By Teresa King Kinney, CEO, Realtor Association of Greater Miami and The Beaches
What are you doing to protect yourself from possible robbers or attackers? If you are not taking safety precautions, you are putting yourself at risk. Safety awareness for real estate professionals should be a top priority while conducting everyday business activities. Although it is human nature to assume it won’t happen to you, assaults on real estate professionals are more common than you may think.
Last month in South Florida, a Cervera Real Estate sales associate was assaulted while showing a property. The associate was assaulted by a couple who had asked for her business card. When she went to retrieve her purse, they punched her in the face and stole her purse. The couple drove a black Honda Accord with dark windows. The man was in his late-30s with a strong Spanish accent. He was well dressed in a white linen shirt and slacks, and wore a lot of big gold jewelry. His shoes were black and well polished. The woman was slightly older with acne on her face. She was also well dressed, had dark blonde hair and pale skin.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, police in St. Petersburg are currently looking for a man who recently attacked and robbed a Realtor while she was in the process of showing him houses. The suspect, who posed as an interested homebuyer, had spent several hours viewing several potential homes. The assailant held a knife on Realtor Julie Roberts and threatened to kill her before striking her on the head with a gun. He also tied her up with plastic cable ties before stealing her purse and ATM cards from her car. Police have released photos of the man believed to be Roberts’s attacker (he was photographed as he used her stolen cards at an ATM machine in Tampa).
What can you do to protect yourself from becoming a victim in similar circumstances? The National Association of Realtors suggests the following 10 safety tips for showing property:
1. Instead of meeting a new client at the property, ask him to stop by your office and complete a Prospect Identification Form (visit www.miamire.com for a sample). Gather information on each client, including the make of his car and license number, a copy of his driver’s license and references.
2. While the client is in the office, introduce him to one or more of your colleagues. A would-be assailant does not like to be noticed and dislikes knowing a person could pick him out of a police lineup.
3. Always let a colleague, friend or family member know where you are going and when you expect to return. Give that person the name and phone number of the client you are meeting.
4. Try to call the office once an hour to let people know where you are.
5. Establish a voice distress code, a secret word or phrase that is not commonly used but can be worked into any conversation for cases when you feel that you are in danger. Use this if the person you are with can overhear the conversation, but you don’t want to alarm him. The distress code could be something as simple as “Hi, this is Jane. Could you email me the red file?” The distress code should be used if you are uneasy, but do not feel you are in danger. If you are in immediate danger, stop the car and leave the area, or jump out of the car at the next stop. Do not hesitate to call 911.
6. Preview the property, and don’t go into a neighborhood that you perceive as unsafe. Be familiar with the area, so you know the location of the nearest police station. Drive there immediately if you feel you are in danger.
7. Carry only non-valuable business items (except for your cell phone), and do not wear expensive jewelry of watches, or appear to be carrying large sums of money. Lock your purse in your car trunk before you arrive.
8. Park at the curb in front of the property rather than in the driveway. You will attract much more attention running and screaming to the curb area. It is much easier to escape in your vehicle if you don’t have to back out of a driveway. Also, while parked in a driveway, another vehicle could purposefully or accidentally trap you.
9. In showing a property, always leave the front door open wide while you and the client are inside. As you enter each room, stand near the door.
10. When you show a home, always let the prospect walk ahead of you. Direct him; don’t lead him. Say, for example, “The kitchen is on your left,” and gesture for him to go ahead of you.
The 12,500-member Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches (RAMB) includes the Residential Association, Realtors Commercial Alliance and the largest local International Real Estate Council in the nation. RAMB has been serving the industry, public and community for 85 years.