Are You at Risk?
I have had two drastically different careers over the past 20-plus years. My first career included 12 years of active law enforcement. I loved being a police officer, and from my experience dealing with so many bad situations and interacting with some very bad people, I truly learned how precious life really is. My second and current career is a real estate broker, which I have enjoyed immensely. My experience in both careers has caused me to develop a passion for REALTOR® safety.
Is today your day? Sadly more and more REALTORS® are falling victim to violent crime while working in the real estate industry. Over the last 10 years, nearly 200 homicides have been committed across our nation against people who were performing real estate-related duties. This statistic is alarming! It’s so alarming that our local, state and national associations have launched aggressive campaigns to bring awareness to the topic of REALTOR® safety. Yet many agents are still not taking proactive steps to reduce their risk and vulnerability. I beg to ask the question: Why aren’t they?
We have all seen the standard list of REALTOR® safety tips that agents should follow when meeting potential clients, showing properties and/or conducting open houses. The list includes such suggestions as:
- Don’t meet a stranger at a property.
- Always let someone know where you will be and who you will be meeting.
- Take someone with you.
- Pay attention as you arrive.
- Make sure your cell phone is always charged.
- Always trust your gut.
Identifying the list of common safety tips is a simple task, and such a list is readily available on most association websites or through a simple Google search on “REALTOR® safety tips.” The difficult part is implementing the safety tips into your everyday practice, and most importantly, never making exceptions! For this reason, I will focus on REALTORS®’ mindsets and attitudes toward safety rather than actual safety tips, which are the usual focus when REALTOR® safety is presented.
Over the last few years, I have presented a number of sessions on REALTOR® safety and have concluded that if you really want to reduce your risk of becoming a victim, there are three critical points you must first internalize and apply consistently:
- First, you must recognize and accept the fact that we live in a society that has a lot of very bad people. People who are willing to victimize others for reasons of greed or personal gratification.
- Second, you must recognize the fact that regardless of your age, gender or looks, you are not exempt from becoming a victim.
- Third, you must recognize the fact that regardless of whether you work in an urban or rural community, you are not exempt from becoming a victim.
I consider the acceptance of the three points above as a critical first step toward forming a solid foundation for your personal safety. Once you assume responsibility for your safety, next you must change the common mindset that most people have: “it won’t happen to me.” During my law enforcement days, I responded to well over 100 fatal crime and accident scenes. In these situations, the victims were going about their normal day and unexpectedly became a statistic. The one thing that each of the victims most likely had in common was that they were not expecting or planning for the tragic events to occur on that day — nor were their family, friends or co-workers.
I can guarantee that none of the victims woke up on the morning of their tragic day and said, “Today will be the last day of my life.” Over the last couple years, I have researched and read numerous articles about REALTORS® across the nation who were victimized. These victims were not expecting or planning for tragic events to occur on the day of their victimization. If they would have expected or anticipated being victimized, they would have changed their daily course of activities. The point is people are usually victimized when they are least expecting it. It is part of a criminal’s modis operandi (MO) — the way and mode in which a criminal operates.
As a REALTOR®, there is so much you can do to reduce your risk of becoming a victim. Most importantly, you have to focus on preventative measures and stop putting yourself in dangerous, risky situations. Furthermore, you have to put the importance of your safety before the importance of a sale.
Most REALTORS® think and believe they act in a safe manner but don’t realize how easy and natural it is to make exceptions or deviate from their safety plan. Here is an example: You just listed a beautiful, private, secluded lake home for $400,000 with a 6 percent commission. The very next day, you get a call from a prospective buyer, and the caller sounds very pleasant and professional. The caller states that he and his wife live three hours away but are currently in the area looking for a second home and came across your listing online. The property is exactly what they have been looking for, but unfortunately they are only in town that day and request to view it before they have to head back.
In the above scenario, are your first thoughts: Is the pleasant, professional-sounding caller a stranger? Have I ever met this person before? Do I know anything about this person? Or is your first thought: $400,000 x 6% = $24,000 commission? It’s situations like this that can cause REALTORS® to easily lose sight of those well-known safety tips and make the critical mistake of putting the importance and excitement of a profitable sale before their safety.
How do you reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a violent crime as a REALTOR®? It’s quite simple. Make your safety a priority. Change the way you think and the way you conduct your business. Take the time and initiative to make safety a priority!
