Safe haven or easy target? Real estate's a risky business
You may not have considered it, but real-estate professionals — as well as the buyers and sellers they serve — are a high-risk lot. Agents and properties for sale are often targeted for a number of crimes of opportunity ranging from stalking to robbery. Other hazards such as fatal automobile crashes and identity theft are all too common.
One of the most widely reported violent attacks in recent years involved an Arkansas agent who was kidnapped and murdered in 2014, sending chills throughout the industry. Sadly, it wasn't a unique occurrence. Believe it or not, a few dozen housing providers are murdered on-the-job each year, in addition to a multitude of other attacks or near misses.
Inman News, a real estate industry-specific news outlet, reported earlier this year that Bureau of Labor Statistics show an average of 51 workplace deaths involving agents, landlords, property managers and appraisers annually between 2003 and 2012 (the last year for which data is available). Overall, homicides are down a bit. But other causes — including traffic collisions — are on the rise.
Unfortunately, the risks are not unique to housing providers. Customers and clients can also experience specific, increased safety and security risks during the buying and selling processes. Savvy agents not only know the latest market stats and have a toolbox full of marketing and negotiation tools at the ready, they can also offer sellers recommendations to protect belongings while the property is on the market and point out which items should be removed prior to showings.
Such items should not only be removed for showings but prior to taking listing photographs. With electronic and online advertising the norm in today's market, crooks can case properties from the comfort of their computer if sellers and their agents aren't mindful of such threats.
Sellers can also take steps to simultaneously burglar-proof their property and, at the same time, create a safer environment for agents who may be showing it to unfamiliar prospects.
Buyers, too, should be prepared for the risks and hazards that may be encountered during the buying process. Vacant properties where squatters, stray animals or wildlife may have taken up temporary residence can be especially surprising and disconcerting. Trip-and-fall dangers and environmental concerns such as meth or mold contamination in distressed-sale situations and/or repossessed bank-owned properties that haven't been well managed and maintained are also of concern.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has actively encouraged systematic safety protocols for its professionals and their clients for many years. NAR, the largest U.S. trade association with residential and commercial members nationwide, released its latest safety report last fall at nar.realtor/reports/2016-member-safety-report.
"Like most jobs that require interacting with the public, selling real estate involves some level of risk," according to NAR President Tom Salomone. What's less common is meeting so many strangers outside of an office or retail setting, often alone, and frequently after regular business hours in isolated locations.
As one Colorado broker quoted in the report said, "CPAs don't go into empty houses to do their clients' taxes. Realtors are obviously at a much higher risk of being targeted by someone with bad intentions." Another Realtor shared in the report that the agent killed in 2014 in Arkansas "did not do anything I had not done lots of times."
NAR surveyed over 3,000 members to determine how safe they feel on the job. Responses highlight some the most fearful situations as:
internet leads and cold calling,
showing vacant and model units,
working with properties that were unlocked or unsecured and showing properties in remote areas.
The NAR report tells of a Minneapolis agent and her husband and a system they put in place to help keep her safe. They put their plan to use when a gentleman appeared at one open house when no one was around and disappeared every time someone else showed up. "I called my husband with our 'code' of, 'I'm in the perfect house for you and doing an open from 1 'til 3. You should run by and see if it is a fit for you.' My husband showed up in about nine minutes and I greeted him with, 'Hi honey, what are you doing here?' He said he was in the neighborhood and wanted to see the house. The strange man left and didn't return."
Although NAR has offered industry-specific tools and resources for members for years, their own research shows there is much work yet to be done to improve security, especially among female agents who often rely on family and friends to support them just like the Minneapolis agent did.
There are a number of recommendations but "safety in numbers" is a consistent refrain for brokers because, unfortunately, precautions and best practices can let you down when you find yourself overpowered. While NAR's survey confirmed significantly more women are concerned for personal safety than their male counterparts, many male agents are fooling themselves. This is not an occupational hazard just for women. The risk of being taken by surprise and overpowered is just as real for a female agent faced with a male attacker (who's statistically likely to be taller, heavier, stronger and wearing more sensible shoes than her) as it is for a male agent who's confronted with the barrel of a gun or is whacked over the head from behind with a blunt object before his wallet and watch are stolen along with any contents of the property that are easy to snatch to before dashing out the door.
NAR offers members an array of safety resources including tips, articles, videos and webinars. NAR's Realtor Safety Course is an essential element on how to limit risk.
On July 20 former metro-area Realtor Jo Becker will offer a safety course in conjunction with the Oregon Association of Realtors (OAR).
In addition to personal life safety, concerns and precautions related to identify theft, data security, office/open house/showing safety protocols, safety-minded marketing strategies and social media best practices will be covered. July's local class is being hosted by The East Metro Association of Realtors at 9 a.m. in Gresham. OAR members may register through the statewide association.
NAR is calling for an industry-wide cultural shift: one in which on-the-job safety policies are practiced until they become second nature. They're inviting a paradigm shift in which risks and proactive measures are discussed openly so that buyers and sellers know how professionals are protecting themselves as well as their clients' properties, identities and personal safety. Ultimately, such a widespread cultural shift would also put would-be thugs on the alert that the real-estate industry is open for business but not an easy target.
If you're a buyer or seller, ask your agent what safety strategies they've adopted and what they're doing to protect you. If you work in the housing industry, register for the July 20 class at oregonportal.ramcoams.net/Education/Registration/Details.aspx?cid=b2870522-54c9-e611-9a73-00155d240500.
Examples items best locked away or packed up in advance of the move:
electronics, gaming systems and other devices,
keys, credit cards, and mail that contains financial statements or other personal information, as well as
weapons, artwork, fine jewelry, crystal, and other valuables.
Safety-minded agents can also suggest measures sellers should take when they return home after appointments such as:
walking the perimeter of the property for signs of unlocked or propped open gates, doors or windows,
assuring there's no one hidden in closets or the basement / attic and
checking for any missing items and reporting them immediately.
Jo Becker is an unincorporated Oregon City-based speaker and writer who aims to take an entertaining, personable approach to educating audiences and readers.