The business of real estate puts REALTORS® in potentially hazardous situations because a significant part of their work involves meeting with strangers. Every year, real estate agents around the country are threatened, robbed, physically or sexually assaulted while fulfilling the everyday requirements of their jobs. Some even lose their lives.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the real estate, rental and leasing occupation has seen an average of 75 deaths a year from 2003 to 2009. There don’t appear to be solid statistics on the number of agents who were victims of specific crimes like sexual assault, non-fatal shootings, beatings, stabbings, robbery and carjacking. The latest highly publicized tragic incidents happened in February 2011. According to news reports, a real estate agent in Ottumwa, Iowa, was assaulted and tied up when she arrived at a home for a scheduled showing appointment. Her attackers then robbed the home. Two months later, in West Des Moines, a 27-year-old agent was fatally shot while working at a model home.

REALTORS® can make adjustments to the way they do business and avoid violent crimes by practicing these general REALTOR® Safety Tips from the National Association of REALTORS® and other sources, so you can avoid being a victim:

  1. Always meet a client for the first time in the office. Introduce him or her to coworkers and make it clear that they know you are taking him out of the office. Try to take separate cars but if that is not possible you will have slightly more control if you drive. Also, do not meet a client at the property, particularly if he is calling on a yard sign. He will already have had a chance to note if the property is vacant. Don’t identify a property as vacant to a caller, on an ad or sign.
  2. Get a license plate number and leave it at the front desk. Just explain that it is office policy; a customer who means no harm won’t mind. Leave an itinerary for your house tour with someone in your office.
  3. Agents are vulnerable when they are walking back to and from their car before or after an open house. Park where you cannot get blocked in. Take a few minutes to make sure you have a clear line of sight to your vehicle. Can you see the front door? Are there trees or shrubbery within 10 feet that can serve as a hiding place? When getting out of the car, keep looking around. When you get to the front door, turn around and walk back — are there places where someone could surprise you?
  4. The No. 1 place where agents are attacked during an open house is the front door, partly because lockboxes take time to open. If you are alone, turn your back against a wall to avoid being attacked from behind. If you can, work in teams. Sign up your affiliates, such as a home inspector or title officer, to sit the open house with you.
  5. Never go into certain rooms. When showing visitors around, never go into rooms with no escape routes. These include walk-in closets, bathrooms and laundry rooms, among others. Instead, direct visitors to those rooms.
  6. Establish your escape routes. Walk around the house and notice how to get in and out of rooms. If there is a fence in the backyard with a gate, unlock the gate for easy exit. As another escape route, open the garage door but lock the door leading to the inside from the garage. Direct clients to the front door with signs.
  7. Set up for safety. Hang decorative bells behind every outside door that you have unlocked. These will alert you whenever someone enters the house. Carry only what you need — purses go in the trunk of your car before you leave your house, not when you arrive at the open house. Do not bring your laptop to an open house. Not only can it be easily stolen, but signing on to someone’s unsecured wireless network can open you up to identity theft.
  8. Always carry a cell phone where it is easily accessible (not in the purse you left in the car). Make sure emergency numbers are programmed into the speed dial.
  9. When showing property to strangers, follow rather than lead them through the house. Don’t let them get between you and the door. Never, ever turn your back on a prospect. If a man says, “Ladies first,” to a female agent, the agent should say something like, “You are such a gentleman, thank you. But I really want you to see this home, and if I can direct you where to go, I think you’ll gain a further appreciation for this home.”
  10. Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, if anything raises the hair on the back of your neck, escape the situation immediately. Until you really know a customer, remain vigilant regardless of the gender, appearance, dress, or charm.

For more safety tips, visit NAR’s REALTOR® Safety Web site at www.REALTOR.org/Safety.

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