A couple years ago, I was excited because the WRA asked if I would conduct a breakout session on REALTOR® safety at the annual convention. There were over 1,000 people at the conference and only a handful of breakout sessions to choose from during my time slot. A few minutes before my official start time, I counted 12 people in the room, and sadly a few of those were agents from my office or friends who may have felt obligated to attend. To make it even worse, three of the 12 people left the room seconds before I started my presentation. It was on that day I learned something extremely valuable but at the same time concerning. I learned that most REALTORS® don’t recognize REALTOR® safety as a critical issue or concern. I also learned that as an industry, we needed to find a different approach to REALTOR® safety. Given the choice, most REALTORS® are not going to choose a presentation on safety over topics such as “how to get more listings,” “99 tips to getting more buyers” or “how to become a power agent.”
My local association added a section on REALTOR® safety as part of its mandatory new member orientation. This means that new REALTORS® in my area will get at least an awareness course on REALTOR® safety. The feedback from the new REALTORS® has been outstanding.
A few months ago, I had a sense of déjà vu when my point about REALTOR® safety lacking priority was further solidified. My local association had Carl Carter speak at our annual meeting. Carl’s Mother, Beverly Carter, was a successful REALTOR® from Arkansas who was kidnapped and viciously murdered while showing a property. Although I had never met Carl before, I was excited to hear him speak due to my passion for REALTOR® safety — especially since I have referenced his mother’s tragic story every time I have presented on REALTOR® safety.
Carl, now a REALTOR® in Arkansas, travels the nation when time allows to tell his mother’s traumatic story and talks about the importance of REALTOR® safety. I would think that this type of real-life, dramatic presentation would draw a large crowd at a convention — nope. Carl was asked to present his mother’s story at breakout sessions at the 2015 California REALTOR® Expo in San Jose, California, an event that attracts thousands of California REALTORS®. As you can imagine, Carl was nervous and emotional but well prepared to honor his mother by telling her story to help other REALTORS® value the importance of REALTOR® safety. The event organizers, like Carl, were anticipating a large crowd and set him up in a room that held 500 people. On Day One of the expo, he took to the stage and quickly learned how complacent REALTORS® were about safety when only six REALTORS® attended his first session. On Day Two, 10 REALTORS® attended, and on Day Three, 15 REALTORS® attended.
Most people, if asked to rank the top 100 most dangerous professions, would probably place being a REALTOR® toward the bottom of the list or not on the list at all. However, think for a moment about what we do. We plaster our name, phone number and picture on billboards, mailings and all over social media, and then we solicit people to contact us.
- We often work alone.
- We often work with strangers and know very little about them.
- We usually meet clients/customers at vacant properties and/or properties where no other people are present.
It’s not the actual real estate business aspect that’s dangerous but rather the environment in which we conduct the business. This is the reason why a REALTOR® safety plan needs to be a priority.
There are resources available to do some “behind the scenes” research on your clients/customers who you do not know. Some resources are the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (CCAP), Facebook and Google. These resources allow you to find out some information about the people you will be working with to verify information. Ask your clients/customers some simple, normal questions in which you can use their responses to verify their credibility. If you find things that contradict what they told you — red flag! If you run someone through CCAP and find that they have committed violent crimes, drug crimes, thefts/burglaries, sex crimes or have been involved in other criminal activity — red flag! If a client/customer identifies his or her profession such as a doctor or lawyer or other profession, you should be able to verify the credibility of the information through a simple Google search. If you can’t verify it with a search — red flag! However, just because you have a red flag on someone or you get an uneasy feeling, don’t overreact — perhaps there’s a legitimate explanation. What you should do is alert your broker and take additional safety precautions.
- Your new mindset, “it could happen to me.”
- There are a lot of bad people in our society.
- It does not matter whether you work in an urban or rural area.
- No one is exempt from becoming a victim.
- Put the importance of your safety before the importance of a sale.
- Don’t make exceptions.
It only takes a few extra moments to make your safety a top priority. The extra time you take could save your life and allow you to enjoy your hard-earned commissions.
Tom Richie is a real estate broker and current owner of Real Estate Solutions in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. He is also the director of the Police Academy at WITC in Rice Lake. Prior to Tom’s real estate interest, he had a 12-year law enforcement career, which included six years as Barron County Sheriff. Contact Tom at Tom@SoldByRes.com.