October 2014 | By Erica Christoffer
If her fellow REALTORS® have anything to say about it, Beverly Carter‘s death will not be in vain.
Carter was a real estate salesperson with Crye-Leike in North Little Rock, Ark., who went missing Sept. 25 after meeting a supposed prospective buyer at a vacant home in Scott, Ark. Five days later, her body was found in a shallow grave about 20 miles away. The alleged killer who posed as the buyer — 33-year-old Arron Lewis — has been charged with capital murder.
“There is not one of us REALTORS® who isn’t touched by this, whether we knew her or not,” says Miki Bass, chief executive officer of the Arkansas REALTORS® Association. “Today, we’re focusing on how we’re going to change things.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 25 homicides committed against real estate professionals in 2013, up from 16 in 2012 and 19 in 2011. Broker-owners and managers can take an active role in bringing this number down, Bass says, by reinforcing security measures with their agents on a regular basis and creating a culture of safe routines at their offices.
“It’s important that every office and every broker come up with a solid [safety] policy and they stick to it. They need to let every agent know that they have to abide by it,” says Bass. She added that Arkansas REALTORS® and their volunteer safety task force aim to create a statewide safety plan, which she hopes to take to the national level.
Use these seven tips to make safety a priority at your office:
1. Enact the CITO (Come Into The Office) rule. Safe culture starts at the top, says Tracey Hawkins, a former real estate pro turned safety trainer who owns Safety and Security Source. Brokers should require salespeople to screen new clients at their office before meeting them anywhere else. Brokers can also download NAR’s agent information, agent itinerary, and prospect ID forms and adapt them for use in their offices.
“For whatever reason, agents have a hard time asking their clients to show ID because they don’t want to offend people,” says Hawkins. A companywide policy can alleviate some of that pressure. “[People] have to show their ID when they use their credit card, so there should be no hesitation when they’re about to buy a house.”
Owners and managers should also collect agents’ emergency contact information, as well as their vehicle make, model, and license plate, and update the records every six months, Hawkins suggests.
2. Encourage agents to trust their instincts. Deborah Leable, broker-owner of Cornerstone Realty Group in Winthrop Harbor, Ill., says she was once called to show a vacant property to a prospective client when, in fact, it was two men casing the house. “I just knew when I got there that something going on,” she says. The next day the home was broken into and all the copper piping was stolen. “Trust your gut and leave. Forget the sale; safety is more important,” Leable advises her agents.
3. Set up a “buddy system.” Leable is asking her 12 salespeople to travel in pairs to a showing or open house. If that’s impossible, she has requested that they text a photo of their client’s license plate to the agent on floor duty. They’ve also set up code words and phrases to speak or text when checking in over the phone.
4. Offer safety education. Whether in-house, online, or through your local or state REALTOR® association, real estate safety should be a mandatory training, Hawkins says. Hawkins offers continuing education courses; shorter, non-credit training sessions; and webinars. Also, NAR offers a REALTOR® Safety Month presentation that brokers can adapt for their office training program.
5. Make sure practitioners are safe online too. Online leads are often a significant source of business for salespeople. But make sure they’re investigating their prospective clients — just as the clients are investigating them. Encourage agents to search on Google, at a minimum, or subscribe to a background check service at your brokerage. PeopleFinders.com, for example, offers a criminal check, sex offender records, bankruptcies, court records, judgments, and more for $29.95 per month.
6. Recommend safety apps and products. There are a lot of apps and security products out there, and your job as a broker is to make sure your agents know about reputable companies. You may also want to consider enterprise systems that provide safety tools to your whole office at a discount.
MyForce: Hawkins describes this smartphone safety app as having someone with you at all times. The user can press the emergency button, and a trained representative will listen in. They will call back to confirm if help is needed and, if there is no response, they will contact law enforcement and give the user’s exact GPS location. Readers will get a free 30-day trial and pay $9.99 per month thereafter (regularly $14.99 per month) with Hawkins’ discount.
GPS Tracker: Leable has outfitted her agents with this app, which turns asmartphone into a tracking and locating beacon so family, friends, and coworkers can see your whereabouts in real time using Google Maps. Leable’s team often works in remote areas, and they’ve found that the app is able to track their location accurately. It’s free for both iPhone and Android devices.
The Dazzle Defender: This discrete ½-ounce can of pepper spray can be worn attached to a bracelet. Founder and developer Brooke Scott, who previously worked in the mortgage industry and who was a victim of assault herself, says that a person’s natural instinct when attacked is to drop what’s in their hands to fend off the attacker. But with a pepper spray can attached to the wrist, victims receivethose precious extra seconds to get out of a situation. The aerosol canister holds eight bursts of spray. It’s important that agents test the spray in an open area, without wind, so that they understand how it works, and become familiar with the spray pattern. Also, be aware that pepper spray expires. An aerosol can generally has a shelf life of two to three years.
7. Insist on professionalism from clients and agents alike. Scott says it’s also important to think about the words used by prospective clients. “If someone compliments your photo, for instance, something is wrong because this is a business relationship,” Scott says. Hawkins urges real estate pros to invest in a professional head shot for their website. Never allow the use of suggestive photos, full body shots, or selfies, as they are often too casual and can send the wrong message.
Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine Online, October 2014, with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright October 2014. All rights reserved.