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Real estate agent safety isn’t a new or uncommon topic in industry conversation, but it’s definitely one that bears repeating. On a regular basis, real estate agents interact with new clients, oftentimes in unfamiliar environments. Therefore, they need to be constantly aware of their surroundings and client intentions.
It all boils down to situational awareness, safety and self-defense – three key concepts needed to protect your personal safety. If you’re a real estate agent, it’s important to know how to prevent yourself from entering unsafe situations, and should the need arise, knowing how to defend yourself.
You don’t need to be a master in martial arts to keep yourself safe. We reached out to former law enforcement officials Wendy Maisano and Stix Johnston to get safety and self-defense tips that you can use today.
Establish a Personal Safety Plan
Before you interact with a potential client or enter a home showing, it’s important to establish a personal safety plan. Your personal safety plan is a customized strategy for how you do the following things:
- Communicate with your office
- Interact with a client
- Approach a neighborhood
- Show a property
- Present yourself
Here’s how to plan for each one.
Communicate with Your Office
If you’re part of an office, relay your personal safety plan to your co-workers or direct leader and communicate how they can play a part in keeping you accountable and safe during a showing or client interaction.
Maisano recommends a code-word system between you and your office that allows you to report situations without a client’s awareness.
“When you’re showing property, you should always have your company know where you are, what time you’re going and what time you’ll return,” she explains. “If your showing is running over, have them call you and give you a code word that only you’d know, and when you answer back, they’ll know your situation and can act accordingly.”
A code-word system allows you to maintain your professionalism in front of a client, while also allowing you a means of escape should an uncomfortable interaction arise.
If you’re an independent real estate agent, and don’t have coworkers or a team leader to communicate with, have a friend call you during a showing to check on you using the same system.
Meet with the Potential Client Before a Showing
If you can avoid it, make sure you’re not meeting your client for the first time at a showing, especially if you’re showing a foreclosed or vacant home, or are showing a house alone. In fact, REALTOR® Magazine lists this as one of the six most dangerous everyday situations real estate agent can put themselves in.
Instead, Maisano recommends that the potential client meet you at your office or at a public space. The best case scenario would have them bringing a preapproval letter to ensure their intention to buy a home. If your client doesn’t have a preapproval letter, have them complete an identification form that includes this information:
- Full name
- Driver’s license
- Vehicle information
By taking down the client’s information or copying their preapproval letter, you’ll have enough background information about the client should a situation arise where you’re attacked and need to provide their information to a law enforcement official.
Check Out the Neighborhood and House
Before your client arrives at a showing, Maisano and Johnston recommend doing a drive-by of the neighborhood and a quick walkthrough of the house. This allows you to familiarize yourself with the layout of both the street and inside of the house, which will come in handy when you’re creating your safety plan.
“When you arrive, survey the neighborhood and the house before you even enter the house,” recommends Johnston. “Take a snapshot of your situation, then build a scenario in your head so you have a plan to get to safety or an idea of what tools you need to protect yourself.”
Johnston suggests slowly going through the interior of the house, unlocking doors and looking for potential exits, in the case you need to make a quick escape. You don’t want to wait until a moment of panic to come up with a plan, because your thought process won’t move as quickly.
Additionally, Maisano suggests parking in the street, as parking in the driveway could potentially allow an attacker to block you in, eliminating a means of escape.
Don’t Let Your Guard Down
Even if you took the proper steps above, it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings during the actual showing.
Don’t let your guard down, even if you feel confident and safe going into an open house. The moment you let your guard down, you’ll be less prepared to act in a dangerous situation.
“Situational awareness is the key to safety,” says Johnston. “If you see something ahead of time, you have the opportunity to control the outcome. Being aware of your surroundings is the number one rule.”
Maisano suggests letting the client lead the way into the showing. Hold the door open and allow them to walk in first. This way, you’re able to keep the client in your sight at all times, eliminating the opportunity for a possible attack from behind.
Another way you can control the outcome of an interaction with a client is by holding yourself confidently, which Johnston and Maisano refer to as “a commanding presence.”
“It’s more about your presence, your stance and how someone perceives you,” explains Maisano. “If you have a strong presence and you’re confident, people won’t perceive you to be an opportunity to become a victim.”
Dress for Safety
No matter your gender, dressing professionally and safely is paramount to protecting yourself during an interaction or a showing.
