Today’s tumultuous housing market can be a dangerous place for the brokers, agents and field inspectors who must walk into foreclosed and REO properties on a daily basis. Occupied or vacant, these properties represent unfamiliar territory often rife with unknown peril. Whether it is a dangerous occupant or happening upon weapons and/or drugs, the foreclosure market has the potential to bring with it innumerable hazards to the health and well-being of industry professionals.
Rafael Dagnesses, a former Los Angeles Police Officer with 14 years of law enforcement experience and a former Marine, offers the following five tips for staying safe.
1. Plan Ahead. Plan for property checks before 2 p.m., after which time gang activity begins to increase. Before approaching a potentially dangerous property, provide an assistant or colleague with information about the location of the property and planned time of entry. Prepare for threatening situations by developing a distress code phrase to use with family and colleagues. Also, consider leaving the phone on while entering the property, keeping the person on the line on standby to call 911 should an encounter occur.
2. Be Aware. Prior to entering a property of concern, walk the perimeter to ensure there has not been a break-in. Another red flag to be aware of is excessive foot traffic or bicycle traffic on a residential street during working hours, which is a good indicator of lookouts for drug and/or gang activity. If you don’t feel comfortable approaching the property, back off and call local law enforcement for an escort.
3. Be Prepared. Agents should be prepared for possible threats to their physical safety. Pepper spray is an easy-to-use defensive tool and is legal in most areas. Another strong defensive tool is a Mag-Light, which both serves as a defensive weapon and lights up dark areas. Agents should also be prepared to deal with potentially emotional people. In these cases the objective is to slowly and carefully get out, often by talking and distracting the subject.
4. Look Official. Approach foreclosure properties with confidence and don’t look down. Also, be aware of the property’s surroundings and do not exhibit signs of nervousness. If confronted, stand tall and confident. Prior to entering the property, knock very hard. Announce entry with a stern voice and delay entry to give a possible trespasser the opportunity to leave the property. Also, wear professional clothing with comfortable shoes that can be used for running, if necessary.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Call the Police. Too many agents will put themselves in a potentially life-threatening situation before “bothering” the police. When entering properties in high-risk areas, do not be afraid to contact the police for an escort. If there is evidence of a break-in, this is another prime example of when one should leave the immediate area and call the police from a safe location. Remember, bad things can happen even in the best of neighborhoods. Good safety procedures should be applied on every property visited.