The names Samantha Keithley, Orlando Martinez and Steven Wilson probably don’t mean anything to you. But they are the names of three real estate agents killed in the line of duty in just the last six months of 2018, Keithley in Land O’Lakes, Florida, Martinez in Philadelphia and Wilson in Hanover, Maryland. A fourth agent, David Stokoe of Salt Lake City, was killed in January by his tenant while serving an eviction notice.
The possibility of being shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death is hardly the only issue agents face when they show houses to total strangers at all hours of the day and night.
According to the National Association of Realtors’ Member Safety Report, a third of all agents experienced some sort of situation that made them fear for their personal safety in 2017. It happened everywhere, not just in the big cities. And while women felt threatened the most, so did men.
That’s why NAR and many member firms have made safety a top concern. Every September is Realtor Safety Month. But there is no Seller Safety Month, and agents rarely pass along safety tips to their clients. So sellers go forth, often totally oblivious to the dangers that may lurk.
Here are some precautions every seller should take to protect themselves and their property:
-- First and foremost, trust your instincts. Your intuition is your most powerful crime-fighting weapon. If something or someone makes you uncomfortable, be extra alert and extremely careful.
-- If someone shows up to see your house unannounced, have them call your agent to schedule an appointment. That’s why you have one. No exceptions!
-- If you fail to heed that warning, at the very least you should never, ever let a stranger into your home when you are alone. There is safety in numbers. If the visitor is insistent, ask a neighbor to come over while you show the visitor around. If no one is available to keep you company, tell the visitor to come back later, or call your agent. It’s better to lose a sale than your life.
-- Identify unknown agents. It’s too easy for someone to print up fake business cards, so call the agent’s office to make sure the agent is who he says he is. Never let another agent directly into your house. Instead, make them open the lockbox your agent placed on your door to gain access. Non-agents won’t be able to.
-- Don’t make an appointment with potential buyers unless they give you their names and phone numbers and you have called them back to verify the information.
-- Beware of callers who knock on your door at strange hours, either late at night or early in the morning. Again, no matter who they say they are, ask them to make an appointment at a more reasonable time.
-- In advance of an open house, remove your valuables, including jewelry, artwork and electronic equipment. Also, guns and other weapons should be locked up and separated from the keys and ammunition. And never leave money, mail, bank statements, credit cards or your keys lying around. Keep them on your person, not in a drawer. Lock up your prescription drugs, too.
-- Pay attention to the way prospects view your house. Professional burglars often linger in rooms, looking for items they can dispose of quickly. They also search for ways to get in and get out, scouting possible escape routes and checking for security devices. Couples up to no good often split up so one can case the joint while the other keeps you occupied.
-- Be mindful of someone who is asking unusual questions that have nothing to do with the house.
These queries could be an attempt to determine how long you’ll be alone, or when the house will be empty. Never let potential buyers know your schedule.
-- If a prospect asks you to show him around, let your visitor enter the room first. Don’t turn your back on them or lead them around. In other words, direct them as opposed to letting them follow you.
-- Don’t allow yourself to be trapped in a corner or behind a desk or other piece of furniture. And never go into a walk-in closet, laundry room, basement or storage area with someone you don’t know. Those spots leave little room for escape.
Overly cautious? Probably so. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.