Agent Safety: Selling Real Estate is Risky Business
On a lovely spring morning, 27-year old Iowa Realty agent Ashley Okland arrived at work – a new home development in Des Moines. Later that day a neighbor in the development heard a commotion, went to investigate and found Ms. Okland lying on the floor with fatal gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
The police received hundreds of leads and even suspected a fellow agent of committing the murder, but today, Ashley Okland’s murder is classified as a cold case.
Okland is one of more than 100 real estate agents murdered in the past five years.
As recently as yesterday, the news included horrifying headlines about other real estate agents attacked while on the job. Agents are targeted because they often work solo, it’s easy to lure them to areas where they will be alone and they have a reputation for wearing and carrying their valuables.
When the headlines cool off it’s easy to become complacent, but it’s also dangerous. Let’s take a look at some ways to protect yourself in some of the most vulnerable situations you find yourself in during the course of your work.
Who they Target
Although all real estate agents are at risk, crimes against them display some common themes:
In nearly every attack, the agent could have done something to prevent it, according to the Washington Real Estate Safety Council.
Most attacks happen on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in areas removed from urban centers.
More than 70 percent of the victims are female and over the age of 60.
Robbery is the most common intent but the robbery frequently results in murder.
Guns are the attacker’s preferred weapon in half of the incidents with the use of physical force without a weapon coming in second.
Most agents that were attacked were lured to the home by someone requesting a tour.
Most of the sexual assaults occurred in Texas and Florida.
How to Protect Yourself
One of the biggest dangers to an agent’s safety lies in their efforts to become “social” online. Safety experts recommend maintaining a professional image online and caution that giving too much personal information makes agents a target for criminals.
Many agent bloggers think nothing of posting stories about their children, their neighborhoods and their schedules in their attempts to become more “real” to their prospects. This is a dangerous practice, warn the experts and they suggest saving the personal stuff for a newsletter sent to your verified contacts.
Real estate boards across the country and the National Association of Realtors offer suggestions on how to protect yourself while on the job. Some of the most common include:
Take a self-defense training course.
If you choose to carry a weapon, take a firearm safety class.
Never advertise that a listing is vacant.
Keep your cell phone handy and have 911 programmed into speed dial.
Never meet a stranger outside of your office.
Once at your office, the Washington Real Estate Safety Council suggests getting a copy of the person’s driver’s license.
Jot down the make, color and license number of the potential client’s auto.
Take separate cars and park in an area that won’t allow the potential client to use his car to pen yours in.
Park as close to the property as possible to allow for a quick escape.
Don’t lock the doors behind you.
Never lead – allow the potential clients to walk ahead of you. Allow him to enter the room first while you remain in the doorway.
Pay attention to those gut feelings – they’re warnings for you to be cautious. Don’t ignore them.
Of the above tips, the last one is the most important, according to safety instructor Andrew Wooten, in an interview at Inman.com. After interviewing rape survivors, Wooten cautions:
"Ninety-nine percent of all my survivors all say the same thing: ‘Andrew, I knew something wasn’t right. When I was doing the open house (I heard) that little voice. I didn’t feel good. But I ignored it,’ "
Your safety starts with you so pay attention to your instincts.
For additional tips, watch the Washington Real Estate Safety Council’s Safety Video 2010 on YouTube.