By Carrie Resch, Contributing Writer
Forget your commission. Forget the sale.
Real estate agents need to put their security first, no matter what.
That was the bottom line of the March 17 Northeast Florida Association of Realtors Safety Matters course.
“Safety needs to be the No. 1 priority,” said Patricia Sherman, course instructor and 23-year real estate veteran.
There is no sale, there is no listing, there is no amount of commission that is worth your safety, she said.
The course outlined several tips that anyone in any career — not just the real estate industry — can use to keep themselves safe.
“Simply being more aware of your situation will avoid crime,” Sherman said. “Ninety-five percent of your safety boils down to one thing: paying attention.”
10 seconds can make a difference
Take two seconds for each of these events: when you arrive at your destination, after you step out of your car, as you walk toward your destination, when you arrive at the door and as soon as you enter your destination.
When you arrive, park in a well-lit, visible location and do not allow your vehicle to be blocked in. Park in the street if you have to and let the customer pull into the driveway.
Be aware of suspicious vehicles near you. If you have a keyless entry, Sherman suggests to only click the unlock button once. That will open the driver’s side door only.
Once the door is opened, immediately click the device again to lock it and close the door. Enter the vehicle from the passenger side if you are uneasy about a vehicle parked next to yours.
When stepping out of your car, are there any suspicious people around? If you don’t feel comfortable, Sherman suggests driving around the block.
It’s also important to know exactly where you are going. If you don’t, step inside a secure building until you have figured out your next destination.
When walking to your destination, see if people are coming and going or if the area is unusually quiet.
“If there doesn’t seem to be anybody there, you need to make your presence known,” Sherman said.
Observe if there are any large obstacles or hiding places in the parking lot or along the street. Are there any loiters? If you don’t feel safe, get back in your car and drive, Sherman said.
At the door, recognize if you have an uneasy feeling as you’re walking in. Also, make sure no one is following you in.
When entering a destination, take note if anything seems out of place or if anyone is present who shouldn’t be there.
“Stop, look and listen,” Sherman said.
Safety at the office
“Safety starts at the office,” Sherman emphasized.
Offices can implement a policy stating that photo ID is required before an agent will take a client out.
Sherman suggests making a photo copy of the ID and giving it to the office secretary.
Alternatively, you can use your phone to take a photo of the ID and text it to the secretary.
It’s also a good idea for offices to have a security camera at the front desk with a posted sign alerting customers they are being recorded.
Have a code word and make sure the whole office knows what it is.
Every office should have a code word and everyone should know it.
Also, make sure your emergency contact information is up-to-date and easily accessible.
Listings, showings and open houses
Before going out on the listing appointment, verify the person claiming to be the homeowner. Ask a couple of questions, such as what year they bought the house and its square footage, then check the information against the tax records.
If you’re uneasy, take a “trainee” with you. They don’t actually have to be a trainee — they can be a friend or associate pretending to be a trainee.
“If you’re not sure about something, take somebody,” Sherman stressed.
When showing a home, keep your customers together.
Go behind customers and check to make sure all the doors and windows are locked. A thief could unlock something and come back later.
Share your itinerary and even introduce your customer to a couple of agents or employees at the office.
Make sure owners have pets confined in a room or crate and that weapons, cash, jewelry and medicine are secured.
Open houses can be especially risky. For that reason, never attempt an open house alone.
Arrive early and introduce yourself to the neighbors, walk the house and memorize where the exits are, and check and make sure your cellphone signal works in all areas of the house.
And whether doing a listing, showing or open house, keep your cellphone and keys handy. Make sure your phone is fully charged.
If you believe you are being stalked, tell friends, family and colleagues so they are aware of the situation.
Keep detailed logs of all incidents and file a police report, if necessary.
Your cellphone’s location services can be shut off when not needed, but be careful. If something were to happen, it may be harder to find you in case of an emergency if the settings are turned off.
Technology can be a safety pitfall as well.
On social media, use privacy settings and never post personal information, such as where you live, your date of birth or when you are going on vacation.
Make sure all of your computers and smartphones are password protected.
Don’t click on links from an unknown sender.
Use a firewall for your computer. Backup your data regularly and be cautious of public Wi-Fi as it could be unsecured.
Sherman commended the course attendees for signing up to take the class, but noted that a mere 19 out of about 7,500 total NEFAR members participated.
Safety is a subject that should be paramount to all members, she believes.
Chris Baker, a new agent with Watson Realty Corp., took an initial safety course less than a year ago, but wanted to take the class as a refresher and confidence-builder.
“There’s always something new to learn about safety, I think,” Baker said.
Safety is at the forefront of Baker’s mind after the kidnapping and robbery of an employee last summer at Watson Realty’s Jacksonville Beach office.
“It brings it to reality that it can happen anywhere,” Baker said.
Marie Farrell, broker and owner of Farrell International Realty, wanted to take the course as a refresher.
“I want to always be in the know about what I need to do to protect my agents as well as myself,” she said.
Farrell has been in the real estate industry for 31 years.
The past two years, she’s been practicing the “buddy system” and encourages her agents to do the same.
“Times are changing and we need to be a little more alert, I believe,” she said. “We need to pay more attention to what’s going on.”
New agents, Farrell noted, can be particularly trusting, but everyone should keep safety in mind and take precautions.