Technology may be changing how real estate agents view safety

by Rincey Abraham

Although Realtor Safety Month is coming to a close, it is important for agents to continue to be aware of potential security concerns, especially as technology evolves.

One of the new concerns for modern agents is surveillance from technology that they may not be aware of while touring properties. As doorbells with cameras and surveillance options become more widely accessible, some sellers may be choosing to spy on potential buyers during the showing process.

While it may seem like surveillance in luxury homes should be expected to make sure that high-end objects are not damaged or taken, agents have been discovering cameras in lower-priced homes as well.

According to a recent study by the home technology group CEDIA, more than 30 million properties in the country had at least one smart device in 2017, twice what it was in 2015. Brad Russell, director of consumer technology research firm Parks Associates, found that more than 9 million homes have WiFi-enabled cameras with microphones, while 11 million have limited-function cameras on front doors or property exteriors.

Unfortunately for many, there is no federal law about the use of surveillance cameras in private property, but many states have their own guidelines. According to the National Association of Realtors, “Illinois allows for video recording without accompanying audio as long as the camera is not in an area where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom.”

However, it is possible that homeowners may disregard local laws in regards to surveillance because they may think most potential buyers and agents would not want to deal with the hassle of a lawsuit over a camera.

If an agent is representing a seller who has surveillance, it is best to make sure that they are honest about where the devices are located and then be up front with buyers and buyers’ agents. In some areas, some properties are noted in the MLS as having cameras, while other agents have included sign-in sheets at open houses that disclose surveillance inside the home.

While some people may want to use surveillance as a tool to create negotiation leverage during a deal, it is often better to be as up front as possible for your own reputation.

Agents must be prepared

While surveillance is the latest security-related change to the modern real estate market, agents must constantly be aware of the best practices for keeping themselves safe during work. According to NAR’s 2018 Member Safety Report, agents have met prospective clients that they’ve never met before at their office or a neutral location only 40 percent of the time. This is down from 50 percent of the time in 2017.

Only 19 percent of those surveyed have taken part in a NAR safety course, which is on par with 2017. However, of those who have participated, 73 percent said they felt more prepared for unknown situations after taking the course. This is up slightly from 71 percent last year.

Although agents may not be taking official safety courses, many are taking steps to ensure their protection. More than half have safety protocols in place that they follow when working with clients (62 percent) and 39 percent have taken a self-defense class.

Some safety precautions taken include using smartphone apps like Find My iPhone, GPS Phone Track for Android, HomeSnap Pro, Life 360 and SentriSmart. Other agents notify their spouse, a friend or family member about their locations when showing their home.

The number of agents carrying a self-defense weapon has dropped from 49 percent last year to 43 percent. The most popular choice is pepper spray at 16 percent, down from 19 percent last year, followed by a firearm at 15 percent.

Overall, agents were less likely to say that they experienced a situation that made them fear for their safety (33 percent in 2018 versus 38 percent in 2017), but agents must continually be aware of potential threats or dangerous situations.