Canada's Condominium Magazine

Realtor’s disappearance a reminder of job’s dangers

A real estate agent who went missing three days ago after showing a home to a man she didn’t know seems to have violated three of the most basic rules of staying safe. The female agent, working in Little Rock, Arkansas, went alone to show a foreclosed home to an unknown male “client” and never returned. The agent’s husband found her car at the house, but no sign of her. A suspect is now in custody of police. The suspect has a long string of criminal offences behind him, though none as serious as what he is now suspected of.

The incident shows once again how dangerous this job can be. According to crime-safety-security.com, real estate agents are “sitting ducks.” One in four real estate agents will be involved in a dangerous situation, potential victims of “any monster” who poses as a buyer, isolates the agent, and has her at his mercy.

The fact that the home in this latest case was in foreclosure is significant. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) in the United States lists the six most dangerous everyday situations that realtors face: entering a foreclosed home is number one on the list.

What is the danger of foreclosure? Simply that the home has a good chance of being empty of legitimate owner-occupants and occupied instead by transients or squatters or disgruntled former owners or even wildlife. Any of those could present a danger. Did the missing agent know that the home was foreclosed? That isn’t known, though it is likely. However, going there, late in the day, alone, without apparently knowing the man she was meeting, goes against the NAR’s second and third commandments.

The root of the issue is that you have real estate agents with no formal security training who are then meeting with complete strangers at odd times of the day and in vacant homes. Real estate professionals put themselves at risk at so many points. The industry opens itself up to predators.

Robert Siciliano, security professional and author

When meeting a client for the first time, the NAR advises that realtors arrange for the meeting to take place at the office, in the presence of co-workers. The new client should be required to fill out an identification form, and meet at least one other person at the office.

One agent makes the very sensible recommendation that realtors should immediately snap pictures of every new client, his driver’s licence, car and licence plate, and send them to a remote server. Taking the photos will act as a deterrent since it removes the potential criminal’s anonymity.

Third on the list of the NAR top six everyday dangers is showing a property alone. Better to bring a co-worker, a spouse “or even your German shepherd,” than to go into a house alone with a stranger.

There are literally dozens of tips out there intended to help keep realtors safe on the job when dealing with “clients” they don’t know well: don’t drive to a viewing in the same car; let the client enter the property first; know all of the property’s entrances; have an escape route in mind; don’t wear expensive jewelry; don’t use provocative images of yourself in your marketing materials (which could attract the attention of dangerous sexual offenders); carry some form of self-defence, like pepper spray, or even a gun if you’re in the US.

It should be noted that most realtor victims are women, but not all. The same safety rules apply to male agents. There are plenty of examples of male agents who have been lured to homes by phoney clients and killed or attacked.

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