By Dirk Zeller

Safety has always been an issue for real estate salespeople. Meeting people at homes as standard practice of service has made agents easy targets for a criminal element. It has been a back burner issue that got put on the front burner due to the death of a few agents who were targeted in the last few years. Developing a system and strategy for your personal protection is a necessary part of being a successful agent.

Trust your gut

The greatest safeguard you have is to trust yourself. If a particular situation doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. When it feels wrong, treat it that way.

“Talk time” leads to higher security

How long did you get the prospect to talk? You have to increase the talk time with the prospect. When you talk longer with a prospect on the phone, you gain more information about them. You can secure information that will allow you to research them before you meet by asking questions about them and finding out more about why they are looking at this time. You can find out where they work, where they live presently, and how long they have been there. You can check their responses and verify their information.

Create your first appointment strategy

As agents, your job is to get face to face with a prospect while maintaining your safety and security. The right strategy is essential in being safe: to sell the prospect on the value of an in-office appointment. That in-office appointment, during normal business hours, creates safety because of the number of other people present in the office with you. If you can’t get them to come to the office, then offer to meet them at a neutral public location. A Starbucks or other coffee shop is a wonderful neutral site. It’s public, and if it doesn’t feel right, you can safely remove yourself.

When you meet at a home

There are a few steps you should take before you meet someone for the first time at a home. Because there is greater safety in numbers, be sure to use the word “we” in describing the meeting. As in: “Let me doublecheck to make sure we can meet you at that time.” Or: “We look forward to showing you that property.” It creates a clear indication that it won’t just be you there.

If you are meeting a new prospect at a home, take someone with you. It could be another agent, your boyfriend or spouse, or a friend who comes with you to the showing. Do not bring young children, even if they remain in the car. The risk of stranger danger is too great. The second option is to arrange for the listing agent to meet you at the property. This again would create safety in numbers. You could also have the seller present as well. The buyer would not have much privacy to express their true emotions about the home, but it’s better to ensure your safety.

Trail behind when showing a home

When showing a home, always have the buyer prospect walk in front of you. This allows you to keep any potential threat or dangerous situation fully visible and in front of you. It will also allow you time to react, rather than getting caught by surprise. Don’t lead someone through a home. You want to direct them; be sure to make clear gestures for them to go ahead of you to each area and room of the home.

Inform others and check in

If you are showing a property to a previously unmet buyer, inform your office, buddy agent, and family members. You can’t inform too many people. Set a time to check back with them. The clearer you are in communicating in advance, the greater your safety. You could also provide them with the information on the buyer prospect you are meeting.

Distress code for safety

You want to be able to alert the cavalry without bringing attention to the fact you have called them in. Create a voice or text distress code, secret word, or phrase to alert your need for help right away. Some offices use a predetermined phrase like, “Can you bring me the red file for the property on XYZ Street?” (XYZ Street being the address you are currently at for the showing). This would alert the office or other agent to call 911 and leave right away for the property as well to help you. Another option is a code name like “Henry Miller,” which stands for “help me.” You call and say, “Please let Henry Miller know I will be running late from my showing on XYX Street.” This code clearly informs the office you need help right away.

Taking a self-defense class

Being able to defend yourself and break free of an assailant could save your life. Self-defense classes are offered by community colleges, the YMCA or YWCA, health clubs, and martial-arts studios. The investment in your personal safety is well worth a few dollars and a few hours of your time.

Arrive early and plan for your exit

Always arrive before the buyer you are showing the home to. This gives you ample time to evaluate and observe the neighborhood. Does anything seem sketchy, out of place, or out of the ordinary? Is there anyone loitering around the home or property? Is it unusually quiet? Is there anyone who shouldn’t be there or who is unexpected? In planning your exit strategy, walk through the home to determine the floor plan and the flow. Evaluate each room to see if there are two “escape” routes. You want to have options in case one route is blocked. Be sure to unlock all doors and deadbolts so there is no hindrance to your outside exit. You do all of that before the buyer shows up at the property. This removes the nervous fumbling to open locks to escape if you need to.

Practice your excuse

You must be ready to create and talk through your “out.” If you are present with a person who makes you uncomfortable, you need to communicate your excuse and leave. Don’t worry about the house — worry about yourself. Prepare your responses in advance and even practice them so they sound real and credible. Your cell just went off and you need to call the office. Your son just texted and needs you to call him right away. You left brochures and other information in your car for them. Anything that gets you out of the home and immediately. Anything that is common and logical will do. This practiced script could save your life.