Real Estate OH&S – We have sourced a great Real Estate safety article that raises serious questions about a principals OH&S (WHS) obligations

Here at Ebutton we believe Real Estate OH&S is a great concern for the ever changing world and the staff that face it.

Real Estate Agent Safety Tips
by Jason Van Steenwyk on December 25, 2012

Karen Blackburn was a brand new real estate agent 37 years ago. Weeks into her career, she had a walk-in client who wanted to see a vacant condo. She told her manager she didn’t want to go, but he insisted that she show the property. At the condo, Blackburn says the man attacked her in the foyer, so she kicked him and ran out, leaving him slumped over in the condo. Returning to the office, she told her manager off and told him he could go back and lock the house up himself. She questioned if real estate was the right business for her.

She’s still in the biz.

Real Estate OH&S

It’s a sad reality, but agents – especially women – need to be vigilant about their exposure to predators when out showing properties. And for that matter, so do their customers. It is fortunately a very rare occurrence, but every year agents become targets of violent criminals.

Ashley Okland, a beautiful 27-year-old real estate agent in Des Moines, Iowa, was showing a model home when she was murdered – killed by two gunshot wounds. Police are still trying to solve her murder.

A Denver real estate agent was raped while showing a house in 2006.

A Corona, Texas agent was raped at gunpoint, then stabbed while showing a house in 2010. She survived the attack.

The city of Kent, Ohio saw two real estate agents murdered and one robbed while showing homes within a one-week span in 2010.

It’s not a new problem, either. Betty Van Balen, a real estate agent in Roanoake, Virginia, was kidnapped at gunpoint when she showed up to sell a house in March of 1974, and held for a $25,000 ransom. One of her captors turned out to be an employee of her husband.

We know that criminals share tips with each other while in prison on how to victimize the innocent – and we know that some criminals make their M.O. targeting real estate agents. Agents can be tempting targets:

Many are quite successful.
They frequently dress to convey success, which means they frequently wear a nice watch or jewelry.
They show their faces in real estate catalogues. Some criminals convicted of raping or assaulting agents have had real estate magazines and ads confiscated in which they circled the photograph of an attractive female agent.
They are frequently alone in a house.
The criminal can identify ahead of time what house he will be looking at and case it. In at least one rape case, a rapist had an accomplice waiting near the house when he arrived with the agent.

Houses are frequently remote from neighbors.

In some cases, the crime is premeditated: The criminal knows what he is plotting before he sees the house. Sometimes he has plotted out the attack before he even contacts the agent. In other cases, the crime is not premeditated, but simply a crime of opportunity.

Agents can take steps to reduce their vulnerability to both kinds of attackers.

So how can real estate agents keep themselves safe?

Before You Go Out
The first step is to set up sound business procedures – most of which are already well-known to agents:

Keep your phone on a charger whenever you are at your desk. If you’re always charging it, it will always have a charge when you need it.

Always have the initial meeting at the office. Never meet at the house.

Amir Benesh, a principal with YHI Partners in New York, shares his security protocol:

“Firstly, we always tell each other where we’re going and when. “Sally has a 2 p.m. showing at Apartment 3″ is put on the global schedule so we know where she last went if she disappears.

Second, we always have the full contact info of the renter on file including full name, phone number, and email, in case anything goes wrong. With this information, you can do background checks if you’re feeling particularly unsafe.

Third, some of our agents are on the company’s Google Latitude friends list, which allows us to locate the agent on a map. It’s up to them to allow us to track them; many feel safer having that option, and they can turn it on and off. With these efforts, we have had zero assaults over the seven years we’ve been in business.”

Karen Blackburn – the woman with the David Beckham-like kick in the opening paragraph, has been an agent manager and trainer for 25 years now. She does not let agents meet a stranger alone. Someone always goes along. Her agents also share a code phrase that everyone knows, which alerts them to call the police if they ever hear an agent say it on the phone.

Don’t use “glam shots” in your ads. Look like a professional real estate agent, not a sexpot. Those ads attract the wrong kind of buyers anyway.

Never advertise one of your listings as “vacant” or “currently unoccupied.”

Do a reverse phone search. When you get that call for a showing, you can do a reverse phone check online before they even get there, and most of the time you can find the caller,” says Cliff Butler, a Chattanooga agent and former law enforcement officer. “Plus, it gives you a little insight on the potential buyer.”

The phone number doesn’t have to trace back to a county halfway house for paroled criminals to raise a red flag. Check things out if there’s a mismatch between the person listed on the phone and the person who calls or shows up. Google the name before they get there. One useful This site allows you to search for known sex offenders, both by name and by address. Getting a call to come to an open house? You can see if it belongs to a convicted rapist. Getting a call from a prospect to meet you (at your office, of course)? Get the name over the phone and do a search.

Yes, registered sex offenders need to find a place to live, and buy and sell houses, too. However, that is not your problem!

Call them back at their place of employment. Don’t use the number they give you. Look up the business yourself.

