10 Tips for Realty Security by Robert Siciliano © 2003 www.RealtySecurity.com
We have all heard about the real estate agent who has become a crime statistic and the seller who was scammed. Most of you figure it’s not going to happen to you. You’re right, chances are it won’t. However Real Estate is considered by security experts and law enforcement to be a high-risk profession. Agents are mobile, usually work alone, frequently interact with strangers, and visit unoccupied properties. Sellers make themselves vulnerable by alerting the world to come inside and take a peek.
Be suspect of everyone. There isn’t any benefit in being paranoid; however being a little guarded can keep you from getting into a vulnerable situation. Don’t just be weary of a man showing up unaccompanied. Expect them to show up in a nice car, well dressed, maybe with a wife and kids tagging along. They might have a business card saying they are a doctor or a lawyer. Don’t let your guard down. It might not be till the 2nd or 3rd meeting that they decide to make their move. They like to gain your trust, you feel comfortable carrying cash and jewelry, and then they decide it’s safe to move in.
Alert Client Sellers of Risk. The stresses of selling a home can amount to bad judgment at times. Scammers generally prey upon people who are in a state of distress, desperation or simply are eager to sell to move to the next chapter of their lives. Public obituaries, divorces, bankruptcy notices, foreclosures, marriages and birth notices can send signals to scammers. Make it known to clients never to show a home without the prescience of an agent. Instruct them to proceed with caution every time the phone or doorbell rings during this time. ID and pre-qualify at your first meeting. Whether you are at your home or office or meeting at a property get some form of identification. Also it is to your benefit that a potential client buying a home is pre-qualified. Someone who is pre-qualified by a lender and meets the agent at the office is less likely to be a predator. Open a file with all their identification, information such as license plate, and employer contact information. Stay in constant communication. Before showing a property make it known to your co-workers, a spouse or a friend where you are going and when you will be back. Have them call you at a designated time to check on you. Have them set an alarm on their pager/cell-phone as a reminder. A system where you call in has its advantages too. Have a designated in-out file. Use a clip board, cork board, email or voicemail system that everyone has access to. Consider a Nextel system with direct communication. Agent and seller must be fully aware of each others schedule. Scammers can easily show up at a property unbeknownst to the seller and tell the seller the agent is on the way. Promote free flowing communication between agent and client.
Have a plan for safe open houses. Take a friend, and bring a cell phone. Spend a few minutes considering all the vulnerable points within the home and how you would escape if necessary. When someone walks in say “I’d be happy to show you the benefits of this home and in a few minutes my partner Rocco will be along to assist me”. When a couple shows, require them to stay together. Often, they split up, one has your attention, the other raids jewelry boxes and medicine cabinets for narcotics. In high crime areas consider hiring an off duty Police officer to watch the property during a showing. Educate clients on how to secure valuables and where to hide or lock them up. Alert them to scammers stealing prescription medication and other mind altering substances such as alcohol. Both agent and seller need to be aware of the status of alarms, window and door locks before and after a showing.
Use predetermined code words to alert is case of distress. Utilize green, yellow, and red, a traffic light, for levels of distress. For example say to your caller “it’s in the green folder” letting your caller know you are fine. Or “it’s in the yellow folder” alerting your caller that the situation is shaky and you might need assistance. Use an acronym for help such as Have Emily Leave the Papers at 35 Cherry St. Instruct clients of the same. Suggest they have 911 on speed dial on their cell phones.
Conduct safe personal marketing. To a stalker, your photo on a sign or in print is a personal ad. He determines if you have the ‘look’ he is seeking. Keep photos professional opposed to overly “attractive”. Be cognizant of how you and your client are being perceived. If either the agent or client is perceived to be acting in a “suggestive” manor, this can bring upon unwanted attention. While being friendly and cordial is appropriate it can be perceived to be suggestive. If ever this happens, instruct clients to communicate “stoically” so as not to feed into the predator’s misconceptions. For agents, personal home phone numbers and addresses give a predator everything he needs to stalk his prey. Use PO Boxes and voicemail systems. Keep your personal phone number unlisted. Suggest to clients to do the same.
Implement a buddy system. Whenever possible bring along a co-worker. There is strength in numbers. Predators thrive on isolation. By paring up you reduce the chances of being attacked. Dress for safety and success. Don’t wear expensive jewelry. A $3-5 thousand-dollar diamond buys a lot of drugs.
Dress professionally opposed too provocatively. Scarves and loose fitting ‘flowy’ styles of dress can give attackers something to grab onto. Wear shoes you can run and kick in and won’t hinder fighting back. If the home owner is ever present instruct them on the same. House clothes are too casual and can send the wrong message. Either instruct them to dress professional or to vacate the property during the showing.
Don’t take predators for a ride. Driving your client to a showing is a great time to determine your client’s needs and move along the sale. Don’t allow the client to ride in your car if you don’t know who they are. Properly identify them. Make sure this is a client, and not a predator. Make sure you have taken the necessary precautions ahead of time before you are put in an isolated situation. If they make you feel uneasy, let them follow you and bring along a buddy. If they do get in your car and make attempts to control you, put your seatbelt on and disable the vehicle. Alert clients that not all agents are who they say they are. Predators come in all shapes and sizes. We tell our children not to talk to strangers. Heed this advice by getting to know one another and checking references. A legit agent or client will not resist being open and honest.
Pay attention to your intuition. Trust your gut, and don’t discount any troubling feelings you might have about your new client or agent. If anything seems wrong, then it IS wrong. Cancel if necessary. When the hair on the back of your neck stands on end, your sixth sense is signaling you, pay attention. This feeling is a survival mechanism, use it.
Know how to defend yourself. You are worth fighting for. We don’t think about hurting others because we have been conditioned not too. However there might be a time when it is necessary to defend yourself. Go for the eyes, throat, groin and the instep of the foot. Fighting from the ground is an advantage that few people realize they have. Kicking the knees and groin is very effective from the ground. Scream, gouge, bite, and fight with whatever you have. Have a pepper-spray in your hand or a coat pocket. Have a ball point pen ready to jab. In previous studies 80% of women who fought back in an attack situation got away. You have more power than you think.
Robert Siciliano is a Boston based Professional Speaker, Personal Security Consultant and president of 3 security related companies. He is certified under the guidelines of the Massachusetts Board of Nursing to train healthcare workers on personal safety. He has 18 years of security training in martial arts, personal bodyguarding, bar-room bouncing and observing the human condition. He is the author of 2 books including The SafetyMinute: How to be safe on the streets, at home and abroad so you can save your life! His seminar topics include; Realty Security, Safe Travel Security, ID Theft Security, Workplace Violence, Nurse Security, Self Defense, Children Security and Public School Security. Robert has appeared in Mademoiselle, Good Housekeeping, Consumer Digest, the NY Post, and Boston Herald, on national TV on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the Montel Williams, Sally Jessie Raphael, Howard Stern, David Brenner, and the Maury Povich talk shows. Reach him at www.RealtySecurity.com e-mail Robert@RealtySecurity.com or call 1 800 2 GET SAFE. SafetyMinute Seminars, P.O. Box 15145, Boston, MA 02215 www.RealtySecurity.com6