Staying Safe on the Prairie (and everywhere else you go)

By MNR News posted 16 days ago

Violent crimes aren’t confined to big cities. Even Realtors® serving small communities need to be alert and prepared.
As a Realtor®, Geri Theis makes her living in a string of small communities along the verdant banks of the Minnesota River, far from dense urban centers where crime makes daily headlines. In little towns like Redwood Falls, you might forget to lock your door at night and nothing bad would come of it. Or so it would seem. But Theis, who owns Scenic Realty, knows better. In a profession where interacting with strangers is part of the job, being watchful, aware, and prepared is key to staying safe. And as Theis knows from personal experience, it can be deadly to let your guard down.

“A few years back I went to a listing appointment in a small town. The property owner had lived there for years, so I didn’t even consider bringing another agent along as a precaution,” Theis recalled. She regretted that decision as soon as she toured the home.

Peering into bedrooms from the second-floor hallway, she noticed nearly empty spaces with only bare mattresses on the floor. Each of the four rooms had a padlocked door.

“I didn’t go into any of them,” she said. A little unnerved, but determined to remain professional, she continued the tour, following the owner down to the basement. There she found a door that wouldn’t open. It was locked.

“I asked him if he’d open it, and he said: ‘I could, but I would have to kill you if I did.’” She didn’t take the time to ask if he was kidding. It didn’t matter. Regardless of the man’s intent, he had created a threatening situation. Theis remained calm, and as she escorted him upstairs reminded him that all doors would need to be unlocked for any potential showings. She listened to her instincts and quickly exited the home.

Experiences like this underscore the need for Realtors® to remain hypervigilant. Over time, agents inside and outside Theis’s brokerage have shared stories with her that are both chilling and bizarre. Each of these close calls has been a vivid reminder that safety protocols are in place for a reason.

For Theis, safety for herself and her agents begins by following some commonsense precautions.

  • Always meet new clients at the office for the first meeting, and be sure other agents or staff are present in the building. Alternatively, meet on Zoom or another conferencing apps.
  • Determine their legitimacy by vetting credentials: Have they met with a lender? Do they have a pre-approval letter?
  • Never go to a vacant home alone when meeting a potential client. Always “buddy up” and bring another agent with you.
  • Don’t go upstairs or downstairs ahead of a client: you never want your back to someone.
  • Record all your appointments, digitally or on paper, with names, numbers and locations, and share with your manager or brokerage owner. Someone should always know where you are, and when you are expected back at the office or home.

Technology offers Realtors® another layer of security. Through their local association, Scenic Realty provides agents the option to use Sentrilock, a system that sends an alert to users’ cell phones every few minutes. If the agent doesn’t respond, Sentrilock notifies designated emergency contacts, and shares the agent’s current location.

“I have scared my husband a few times when I have forgotten to reply,” Theis said. And while she acknowledged the technology is sometimes inconvenient to use, its value as a safety tool is indispensable.

Another system provided by the association that Theis uses at her agency is Forewarn, an app that searches public records for any criminal history or even traffic violations. It also verifies phone numbers and addresses, property and vehicle histories, information on bankruptcy and liens, and can verify mortgage and loan history.

“It helps ensure you are prepared for any potential situations ahead of time,” Theis said. “Recently, it revealed that one potential client had been convicted of sexual misconduct. Knowing that helps you make informed decisions and arrange safe alternatives before putting yourself or other agents in a potentially dangerous situation. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate that none of my personal situations ended up badly, but it’s a good reminder that there are many potential clients that may not be right. In the end, you need to trust your instincts.”

If a client’s manner or behavior makes you uneasy, you can use free resources to learn more about their backgrounds. The state of Minnesota has two websites for checking for 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.

Accidents Happen: Be Prepared

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 below shows some of the major physical hazards that Realtors® encounter in homes and exteriors.

  • 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 makes the home look bad and detracts from the showing.
  • 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.