If you choose to carry a weapon, Contos cautions agents to get regular professional training on how to use it correctly and make sure it’s legal in their area. Mace, tasers, and firearms, for example, are illegal in certain states. “Make sure what you’re doing is legal,” Contos says. “You don’t want to jeopardize your real estate license by carrying something that is not.”

3. Use your cell phone for safety. Another great weapon to help keep yourself safe: Your cell phone.

“You don’t want to have to dig through your pockets or purse to find a phone and then enter a security code just to make a phone call if something goes wrong,” Contos says. Instead, he recommends wearing a bluetooth headset while showing properties. The discreet headsets usually allow you to touch a button twice to dial the last phone number you called. “So if you’re walking through a home with a buyer and something turns a little creepy, you can touch the button twice,” Contos says. “You don’t have to say anything to the other person on the line. Continue to show the house but [the person on the other line will] be able to hear you talking in the event that you feel your safety is in jeopardy.”

He also advises agents to have a “security partner” that they can call up to give a secret code word to when they feel in danger. In his classes, he recommends words like “red folder.” So when you call someone and mention, or they overhear in your conversation “red folder,” that person will know something is wrong and know to send help.

You also can use your cell phone to access mobile apps designed for safety. A growing number of mobile apps such as Agent Alarm, Moby, Real Alert, SafeTrec, and IcePics, among others, allow you to make instant calls to emergency responders. Some apps can even automatically access your GPS coordinates so you can quickly request help when you feel threatened. (Learn more: How to Use Your Smartphone as a Weapon)

4. Slow down. Stop being in such a rush, Contos suggests. When considering REALTOR® safety, many professionals just associate it as prevention of being a victim to a crime such as robbery or an assault. But REALTOR® safety also means taking precautions so you don’t become a victim in other occupational hazards on the job, too, such as car crashes, trips and falls in homes, or even being bit by a dog or other animal when touring homes.

“There are so many occupational hazards other than just being a victim of a crime,” Contos says. “When you get in a hurry, you ignore your surroundings and that can pose a huge safety hazard. It’s not about just getting robbed. It’s also about not getting hurt.”

For example, as you rush to client appointments or travel from listing to listing, many real estate agents are guilty of talking on their phone, texting, or even e-mailing while driving. But what happens if you’re distracted by texting and then hit a pedestrian—a child on a bike?

“A car crash can ruin your career and hurt someone else,” Contos says. “Don’t be distracted when driving; pay attention. We multi-task too much when we’re driving what’s a 5,000-pound weapon.”

Indeed, real estate is one of the top professions for the most car accidents and speeding tickets, according to a 2009 study by the Quality Planning Corp. Researchers analyzed statistics about car accidents and speeding based on profession and found that per year, every 1,000 real estate brokers average 102 car accidents and 39 speeding tickets. Real estate brokers were No. 4 on the list of top 10 most cash-prone professions (behind only doctors, lawyers, and architects).

Contos encourages real estate agents to stop rushing about their day, take the time to plan ahead, and take extra precautions. It’s what putting safety first is all about.

For more information on REALTOR® Safety, such as safety handouts, videos, and additional resources, visit

Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine Online, September 2012, with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

Top Safety Concerns and Incidents Affecting REALTORS®

Top Safety Concerns and Incidents Affecting REALTORS®

Guest Post Written by Kelly McKenna, Administrative Assistant at RMLS™!

These are lean and mean times in which we live. REALTORS® face occupational hazards that simply do not exist in most other industries. A recessed market seems to only encourage more bad behavior from those looking to take advantage of real estate professionals and the susceptibilities within their profession. So to celebrate REALTOR® Safety Month, listed below are some of the more prominent safety concerns reported to us over the years including a short list of scams special to the real estate community.

Lockbox Theft: Regardless of price brackets, there has been a surge of lockbox theft all across the state. Vandals have been known to remove an entire doorknob or guardrail just to get to a lock box. Usually, that’s the extent of the damage. The perpetrators cut the shackle with bolt cutters and take it to another location to try the lock’s mechanisms, expecting to come back to the property later. Either they are unsuccessful, or the locks have been changed by then.

Unfortunately, there are other times when they are able to access the property. There have been reports of staged houses getting completely cleaned out, down to the copper wiring. It’s rotten luck, but is a possibility to always consider when listing a vacant house.

In the event of a stolen lockbox, absolutely have your clients change the locks. Consider putting the lockbox in less conspicuous areas around the property to deter the more impulsive vandals. Staging furniture, timed lights and even house-sitters are great solutions to consider if you are worried your listing is susceptible to vandalism and theft.

Squatters: This is an extension of people gaining access to vacant listings unlawfully. Keep checking on your listings from time to time, even if there are no showings for the week. Certainly call the police if ever you get the sense that someone is in the house and never enter it until backup arrives.

