By Shannon O’Brien
Open houses have been in the news lately, but those news stories don’t necessarily have to do with selling real estate.
There has been an alarming increase in the number of assaults and attacks that have happened to Realtors. During a walk-through the night before an open house in Prince George’s County, Md., an agent was attacked, but luckily, fought off her attacker. While holding her post in a model home in Atlanta, an agent was bound with duct tape and robbed. In the same Atlanta neighborhood, Realtor Magazine also reported that things were missing from a series of open houses; agents said a woman and two men would visit the open houses and split up once they got inside. In Nebraska, two teens attacked an agent holding an open house; they robbed and punched the 58-year-old. And one of the most devastating examples happened in Des Moines, Iowa, where a 27-year-old Realtor was alone in a model home when she was murdered, shot in the chest and head.
Knowing how to protect yourself, especially at an open house, should be of primary concern. Remember, no real estate transaction is worth putting your safety or your life in jeopardy, so keep these tips in mind:
- Arrive at the house before the sellers leave. This serves two purposes: as you walk the sellers through the house to ensure that their valuables and prescription medications are locked up or removed, you can inspect the home for areas where you may be vulnerable.
- Never sit an open house alone. Invite one of your frequently used vendors or affiliates, such as a home inspector or loan officer, to sit at the open house with you. According to a study published on Inman News, prison inmates who have attacked agents say they specifically targeted agents that work alone.
- Park your car in an area that is visible from the house. Ensure that no other cars can pen yours in so that you are assured of a quick escape. Lock your purse in the trunk of your car.
- Hang strings of bells on each door with exterior access so that no one, not even innocent homebuyers, can sneak up on you.
- Carry mace with you while showing buyers a home, or strategically hide mace in every room in an accessible place, like on a shelf, where you can grab and use it if necessary.
- Avoid walking in front of the people when showing the home. Instead, follow from behind.
- Allow the prospect to check out each room’s features while remaining in the doorway. This way, you can never be backed in or forced into a corner.
- Download Realtor-specific smartphone apps that are designed to protect you and alert others if you are not safe and need help. Here are a few good ones:
- SafeTREC is free, but offers an app with more features for $9.95. The basic version of this app is helpful – you can press a panic button on your phone that instantly alerts others that you need help. An email and text messages will then be sent to your emergency contacts, along with your precise location using your phone’s GPS technology. The full-feature app also sends the message to a 24/7 live help center, which will contact 911 for you if necessary, and stores your medical information, such as allergies, blood type and your physical description and photo.
- Real Alert allows you to quickly alert your emergency contacts or police when you feel threatened, discreetly record details about suspicious people you encounter and utilize a one-button push to speed dial your emergency contacts when you need help. This app is $1.99.
- Moby asks agents to set up two pre-determined times when it will ask you if you are okay. If you fail to respond, Moby will alert the contacts you select as emergency contacts and provide them your GPS location, which it gathers automatically from your smartphone. This app is free, and premium plans are available for $9.95 per month.
Finally, always have your cell phone in your hand. Program 911 on speed dial and carry your phone in your hand if you don’t feel safe. Always trust your instincts – they are usually right.