In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter last year, agents have been beefing up their safety measures when it comes to showing houses to new clients.
Many brokerages have hired safety experts to teach Krav Maga self-defense techniques, and real estate coaches are promoting smartphone apps such as SafeTREC, EmergenSee, and Real Alert—all in an effort to keep agents safe. There is widespread discussion at the broker level about safety, and now those talks are shifting to the consumer.
New guidelines for client interaction
For many years, people have been treating the home-buying process like a recreational activity. They see a “for sale” sign, call the number, and expect an agent to show up and show them the house immediately. This is not just a bad business model, it’s also a safety hazard—but that’s going to change. The real estate industry is responding with new guidelines to shape the way agents interact with new clients in an effort to protect them both.
“We have to reeducate the public about their expectation of us,” said J. Philip Faranda, broker owner of J. Philip Real Estate in Briarcliff Manor, NY. “Even a $1,200 used-car dealer requires a driver’s license to verify that you can legally drive that car. We have to do the same.”
Many real estate companies are setting new expectations for how their agents do business with strangers:
All potential clients are asked to meet the agent in the office for an initial consultation.
All potential clients are asked to present identification upon meeting the agent.
All potential clients are asked to be pre-approved by a lender before seeing properties.
How does this protect consumers?
These new initiatives ensure that everything is aboveboard. It provides a paper trail for the brokerage, while also providing a sense of accountability to the seller. With these initiatives, homeowners no longer have to fear that random strangers are walking through their house. Each prospective buyer is qualified and verified.
“This is a smart business move. We’re not just concerned about safety; we don’t want to waste the agent’s time either,” said Faranda.
He says serious buyers want to be pre-approved and will follow proper guidelines without taking offense. Furthermore, there are millions of vacant homes on the market. Real estate agents and consumers alike should want a paper trail or electronic log of where they are going and whom they are with.
“Who knows what’s lurking behind the closed door of a vacant house,” said Gary Isom, executive director of the Arkansas Real Estate Commission.
Most consumers are honorable, he said. It’s that other percentage that we have to develop guidelines around, he added.
The National Association of REALTORS® spends $35 million annually on public awareness, said NAR President Chris Polychron. Safety is his No. 1 priority.
“Primarily we educate our REALTORS®, and we want to make sure they educate the consumer,” he said. NAR is unveiling new safety initiatives in May.
NAR advice for sellers
Physical harm is a major concern, but theft is also an issue. Touring properties is a trust-based action. Agents can do their best to make sure they know whom they’re dealing with, but they can’t weed out all the bad apples. To help, the NAR has developed the following guidelines for sellers:
Stow away valuables. During showings, sellers cannot always depend on the agent to watch every move a client makes. Be sure to safeguard all jewelry, prescription drugs, and small poachable items.
Remove family photos. Agents have often told sellers to do this as a way to allow potential buyers to envision themselves in the house. It’s now a safety concern. What if a pedophile is the buyer prospect and he’s checking out pictures of your children?
Do not allow unscheduled showings. With mobile listings, people know when your house is on the market. It’s not unusual for prospective buyers to ring your doorbell and ask to see your house. Don’t let them in. All showings should be coordinated with your listing agent.
Before leaving the house for a showing, turn on all the lights. This way, both the agent and the prospective buyer are safe while touring the home. It would also prevent burglars from taking advantage of dark corners.