Other Theft: Open houses, broker tours and regularly scheduled showings have all served as backdrops for theft, particularly that of prescription drugs. Sometimes working alone or in pairs to serve as a decoy, people will rummage through bathroom drawers and medicine cabinets or wherever they think they might find… something. Unfortunately, theft occurs during private showings, too. This is limited to small items like jewelry or a box of checks. Please advise sellers to lock up everything when their house is being shown in any capacity.

Harassment & Harm: General safety precautions such as the buddy system and alerting people to one’s whereabouts are essential when meeting with new clients. There have been reports ranging from phone or e-mail harassment to REALTORS® cornered or even mugged at showings or worse. Know your surroundings and limit your vulnerabilities as much as possible when alone or meeting someone for the first time.

Craigslist Rental Scams: REALTORS® are increasingly victimized by individuals taking their listings or photos from the internet and posting them on bulletin sites in attempt to secure deposits from prospective renters. Flag these listings whenever you encounter them and, if you like, contact the FTC and FBI’s Internet Crime Center. Find more information at and

Large Homes, All Cash, Quick Escrow…: You usually lose nothing but time and gain only frustration with deals that seem too good to be true. A prospective buyer claims to have X amount of money, all cash, and needs a quick closing. Everything is perfect until the time comes to submit earnest money or sign papers. Always go on instinct and trust your judgment.

Leads for FSBO Listings: Someone claims connections with frustrated FSBO’s who need REALTORS® or other listing leads and attempts to sell these names for $10-15 a head. Usually they claim to get their leads through an affiliation with either a reputable brokerage firm or educational institution. The names are either of FSBO’s with no interest in working with an agent, or home owners who are not even in the market to sell. Always approach such offers with extreme caution.

Overseas Transactions: People from overseas purchase property all the time. However, scams originate overseas as often as they do locally. It is always a good policy to enter into transactions with people you can see past an e-mail and with verified funding.

Real Estate Scam for Lawyers: Someone will contact a real estate agent expressing interest in a large property. They will then request a recommendation for an attorney to set up a trust for escrow, sending a cashier’s check to the attorney for an exorbitant amount of money. After the deal is written, the scammer then rescinds and requests a refund back when the original check was no good in the first place.

The nature of the business of real estate requires REALTORS® put themselves in potentially dangerous situations. Meeting strangers in strange places is business as usual. Please be sure to take precautions at every chance for every scenario. It will work out so much better in the long run. For more information, please contact your local and national associations as well as your local MLS.

Top Safety Concerns and Incidents Affecting REALTORS®

Mobile App for On-The-Go Realtor® Safety

Available for purchase at the iTunes Store

Although June is not Realtor® Safety Month (September is!), it’s important to keep up-to-date with any safety resources that become newly available, whether it’s “Safety Month” or not. Often times, real estate professionals are left alone when showing an open house or when meeting a potential client. These occasions can be potentially dangerous. We’ve just stumbled across a mobile application that may help real estate professionals in the event of an emergency. We thought we’d share it with you!

Real Alert – The Safety App for Realtors®

Developed by Michelle Jones, an Austin Realtor®, Real Alert is a mobile application compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices. It is available in the iTunes Store for $1.99. This application has several key functions enabling users to get help quickly:

  • Quick Tap Alarm Button
  • Quick Tap Call 911 Button
  • Locate Nearest Hospital Button
  • Quick Tap Alert A Friend
  • Built-In Flashlight

For more information or to purchase the mobile app, click here.

Other Resources:

National Association of Realtors® Field Guide to Safety. Visit NAR’s website for safety guides, handouts and tips. Click here.

Selling Safely Brochure. Home sellers need to learn safety practices, too. We have recently revamped the RMLS Selling Safely Brochure and it’s now available to download. This brochure is great for agents to give to their clients! It provides tips for clients on selling their home safely and has a place for the agent to provide their contact information! Click here to download the brochure.

Remember that old saying, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Top Safety Concerns and Incidents Affecting REALTORS®

Scam Alert

Attention all Realtors®

Numerous Realtors® have reported receiving emails and phone calls from a person out-of country who claims to need assistance with an all-cash real estate purchase. The caller may also insist on the need to retain a lawyer with a trust account, and requests a referral. The Realtor® or referred lawyer soon receives a substantial check (reports are from $150,000 to $500,000) to be deposited into broker trust account or lawyer trust account. Soon thereafter another call is received from a person purporting to be the attorney for the scammer in his home country. The foreign attorney says that the funds were sent out of country without appropriate government authority and must be immediately returned in order to avoid sanctions and penalties. Holder of the funds is pressed to wire the money without delay. Needless to say, the purchaser and the check are a fraud.

If you receive questionable requests for service or referrals, be cautious and inquire further.