By Ginger Downs, RCE, CAE, IOM
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Association of Realtors
In January 2001, when I was serving as executive VP of the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors, one of our agents was brutally murdered while showing a home in an affluent suburb of Seattle. Mike Emert was a happily married man, and he and his wife Mary Beth both enjoyed successful careers in real estate. His murder sent a shockwave through both the Seattle community and the real estate industry. No suspect was ever found.
As Realtor Safety Week approaches (Sept. 9-15), I am reminded of Mike’s senseless and tragic death and remember the important role that personal safety must play in a Realtor’s work. After Mike’s murder, the Real Estate Safety Council, with which the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors became closely involved, spent many hours creating an intensive safety program, “Be on the Safe Side.” Our goal was to provide resources to help brokers, Realtors, and association executives keep themselves safe on the job.
Unfortunately, courses and programs alone are not always enough to protect us.
Mike’s death was not an isolated incident in a far away place. In the year following Mike’s murder, 19 real estate professionals were victims of fatal violent attacks. More recently, in May 2007, a College Park, Maryland-based Realtor, Samuel D’Costa, was found shot to death in the basement of the home he had intended to show. No suspects are in custody, and the police are still investigating to determine a motive. And just this summer, right here in Chicago, at least four women were victims of separate attacks in their affluent Lakeview neighborhood, both in broad daylight and late at night.
My goal is not to scare you with these stories, but to make you realize that your safety is never something to take for granted. These incidents have prompted Realtors across the country to reexamine the ways in which they protect themselves while showing homes.
According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in 2003, 67 percent of those Realtors surveyed had concerns about their on-the-job safety. NAR provides a number of tips and resources on their Web site, including handouts you can distribute amongst your colleagues, safety presentation talking points, and a list of 52 valuable safety tips.
Some of these tips are:
• Meet all new clients at the office and verify their identities
• Whenever possible, avoid being at the office alone
• Take a personal safety course
• Always keep a mobile phone handy; program emergency numbers into speed dial
• Ask the local police department to have a squad car drive by during open-house hours
• Check the cell phone’s strength and signal before an open house
• Upon entering a house for the first time, check all rooms and determine several “escape” routes
• Once inside, turn on the lights and open the curtains
• When prospects begin to arrive, jot down their car descriptions, license numbers and physical descriptions
• Notify someone in the office, or a friend or relative, that you will call every hour, and to notify police if no call is made.
There are three additional pieces of advice
that I would like you to offer:
1. Ensure that all personal information is up-to-date with your supervisor or managing broker. Keep your supervisor aware of any health conditions you may need special assistance for and make certain your next-of-kin’s contact information is current, so that we may get in touch with them quickly in the event of an emergency.
2. Institute office or neighborhood-specific safety policies for your office and agents. While the NAR’s suggestions offer guidelines for protecting yourself, it is important that you and your colleagues customize a plan that works for the neighborhoods and clients that you service. Consider enrolling your entire office in a safety course together. If showing a property alone at night, bring another agent along. When showing any property, make a photocopy of the client’s driver’s license before taking them to the site.
3. Follow common sense guidelines. This may seem like it goes without saying, but following your gut instinct can keep you out of harm’s way. Park your cars in well-lit areas and make sure you aren’t blocked in by other vehicles. Keep 9-1-1 on speed dial.
Mike’s death in 2001 was heartbreaking to our entire community and is something that I still struggle to comprehend six years later. Please take some time this month to consider what actions you and your colleagues can take to make yourselves as safe as possible in all aspects of your jobs.
The Chicago Association of Realtors, “The Voice for Real Estate in Chicago” since 1883, represents the business interests of more than 17,000 real estate professionals in the Chicagoland area. The Chicago Association of Realtors is led by a voluntary board of directors, elected by the membership, who works in partnership with a professional administrative staff.