Cmd. Liberman demonstrates the effectiveness of a flashlight as a weapon.
An agent was holding an open house for a property in Encino a week ago, when she was attacked by a male visitor.
The agent had remembered seeing the man at a previous open house, and recalls him asking her to check something on the plumbing for the washer and dryer, and she said he had suddenly reached down and physically lifted her up.
At last Sunday’s open house, the man followed her outside, and the agent can be heard on the surveillance video telling him: “You saw the house. You’re done. That’s it.”
He glances up at the security camera, shakes the agent’s hand, but then suddenly pushes her backwards off the front porch and into nearby bushes and assaults her.
“I’m not really sure what I did,” the woman tells NBC Los Angeles. “I just remember yelling loudly for help.”
Helen Moreno meets FBI speakers at CVAR’s REALTOR® Safety Day.
Tips From Safety Day
The incident came less than two weeks after more than a dozen real estate associations participated in REALTOR® Safety Day, live streamed from CVAR to 12 associations around the state. The police commander and two FBI agents said that real estate professionals are among the most vulnerable when it comes to both physical assaults and cyber threats on the job.
Incidents such as the one in Encino drive home the dangers of REALTORS® working alone, venturing into unfamiliar locations, and meeting strangers as part of the day-to-day job.
Safety Practices of Veteran Agents
“If you value your own safety, you wouldn’t go out without mace or a taser in your pocket,” says Bruce Engles, veteran REALTOR® at Realty All Stars in Upland and a CVAR board member.
Janine Shedlock, broker-owner of Shedlock Properties in Newport Beach and CVAR’s president-elect for 2020, says: “If I’m going to meet a new buyer, I’ll send a text to [my partner], saying I’m going to show this property right now,” says . Or, she adds, “you take a picture of a driver’s license and leave it in the drawer at the office.”
The “client” then knows their identity has been documented, “if anything happens,” says Shedlock, “and that information is locked in a desk at the office.”
When a seller calls to possibly list a property, “I pull title immediately,” Shedlock adds, so if the caller’s name doesn’t match the owner of record, “that’s a red flag.”
In addition to hosting REALTOR® Safety Day, CVAR sends out frequent reminders about safety practices to members. Safety products such as mace and other items are sold in all three CVAR REALTOR® stores.
Why Take a Picture?
At the Safety Day event, Cmd. Liberman recommended that agents trust their instincts, something the Encino victim did when she reportedly left the open house when she feared the perpetrator was “trying to lure her to a back room.”
When meeting new clients, Cmd. Liberman recommends having a potential client send a picture of their license and/or license plate ahead of time. “You want to know as much as you can about them, before you ever meet them,” he says.
He strongly suggests that agents work in pairs, and the first thing to do when walking into a property is to locate every possible exit.
Engles says that when he holds an open house, he tells everyone who enters: “My broker requires that I take a picture of your license,” or he has them sign in with their license number before showing a house. “If they won’t sign the register, I don’t show them the house.”
“I always check all the windows and doors after someone views a property,” says Shedlock. “I want to make sure they didn’t unlock a door or window, so they can get back in.”
Adds Engles: “Sometimes you have to make the decision to turn down business if someone doesn’t want to give you their information—to protect yourself.”
Cyber Crimes Rampant in Real Estate
The FBI’s Special Agent Bill Cone and Intelligence Analyst Lauren Gomez (they asked that their faces not be photographed) strongly encouraged REALTORS® to use 2-Step Authentication with all social media and internet business to avoid wire fraud, one of the fastest growing crimes in the world.
Real estate transactions are especially vulnerable, because e-mail addresses are easily spoofed (copied), and consumers can be tricked into following wiring instructions that they think came from someone involved and who they already trust.
CVAR President-elect Helen Moreno suggests that all REALTORS® arrange with clients to call (not text) the agent or escrow company on a previously verified number before wiring any money, to confirm that the wiring instructions are from a trusted source, not a cyber criminal.