Ask for a copy of the client’s drivers’ license. Inspect it carefully, and know how to spot fake IDs in the state where you live. Criminals have been known to provide fake IDs to agents in their offices, plotting to attack them later.
Have someone note the make, model, color and license plate of the prospects’ car when they leave to see properties with you. Make sure the office knows your car as well. It’s OK if the prospect sees that you’re doing this. Let someone else be the easy mark.
Take your own car. Have the client follow you.
Leave your property itinerary with the office, with the addresses of the properties you plan to show, each day.
Don’t relax your guard just because you are a man, or just because the person making contact is a woman. Keep the same security protocol in all cases. There have been many instances of men and women working together in robbery teams, with the woman making the initial contact.

Reduce Vulnerability in the Field
Get a security alarm system for your phone. In the real world, you might not get to make a calm and collected phone call to report being attacked. A “panic alert” allows you to send an alarm to police by hitting a single button on your cell phone. Police will be able to locate you by the location of your cell phone. On Call Defender has one solution – a monitored mobile phone application. Tap three times and the police are on their way – all for $6.99 per month for the monitoring service. MyForce is another option. (Real estate agency brokers might consider picking up this cost for their agents.)

Don’t just get any mobile phone security app – some of them just send a text message to your designated contacts. You want an armed response on the way in minutes.

Choose your showing times wisely. “Try and show the home during times when the neighborhood is lively, when kids are coming home from school and parents coming home from work. The traffic in the area can deter an attack, or allow screams to be heard,” suggests Rolando Moreno, a vice president at First Equity Mortgage Bankers and 15-year veteran of the industry.

Do the driving. Don’t get in the prospect’s car. Paul Dennis Reid, who murdered several fast food restaurant workers in 1997, modified his car so that his kidnap victims could not open the door from the inside – an example of a criminal who planned his attacks.

Use brevity codes. Have code words prearranged with co-workers at the office, or with someone else you know will take the call. It could be as simple as: “I’m fine. I’m ordering pizza tonight.” Especially if you never order pizza and thus won’t say it accidentally. This is a good way to tip off co-workers if you just aren’t comfortable with a showing, but not sure why, or you still want to go through with it. This can get someone on the road to meet you at the location. If nothing else, tell someone you forgot your notebook and they have an excuse to bring it to you at the house. It doesn’t matter whether you actually left your notebook or not!

Know where the exits are. Know them before you show the house, and review the plans before you get there. Make your own sketch if need be. Don’t let the prospect get between you and the exits. Let them walk into the room first. When you get careless and walk in first, you’re cornered.

Trust your instincts. Security managers at retail stores can frequently spot shoplifters before they make an attempt. This is because the moment of the crime is preceded by an adrenaline surge that affects how people behave. Sometimes security managers have a hard time putting their finger on just what it is that tips them off. Someone about to attack you is likely to exhibit some signs of agitation, impatience or distraction, as well. There may be a time to cut the showing short and head for the exit.

Keep your cell phone in your hand during the showing. Not in your purse or pocket.

Park with leaving in mind. Don’t pull into a driveway where the prospect following you can pin your car in. Try to park by the road.

Unlock all the deadbolts in the house ahead of the client’s arrival, if you can. That will save you a second or two trying to get through a door.

Get a remote control to unlock your car door while you’re running to it. Don’t be the person getting dragged away from your car while you’re fumbling for your keys.

Open Houses
Conducting open houses can be tricky: You don’t have the same security options that you do when you are meeting people at the office. A few open house tips:

Go meet the neighbors. Tell them you’re showing the house. It’s a good way to get referrals. It’s an even better way to know you have a safe place to run to if you need it.

Don’t work open houses alone. You can’t control how many people walk in on you.

Have an alternate destination. Wendy Forsythe, a broker with Atlantic & Pacific Real Estate in California, recalls being followed by a suspicious buyer after an appointment. “I was followed home twice by an “odd” male buyer who requested to see vacant properties. During the showing I felt a little weird. I got out of there as fast as I could. I thought I’d be safe until I noticed he was following me. Instead of going home to my own empty house I drove straight to my parent’s home who I had called and were waiting for me in the yard.”

Surviving an Attack
The decision to fight or submit is a highly variable and individual decision. There is no one hard and fast rule. Crime victims need to take everything into account.

If you are attacked while driving, look for a chance to pull up against a wall that would make it hard for a passenger to open his door. If walls aren’t available, a good hedge will do, or a mailbox. You can open your door and run.

Consider carrying mace, pepper spray, or a Taser.

Find out concealed carry laws in your own jurisdiction. If you think carrying a firearm is a good choice for you, all things considered, then get a permit and a firearm. But get training, too – andpractice.

The eight-hour course they give you when you get your permit isn’t enough in a crisis. You need to practice grasping, chambering a round (if not already chambered), taking the selector switch off safe, aiming and firing so much that it is second nature to you … so that you can still do it without skipping a step when you are scared out of your mind. If you can’t, then the gun will possibly be used against you.

Take self-defense courses. All martial arts are beneficial, but not all martial arts schools or disciplines are optimized for self-defense against a violent attack. Specialized self-defense schools with qualified instructors are good. Krav Maga is a good option, as well. Ask law enforcement people you know in your area for referrals.

Link through to content


45 Day Money Back Guarantee! 
If you’re not happy with eButton, simply return it for a full refund!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required