“The commission is never worth your life”
Agent safety is an under-discussed topic that usually comes up when something terrible happens. I wanted to bring attention to it again before something happens again to help make the industry safer.
I reached out to the local police department here in Aurora, to speak to them about how to be safe as a real estate agent. They sent a local officer to answer questions and offer some on the job safety tips.
Soliciting questions from the real estate agent community and coming up with a few ourselves; here’s what we learned:
One of the most common questions agents have is “What can I carry with me to protect myself”?
Note - This is for the Canadian Market where agents cannot carry a gun. Which, even if they could, the officer did not recommend it as a measure of self-defence.
Agents provided examples, asking things such as; can they carry bear spray, knives, and special key chains that can be used as weapons, and more?
Bear spray, or even dog spray, is legal for an agent to carry with them. This comes with a few very important words of caution. First, you must know how to properly use whatever tool you choose to keep on hand.
In the example of bear or dog spray, do you know how to spray it in a way that won't harm you? What if you spray outwards but it deflects back on you? This could cause you just as many issues for you as the potential attacker. It is imperative to not use anything you aren’t trained to use.
Secondly, any weapon you carry is just as likely to be used against you during an attack. If you are carrying a knife, you could end up being harmed while defending yourself. This is why guns are often not a recommended means of self-defence. (This is not meant to start a debate about gun control; this is the advice from a professional).
Finally, in the event that you are attacked, are you given free reign to do whatever necessary to defend yourself?
There’s a very fine line that is situational and dependent on how far you can go when defending yourself. The basic rule of thumb is that you can use whatever means necessary to defend yourself until you are able to escape the situation. If you harm your attacker after you’ve had the opportunity to escape, you can then be charged with assault.
At the end of the day, the officer says that if your life is on the line, its no holds barred. You should do whatever you have to do to make sure you get out alive.
(These laws can vary a lot province to province, state to state, so seek independent legal advice in your area if you are going to carry a weapon with you for self-defence)
Meeting Someone New
Meeting new people is the key to success in real estate. You have to get in front of people, or as the old school coaches always say “belly to belly”. With this comes risk though.
It is not uncommon to end up at a vacant property in a remote area. How can you protect yourself when meeting someone new in this type of situation? The easiest answer is exactly what people have said for years; never go alone.
However, as a real estate agent that’s not always possible. If you can, get someone else from your office, or a family member to join you. If you can avoid meeting someone new alone, take it at all costs. Also try to meet somewhere beside the house, or out in public.
It is strongly recommended you ask for ID before going into any home. If the person you are meeting resists, be upfront and honest about why you’re asking. It’s a safety issue. If they don’t understand, that’s a red flag about their intentions.
When you meet someone at a house, try to record his or her license plate number. Whether you do it covertly or openly is a personal preference. You should always inform your office where you are going, when you are going, and when you will check in again.
When you arrive to a house, make a phone call so the person you are meeting knows you will be checking in with your office again. For example, on the phone say “Hi _____, just here showing 123 Main Street with *Name of Person*. I’ll call you in 20-30 minutes when I’m on my way back to the office”.
If you are meeting a new client at your office, make sure to introduce them to someone you know. Anyone looking to commit a crime wants to remain anonymous. The more people connected to you that knows them, the more of a deterrent that may be.
Google is also your best friend. You can learn a lot about people by using Google. It’s not perfect but you can confirm a lot of information about people.
When showing properties there’s some steps you can take to better prepare yourself. As mentioned above, the ideal is always to have someone accompany you.
You should never take the same car as the client/potential client. According to the officer, it’s more likely that there could be an incident in the car than in the house.
When you get to the home, let the client enter first. You should keep them in front of you throughout the entire showing and do not lock any doors. Keep your phone in your hand at all times. If your gut has even the slightest inkling that something is off, have 911 ready to dial immediately.
This is more for the ladies than the men but avoid high heels and clothing that restricts your movement. You want to be able to run if possible. Leave your purse at home or in your car as well. Only bring into the showing the items you need for the showing itself.
Ultimately, trust your gut, if you have a bad feeling then listen to it.
Open House Safety
You’ll start seeing a trend here, but the first safety tip of an open house is to not host it alone. Bring someone from your office, a mortgage broker, family member, or a friend. When you get to the home, remove all valuables. Also, remove potential threats such as the knife block on the counter.
It’s smart to have guests sign in, ideally with their ID. As mentioned above, explain it’s for security purposes and if they still do not sign in then that’s red flag. Any reasonable person will understand.
Make sure your cell phone is charged, car keys are readily available and leave valuables - like your purse - in the car. It’s also important to be very cognizant of all the exits and ensure they are unlocked. Also, make sure you check all the exit routes. If you plan to escape through the backyard, do you know which side the gate in the fence is on? Is there an exit from the backyard?
