January 30, 2015
With unsettling news stories about REALTORS® who have been attacked while on the job, understanding how to stay safe is increasingly important. Three REALTORS® share their experiences and talk about safety. They all stress the importance of taking precautions to ensure that you feel comfortable when showing properties.
Joanne Morrison has worked as a REALTOR® in Belleville since 2009, but she spent the previous 12 years selling real estate in Edmonton.
"If you've been in this business long enough, you'll come across situations that make you uneasy," Morrison says. She recalls preparing to show a vacant property when a man with a satchel showed up on foot and wanted to see the home. Morrison had a bad feeling about the man and was reluctant to go indoors with him.
"Thank goodness the seller showed up, so I was not alone with the client," she says. "Afterwards, he said to me, 'That guy was a nutcase.' We never did find out what was in the satchel. I've since learned to make sure I always have my antennae out when it comes to safety."
Vacant Homes Pose Potential Threat
Rejeanne LeBlanc, a Burlington REALTOR®, has come across some odd situations.
Last winter she escorted her clients to some vacant homes in Hamilton. They entered one property, went upstairs and saw evidence of squatters living there. "We left immediately," she says. "Often the best thing to do is just get out."
"When homes are vacant, I take extra precautions," says Leblanc. "I've organized an open house at a vacant home and felt uncomfortable. I always tell someone where I'm going to be and for how long, and I make sure I keep my cellphone on me. Trust your gut, because it often gives you good clues when something is not right."
As a male, Aurora REALTOR® Eric McCartney does not feel vulnerable showing houses, but he also makes a point of pre-qualifying his clients so he has as much information about them as possible.
"Don’t become a target. Know your clients and customers," McCartney says. "I speak with them to understand all of their needs and preferences. I meet them in the office and take copies of their drivers' licences. If they don't want to meet you in the office, that's a red flag right there. Tell them, 'That's how I work; that's my policy.'"
Avoid parking in a driveway where you can be blocked in, he suggests. Parking on the road enables you to leave quickly if need be. During a showing, he also suggests walking behind your clients or customers for your own safety.
McCartney recalls a situation when his female colleague was hosting an open house at a model home located in a gully that was mostly hidden from the main road. "A man walked in carrying both of the open house signs she had put up. Then he closed and locked the door and said, 'I intend to be here awhile and I don’t want to be disturbed so I took down the signs.' She was terrified, but luckily, he then said, 'Just kidding,' and told her he worked nearby.
"My colleague now knows that the outcome in that situation could have been very different. She still kicks herself for not reporting the incident."
Your initial contact with clients often provides a clue that things are not above board, Morrison says. "A man once called me about seeing some remote properties in the evening," she says, "But it turned out he was calling from a payphone so I couldn't call him back. I told him I’d have to check my schedule, and then I called the builder to ask if he could show the property. The builder agreed, but when I spoke to the man again and told him the builder would show the property because I couldn't change my schedule, the man hung up on me."
She no longer shows vacant houses late at night.
Leblanc, who has worked in real estate for five years, says that she has learned to put more precautions in place as she gains experience in real estate. "I'm becoming more cautious," she says. "For open houses, I preview the home, then introduce myself to the neighbours and let them know about the open house.
"When I arrive for the open house, I survey the house and the surroundings, turn on all the lights and open the curtains and blinds. I also make sure to check all the doors and windows before and after to make sure they're locked so nobody can plan a theft."
Eventually, such habits become second nature, Leblanc says, but even so, she reviews her checklist of precautions monthly to make sure she is not slipping back into complacency.
"I love what I do, but when I hear about other incidents, I'm reminded to be really conscientious about safety," says Leblanc. "I always keep a full tank of gas and make sure my phone is fully charged and close at hand," she says. "I contact a buddy before and after showings. I don't drive with clients in my car -- I ask them to meet me at the property, and I note the make, model and licence plate of their car."
McCartney believes that REALTORS® are popular targets for thieves and other ne'er-do-wells. Some people believe that those who work in real estate are rich, he says, even though statistics demonstrate that this is not true.
"It's important for REALTORS® to look professional, but we shouldn't wear expensive jewellery or put on airs," says McCartney. "Otherwise we may be a target for thieves."
Morrison says young salespeople are the most vulnerable because "some of them have been sheltered and they trust everyone. I advise them to ask a lot more questions before they show up alone at an empty property. They may want to ask a colleague or the seller to be there."
(Sources: Rejeanne Leblanc, Eric McCartney, Joanne Morrison)
For more safety tips for REALTORS, check the December 2014 issue of The REALTOR® Edge. Also see the CREA publication, The Safe Side: REALTORS® Safety Issues, which can be found on the REALTOR® Link website under “Publications.” The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR®) has also produced a safety video, “REALTOR® Safety When Meeting Strangers: 12 Tips", which can be seen on the NAR® website.