5 ways to stay safe when meeting potential buyers

For more than 10 years, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has designated September as National Realtor Safety Month. But the need for real estate agents to be aware of safety issues on the job is more critical than ever.

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Being alone in houses, sometimes in remote areas and often with clients that are unknown to them, puts real estate agents at risk regularly.

According to NAR’s 2015 Member Safety Report, 40 percent of respondents feared for their personal safety or the safety of their personal information while working.

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In addition, 4 percent of respondents indicated that they had been a victim of some crime while working as a real estate professional. The most common crime was robbery, which was followed by assault and identity theft.

Despite these numbers, NAR reports that less than half of respondents have taken part in a self-defense class or safety course. What precautions are you and your company taking to stay safe?

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Technology is moving forward in the safety arena in ways that can help many real estate agents be proactive in their approach to safety.

Today, there is a wide variety of products and smartphone apps that can help real estate agents take precautions against possible crimes and get help, should they need it.

Safety inventions can include vehicle alert systems that agents working in remote areas might require, as well as products that keep doors from closing and creating a confined space.

Other products offer to send alerts and GPS locations with the push of a button, such as V.ALRT, an emergency response system. These alert buttons can stand out, but a new product, CUFF, provides a line of “smart” jewelry that can send an emergency alert while appearing innocuous.

Although in NAR’s survey more women (48 percent) reported safety concerns than men (25 percent), male real estate agents are not immune to safety issues.

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According to a 2011 report on crimes against real estate agents, nearly 30 percent of victims were men. Thus, the Cuff product line isn’t limited to bracelets and pendants; simple button modules and keychains are also available.

Real estate agents don’t have to commit to wearing certain jewelry or carrying a particular keychain. There are a wealth of smartphone apps designed to both locate you and allow you to reach out for help.

Although only 13 percent of NAR respondents reported using a safety app, awareness of and use of these apps are growing, both within and outside of the real estate community.

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Recently, the new Companion app has been making news by offering users a way to allow friends or family to walk them home virtually. But there are also apps aimed specifically at real estate professionals.

Agents Armor, for example, allows you to let your designated contacts know when you are on a showing and periodically checks in during the appointment to make sure you’re safe.

If you prefer something less interactive, Real Alert is an app that allows you to dial 911 or hit an alarm from one screen. Or the Safe-Fi app turns your phone’s power button into an emergency call button.

In addition to all the technology available to agents, there are numerous resources that can help agents educate themselves on the safety issues inherent in their job.

There are a variety of articles, videos and webinars; NAR offers an online safety course to teach risk assessment and help you develop safety protocols.

Local real estate boards might also provide safety classes or booklets on crime prevention. Many communities offer self-defense courses, as well.

Of course, being safe should start by practicing a few simple safety precautions:

1. Meet clients in your office.

If you’ve had no interactions with prospective clients before, do not meet them at a property. Instead, bring them into the office, get their name and information (potentially even their license plate) and make sure a co-worker has access to that data.

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2. Don’t identify properties as “vacant” on yard signs.

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3. Don’t lead clients.

When showing a house, make sure to keep your client in front of you, particularly on the stairs.

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4. Always carry your cell phone with you.

Make sure your phone has easy access to emergency numbers or a safety app. And always keep your phone charged.

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5. Don’t work alone at open houses.

Plan to have a co-worker or lender attend with you. You’ll be able to offer better customer service and be safe at the same time.

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With help from today’s technology and a few common-sense precautions, real estate agents can be safe and successful.

For a list of safety products and smartphone apps, visit NAR’s safety resource page at realtor.org/topics/realtor-safety/safety-resources.

Wendy Forsythe serves as executive vice president and head of global operations for Carrington Real Estate Services LLC. Follow her on Twitter.

Email Wendy Forsythe.