Safety: A Guide for Realtors®

By MNR News posted 09-20-2021 07:34

  

illustration of safety iconsAlthough the real estate profession is not overtly dangerous, Realtors® face more on-the-job hazards than you might think. From tripping on rugs to being physically assaulted in an empty house, Realtors® take on more risks than many other business professionals. Perhaps that’s why the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) reports that nearly 70% of Realtors® will worry about their safety at some point while doing their jobs.

To help you learn more about inherent dangers and develop effective strategies and tactics, we’ve assembled a guide covering everything from physical safety to network security. Remember, optimizing safety requires increased awareness and continuous education. This article is intended to provide a foundation you can build upon.

The Keys to Staying Safe on the Job

Avoid slips, stumbles and falls
Although we think of injuries from falls as more common among the elderly, the National Institute of Health reports that 20 to 40% of all disabling occupational injuries occur from an on-the-job fall. Realtors® are at particular risk because they regularly enter unfamiliar environments where unseen dangers sometimes lurk. The chart on the bottom of the following page shows some of the major physical hazards that Realtors® encounter in homes and exteriors.

Prevent Assaults by Staying Vigilant and Smart
While violent incidents are rare, they do occur—sometimes in our own communities. Less than two years ago, Realtor® Monique Baugh was lured to a Minneapolis location where she was abducted and murdered. This tragedy—and others like it across the country—continues to resonate in the minds of many Realtors®. In fact, 31% of real estate professionals have reported feeling unsafe during open house showings, according to NAR’s 2020 Member Safety Report.

Although most Realtors® do not become victims of crime on the job, their level of risk is higher than other professions. In the course of doing business, Realtors® share contact information, meet unknown clients, and walk through vacant properties. Plus, they post their portraits on the Internet, and openly display times and locations for the open houses they will attend. For predators, this data is a virtual roadmap for locating and tracking potential victims.

Vet your new clients
Fortunately, there are precautions Realtors® can take to minimize the risk of dangerous encounters. Here are some things to consider doing during the first meeting with a new client.

  • Meet on Zoom or some other meeting app instead of in person.
  • Determine clients’ legitimacy by vetting credentials: Have the met with a lender? Do they have a pre-approval letter?
  • Dig for details about what kind of home they’re looking for, or what their needs are for selling a home.
  • Outline your process for working with clients, from showings to closing.

If they’re willing to spend half an hour answering your questions and engaging with you about your services, they are likely serious clients. However, if their answers and behavior make you uneasy, you can use free resources to learn more about their backgrounds. The state of Minnesota has two websites for checking criminal case histories or Level 3 sex offender status:

NOTE: Realtors® should be very careful to use this information in strict compliance with Fair Housing laws, particularly those concerning disparate impact.

Weapons and the Law
Many real estate professionals carry a handgun, mace, pepper spray or other defensive devices. Although this is certainly their right, there are laws governing the use of weapons, particularly firearms. So, if you intend to carry a handgun while you work, make sure you are fully aware of the legal requirements and restrictions pertaining to its use.

Keeping Data Secure for Your Business and Your Clients
In a wired, interconnected world, the sensitive data you handle for your business and clients is increasingly vulnerable to theft. Your first line of defense begins where your business connects with the world—your company’s router. By following a few simple steps, you can greatly increase the safety and security of your entire business network.

Reset your router’s login code
Your router’s out-of-the-box username and password is vulnerable to hacking because thieves can obtain these default settings through simple Internet searches. Creating a new username and password is a highly effective deterrent.

Rename the network and create a new password
Many routers come equipped with default network names and passwords. Changing these will greatly reduce the possibility of outside intrusions.

Strengthen your network’s encryption
Encryption is one of the best ways to keep your data intact and secure. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is the current standard for protecting your router. Make sure this is activated by logging into your router and checking its security settings. Note: Routers manufactured before 2018 do not have this kind of encryption. So, if you’re using an older router, you should consider replacing it with a new model that is WPA secured.