Maisano suggests leaving valuables like watches or jewelry at home, eliminating an opportunity for you to be attacked and robbed.
Additionally, Maisano advises against wearing scarves and loose-fitting clothing, as the material can be easily grabbed during an attack. On the flip side, also avoid wearing clothing that’s tight and restrictive, in case you need to make a fast escape.
Instead, wear comfortable dress pants that you can move around in easily, with a tucked-in shirt or blouse and a fitted jacket to keep in all in. Opt for comfortable shoes, just in case you need to make a quick escape.
Maisano warns against wearing long hair in a ponytail, as that is also easy to grab during an attack. She also suggests that women leave their purse in the trunk of their car before pulling up to a showing.
How to Defend Yourself
Even if you establish a personal safety plan and maintain awareness of your surroundings, sometimes dangerous situations still present themselves. If you find yourself compromised in a threatening situation, it’s important to know how to defend yourself in an attack.
Johnston asserts that if you find you need to defend yourself, you have to be fully committed to protecting yourself. To ensure that you’ll be ready to respond quickly, practice a few simple yet effective techniques before you need them during an actual attack.
During an attack, Johnston recommends only using gross motor skills as opposed to fine motor skills. This means instead of worrying about punching correctly or using a complex weapon like a Taser or pepper spray, use an open hand to punch your attacker’s more vulnerable areas.
“Anything you do, you’re trying to create distance and an avenue of escape. If you’re going to strike someone, hit them where it counts: the eyes, nose and throat.”
Johnston also emphasizes to protect your own airway during an attack by dropping your chin down to the base of your neck, eliminating any blows to your throat.
As for tools to use during a fight, Maisano recommends using anything you may have on hand to help you in an attack.
“If you have your keys in your hand when you’re showing a house, you can hit your panic alarm if something goes wrong, giving you a couple seconds to get out of a bad situation and get help.”
Both Maisano and Johnston advise against using weapons like a Taser, mace or even a gun to defend yourself, instead suggesting simple items like a metal flashlight, pen or keys to strike your attacker.
“We don’t recommend anything other than a flashlight. Mace, guns, Tasers – those are all fine motor skills when you’re under stress that you have to do and do correctly to make it work,” says Johnston. “And it doesn’t work effectively on all people, all the time.”
What to Do After You’re Attacked
Most importantly, you need to have an action plan for what to do after you’re attacked. Johnston recommends building this plan into your personal safety plan.
Introduce yourself to the next-door neighbors. Let them know you’ll be showing a house later, and that you’ll be walking in and around the home. By doing this, Johnston says that you establish a relationship with the neighbor and open up an avenue for escape, should you need to contact someone for help.
After you’ve defended yourself and gotten far away from a situation, find a safe place and call 911 immediately. You’ll want to make sure you report everything as soon as you can, so that you’re able to give details to the emergency responders.
According to Johnston, they‘ll first ask you where you are. Make sure you write down the address of the home somewhere that’s always accessible. They’ll also ask if anyone is injured, so let them know if you’ll need medical assistance.
“They’re going to ask you a series of questions,” says Maisano. “The description of the suspect, height, weight, facial hair, hair color, length, clothing, identifying marks, tattoos, vehicle description – any kind of identifying traits.”
If you make sure you have a plan of action built into your personal safety plan, you’ll be able to contact help quickly.
“Once you understand that it’s your own personal safety, then you take ownership of it,” says Johnston. “If you accept that you are in charge of yourself, then you can rely on yourself to make good decisions.”
If you feel like you want to take your self-defense knowledge to the next step, both Johnston and Maisano suggest reaching out to your local law enforcement to ask about self-defense classes near you – your local police station might even offer a class.
“Find a class that teaches basic self-defense. If you don’t practice or do it a few times, it won’t come naturally when you need it to,” says Johnston.
“It is important to know how to defend yourself in a dangerous situation arises,” adds Maisano. “Taking a self-defense class can not only help protect you as an agent, but in life as well.”
As a real estate agent, it’s part of the job to meet new people in new places; however, it’s also your job to keep yourself and your team safe. If you’re part of an office, sit down and talk with your team about their personal safety plans and how, as a group, you can keep each other accountable and safe.
If you’re not part of a real estate agent office, make sure you discuss your safety plan with friends and family, so someone is aware of your strategy.
Want more safety advice? Check out tips from the National Association of REALTORS® on how you can keep yourself safe as a real estate agent.
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