Is your real estate agent packing? Not filling boxes to help you move, but “packing heat” -- as in carrying a gun?
Many agents are doing just that these days to protect themselves when showing houses to complete strangers, or listing houses for sellers they aren’t familiar with, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Of the 3,000 members who responded to NAR’s latest safety poll, 14% said they carry a firearm on their person. Male agents were more likely than their female counterparts to carry a gun; women overwhelmingly preferred to carry pepper spray.
One female agent in Northern California told me that while she and members of her team haven’t carried firearms yet, guns “could be in the future for us.” Similarly, when a male agent in Maryland was asked if he carried, he responded, “Not yet.”
Another man, one who’d been a police officer for 16 years before becoming a full-time agent in Massachusetts, was explicit when asked if he carried a gun: “I own firearms and practice with all the revolvers, compact pistols and semi-compact pistols I own,” he said. “I have a concealed firearms permit. I prefer my S&W .380 ‘Bodyguard’ with a red laser built-in sight. ... It is a very concealable weapon I can carry in any season.”
He said his broker’s policy prohibits guns in the office. But does he carry when actually showing houses? “Why would I not?” he said.
Overall, the NAR survey found that half of all agents carry some kind of self-defense weapon. But only 38% said they have taken a self-defense class.
Just 4% of the respondents had actually been the victim of a crime, but nearly half were aware of crimes committed against their fellow professionals. And that’s what has another Maryland agent concerned.
“Each report of a Realtor getting attacked makes me a little nervous, as this is one of the most dangerous professions there is,” she told me. Still, this agent, who has a concealed weapon permit, doesn’t want anyone to know if she’s carrying or not because “it could put my life in danger.”
Another female agent has the same concern, saying she had considered carrying a gun but was “afraid it would be turned against me.”
Both of these women say they are very cautious about listing and showing houses.
“I do so much background checking on everyone I’m meeting, and make sure that people know who I’m with and where I’m going,” said one. “If I’m ever not 100% comfortable, I make sure to take someone with me.”
“I try to use my intuition and my New York street smarts when showing homes,” said the other agent, adding that she has had “a couple of close calls.” One instance caused the hair on the back of her neck to stand up.
As she tells the story, a man called her out of the blue asking if she remembered him. She didn’t, but he said he wanted to sell his two-acre property. Even though she had no clue who he was, “he talked to me like I had known him for years,” she said. Against the wishes of her now-husband, she went to see the property.
Fortunately, she didn’t go to the site alone; she took along a new agent in her office. When they arrived, the “seller” took them deep into the property, where they saw a house in the early stages of construction. The only thing that was close to being finished was a fully furnished bedroom.
The supposed seller kept trying to separate her from her male colleague, but she wouldn’t have it. Then he asked her to come back later, alone. She didn’t. And after the two agents left, she never spoke to him again.
Now she says of the incident: “It’s dangerous. Even male agents are being attacked. ... We put ourselves in scary positions all the time.”
Homeowners should also be cautious when showing their homes. Don’t let in anyone you don’t know, especially if you’re alone or if your children are home. If someone shows up to your door, have that person call your agent and set up an appointment.
If your unknown visitor is with someone who says he or she is an agent, ask for their card and call the office to verify. But don’t call the number on the card; rather, look up the office number online, just to be safe. If they are who they say they are, they won’t take offense.
Sellers also need to safeguard their properties when they are being shown -- especially during open houses, when visitors are sometimes left to wander on their own. Here are some precautions suggested by trade group Florida Realtors:
-- Hide any bills or documents that may contain personal information, such as account numbers or Social Security numbers. Hide extra keys (for the house and vehicles), garage door openers, smartphones, tablets and laptops, and remove your checkbooks and deposit slips. But don’t stash anything in a top drawer: That’s the first place thieves look.
-- Lock up or remove your jewelry and prescription drugs, and shut down or lock desktop computers.
-- Take videos or photos to record what is in each room before the open house. That way, you have proof if something is missing.
-- After the open house is done for the day, make sure that all windows and doors are locked. Unlocking a secondary bedroom or basement window is a favorite way for thieves to gain access after dark. If you’re away, ask a neighbor or your agent to perform this important task.