Don’t display your wireless network’s name
The best way to deter thieves from breaking into your network is to make it invisible to other wireless users. You can do this by going into settings and turning off the SSID. This will prevent your router from broadcasting the network’s ID.

Update your router’s firmware
Even the most tightly secured router has security holes that hackers will eventually exploit. Stay one step ahead of the thieves by staying current with the manufacturer’s firmware updates.

Create a guest network
If you regularly allow visitors or clients to use your network, it’s highly recommended that you create a guest network. This will ensure that your confidential client and business information remains walled off and secure.

INSIDE HAZARDS

Slippery Surfaces
If floors have just been cleaned or waxed, the seller should put up warning signs. All stairwells should be free of clutter or anything that could cause slipping or tripping. If there are slick stone or concrete surfaces, adequate warning signs should be posted.

Poor Lighting
Many slip-and-fall injuries occur due to inadequate lighting. Sellers must make sure all areas are properly lit — especially stairwells.

Clutter
The seller should remove all toys, boxes, magazines, newspapers, and other items strewn in hallways, on stairs, and highly trafficked areas. Not only is it dangerous, it also detracts from the showing.

OUTSIDE HAZARDS

Holes and Other Yard Hazards
Before showing a property, survey the yard for hazards like craters, potholes, and ditches. Advise the seller to fill, cover, or fix them as soon as possible. Until they are remedied, they should be marked with signs that clearly warn of the danger. This is also true for playground equipment in poor repair (rust, missing bolts and screws, etc.), and any abandoned equipment or other debris in the yard.

Ice
The CDC reports that more than a million Americans are injured every year from falling on ice or snow. Almost 17,000 of these injuries are fatal. It’s imperative that sellers clear driveways, walkways, and outside stairways before any showings.

10 Ways to Stay Safe During Showings & Open Houses
Whether taking new clients on a tour of homes, meeting with a seller in their home, or attending an open house, you should always be alert and never let your guard down. Here are 10 tips for avoiding trouble or escaping from it if the situation becomes dangerous.

  1. Don’t Park Your Car in the Driveway
    Park on the street where another vehicle cannot block you in.
  2. Never Enter a Room Before a Client
    When escorting clients through a home, always have them enter rooms or staircases before you. That way you’re not trapped in an area where they’re controlling the exit.
  3. Check Your Escape Routes
    The first time you enter a house, survey all the rooms and create several potential escape routes. Unlock any deadbolts to aid a faster exit.
  4. Don’t Get Fenced In
    Be cognizant of your surroundings taking note of backyard fencing or other obstacles that make it difficult to leave the property.
  5. Avoid Close or Tight Spaces
    Attics, basements, and small rooms can be difficult to flee. Don’t enter any area in the house where you could be easily trapped.
  6. Require All Visitors to Sign in During Open Houses
    Ask them to provide their full name, email, address, and phone number.
  7. Make Sure Someone Knows Where You Are
    Tell someone you know and trust about your itinerary. Give them addresses and times for those appointments. As an added precaution, you can ask that person to periodically check in with you.
  8. Don’t Go Solo to Open Houses
    Try to make sure you’re always with another professional at open houses.
  9. Activate Emergency Features on Your Smart Phone
    Put emergency numbers on speed dial, and make sure your phone is fully charged before entering a house. Be sure to check your phone manufacturer’s website for all the details on its emergency features.
  10. Confirm the House is Empty Before You Leave
    A lot of people come and go during open houses. Before you lock up and leave, make sure that all visitors have left. Check every room and the backyard, too. If possible, do this with another professional.

Cultivating Awareness and Knowledge

Ultimately, safety comes down to being continually aware of the environments where we live and work, and open to expanding our knowledge. That’s why it’s important to take the time to educate yourself and take advantage of the many resources available for improving the safety of your clients, your business, and yourself.

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