Picture this if you will – a woman, frightened and alone inside an empty house. Slowly, an unfamiliar man approaches the home. The woman watches anxiously through the window as he gets nearer. She can tell immediately that he’s very tall and probably outweighs her by 100 pounds. He enters through the front door as she backs away from him, stammering, heart pounding and fingers grasping for the cell phone in her pocket. She glances frantically around the room and realizes that the man stands between her and only way out of the house. He watches her intently, and without averting his glare, steps back and closes the front door forcefully behind him …
Sound like the closing scene from a late-night cliché horror flick? It’s not. The above paragraph actually pretty accurately describes a property showing I did last year.
I always promised myself I would never allow such a scenario to happen. In fact, I couldn’t imagine why it ever would. Of course I would always meet and qualify buyer clients before showing them properties, I told myself. It would be reckless not to. But this wasn’t a buyer client. It was a gentleman who was interested in seeing one of my listings (which happened to be unoccupied) and did not have an agent of his own. He contacted me after seeing the listing online and I agreed to meet him at the property without giving it a second thought. That is, until soon afterward when all of the horrifying headlines involving female real estate agents began to flood my consciousness.
I showed him the property anyway. Granted, I took a self-defense class the day before the scheduled showing. My husband agreed to text me every 15 minutes until I left the property and to call 911 if I didn’t respond. We had a code word in case I needed to make a clandestine call for help. But none of that prevented the fear that paralyzed me to the point of not being able to speak (much less sell a house) the moment the man shut the door behind him.
Obviously, in my case, it all worked out fine in the end. I’m alive and unharmed. The interested buyer was nothing more than just that. In fact, I’m sure he is a very kind, normal person and any threat I perceived at the time was the result of my own paranoia. He was almost certainly completely unaware that I was terrified of him. But all of this got me to thinking … yes, part of my job as a Realtor is to make safe and responsible decisions about how to conduct my business. But should real estate consumers also bear some responsibility when it comes to the safety of agents? I believe they do. And I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some suggestions for anyone, male or female, who might ever consider buying or selling a home:
- Hire an agent properly. Meet with them in a public place, preferably their office, before you even begin to talk about listing or buying a house. Remember, agency should be a relationship of mutual trust. Never, EVER, cold call an agent you haven’t met and ask them to show you a property or to meet you somewhere they’ve never been. Request to have a consultation first, and be willing to show your ID.
- Do not go to appointments with your agent alone. Bring your spouse, your mother, a friend. And tell your agent ahead of time that someone will be coming with you – it will put them at ease and will help tremendously in creating an atmosphere that makes everyone feel more comfortable.
- If you do find yourself alone with an agent at a showing, a meeting, or an open house, acknowledge that you recognize they may feel uncomfortable. Try not to say or do anything that might cause them to feel threatened. Keep a safe physical distance. Leave the front door open (even if it’s freezing cold or noisy outside). Allow the agent to stay closer to the doorway or exit than you. Offer to walk through the home on your own and come back to ask any questions you may have. Do not block their car with yours.
- When selling a vacant property, tell your neighbors when you know your agent is showing it a potential buyer. Ask them to pay close attention during the time of the showing and to call the police at the first sign that something may be wrong.
- Do not be offended if your agent cancels or leaves an appointment because they feel uncomfortable. It is what we are trained to do. We are taught to listen to our instincts. And while our instincts may not always be correct, in most cases they are the only defense we have in a potentially dangerous situation. Try not to take it personally and understand that you and your agent may simply not be a good fit.
As far as I’m concerned, selling real estate should not be an inherently dangerous profession. Yet, if you pay close enough attention to the news it sadly seems that is the direction in which we are heading. Real estate agents need to accept the reality of the world in which we live and should do everything within their power to protect themselves from the potential dangers involved in what we do. However, real estate consumers need to have an increased awareness of this aspect of our job. Most of us simply want to help you and will go out of our way to do so. You can help us by putting yourselves in our shoes and keeping the above suggestions in mind when you’re buying or selling a home.