One question I received when I announced I was going to do this post was “Do homes listed for sale with pictures of the interior, make them more likely to be robbed?” The answer is actually No. The officer said he didn’t have any official stats, but typically burglars do not choose homes based on having seen it before. This is for a couple reasons. The first is that many homeowners, in anticipation of strangers coming through, are more likely to hide or remove all valuables.
The main reason though is that burglars are more likely to choose a home based on what it looks like from the outside. Is the front door visible from the street? Is there landscaping blocking the view of the door? Does the house have cameras? These are the deciding factors for a would-be thief. Ideally a home should have a front door that is always visible from the street with no landscaping in the way.
Another question we received was “How do I protect myself against false accusations?” The rate of false accusations is quite low but its still better to take precautions.
Ideally, you wouldn’t meet people alone but that is not always possible. The officer recommended having your phone recording anytime you’re alone with someone. A simple app like Smart Recorder can save you down the road against a false accusation.
In Canada, you do not need both parties permission to record a conversation. If you’re a male and meeting a woman, it’s better that the person you bring with you is another woman.
Using Security Cameras
One way to help protect during showings is to have security cameras. You are completely within your legal right to have security cameras throughout a home and you do not need to notify people of this. The more obvious the better though, since they act as a deterrent.
While you can have cameras throughout your home without notifying anyone of their presence since there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in someone else’s home, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the bathrooms so no cameras in there!
Many agents wonder if they can keep a file of suspicious people and share it amongst themselves. According to the officer I spoke with, this is not an issue from a criminal standpoint. You can keep a file of suspicious people and share it privately BUT… This is an important but…If that list was ever made public, or a person on the list found out they were listed, they can sue you civilly.
You could be on the hook for civil damages if they were able to prove the list negatively impacted them. The same goes for when you use your phone for recording, or the video cameras in the home. You’re legally allowed to but if you publish any of the content you could be held liable from a civil perspective.
Trust Your Gut - The Gift of Fear
At the end of the day, nothing is more effective than your own gut. If you have an uneasy feeling then don’t risk anything. Trust your gut and get out of the situation. Even if this means you have to cancel a showing while in the driveway with the potential client. It’s better to lose a potential client than end up in harms way.
When Should you Contact Police?
This is where a lot of people might not have some questions. Where’s the point that police should be involved? There has to be a direct threat regarding harm. For example; someone saying the phrase “I’m going to get you” is not enough for the police to get involved.
Since people are innocent until proven guilty, the phrase I’m going to get you could be open to interpretation. They might actually mean, “I’m going to get you…a nice bouquet of flowers”. They have to directly threaten your physical safety.
Any form of physical contact without consent can be considered assault. If they touch your arm and you didn’t invite it, then that's considered assault and you can call upon police. However, according to the officer, nothing will likely come of this, other than the incident being on record if they just touch your arm.
If the harassment is digital, they can run traces and find the person. With the exception of the computer savvy type who know how to hide their digital footprint. However, most messages online found to be harassing can be tracked.
My personal recommendations - err on the side of caution and call the police if you think it may be warranted. Worst case they tell you there’s nothing they can do.
What if the worst happens?
You’ve taken all the steps possible to protect yourself, but sometimes that may not be enough. If someone has the intent of harming another person, they can do it. This type of crime is rare with all these steps taken.
If you are attacked though, what should you do?
Step 1: Call 911
Step 2: Make note of all the details about the attacker as soon as possible. Their height, weight, clothing, approximate age, hair and eye colour, facial hair, and any distinguishing features. If you can, take note of their car, if you don’t know the make then note the colour and if its a coupe, sedan, SUV, etc…
Step 3: If you were sexually assaulted, do not shower, do not change your clothes. That will all become evidence. When 911 arrive, they will help take care of you and make sure everything is done properly.
Step 4: Find a support group or counselling services. No matter how tough you are, these groups can help. You’re not the first person to go through it and others will be there to help you.
In real estate we often talk about what goes into finding the right home. For many it depends on location, condition of the property, and budget. The perfect home will fit all 3.
For crime to happen it’s similar. The 3 sides of it are; opportunity, criminal desire, and the victim or location. By doing what you can to be aware of your surroundings and limiting opportunity, you can do a great deal in protecting yourself. No matter what precautions you take, if someone is highly motivated to do harm, it will be hard to stop them from trying.
This is true for everyone in society, and not a real estate agent specific problem. Limit their opportunities as much as possible and remember these 4 key takeaways.
- Don’t assume anything
- Never take anything for granted
- Be aware of your surrounding’s
- Trust your instincts
- Never take anything for granted
Stay safe out there!