Agents' safety back in spotlight

Women exercising caution when showing homes

Harford incident a concern

Prospects may be asked for personal identification

July 11, 2004|By Tamara El-Khoury | Tamara El-Khoury,SUN STAFF

Area real estate agents are asking the public to work with them as they reiterate the need to exercise caution when showing homes for sale.

Safety is back in the spotlight after a man suspected of assaulting a female Realtor in April was spotted at an open house in Harford County this month. The assault occurred at a model home in Eldersburg. State Police are investigating.

The incident renewed a sense of urgency among Realtors to be careful when showing homes since the rape and murder of Realtor Lynne McCoy in Baltimore 11 years ago while she was showing a house.

"It's gotten a heightened focus just because we have so many new Realtors coming into the business," said Debbie Hager, director of communications for the Maryland Association of Realtors.

Three years of record housing sales have pushed the ranks of Realtors to more than 1 million nationwide, with about 24,000 in Maryland. More than 50 percent of real estate agents are women.

The National Association of Realtors has long made safety a top priority for the industry, saying the profession requires agents to meet with strangers in sometimes remote spots. Last September marked the inaugural Realtor Safety Week where the trade group worked to raise awareness about the dangers of the profession. The group provides tips, articles, discussion forums and resources on its Web site: www.realtor.org.

The Maryland Association of Realtors plans to distribute a new safety brochure at its annual Ocean City convention in September.

When dealing with the public, there is always the unknown, said Cindy Ariosa, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and a regional vice president for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.

As a result, most companies have policies in place for agents when they're showing homes. Long & Foster teaches its agents certain codes to use to alert their office if they find themselves in a threatening situation. Some offices make photocopies of each client's driver's license.

"They have to hopefully understand and realize that when we are asking for personal information it's for everyone's safety," Ariosa said.

Realtors describe most safety precautions as common sense. Agents are encouraged to always carry a cellular telephone, to use the buddy system and to follow, not lead, the client through a house. Most real estate managers ask their agents to let someone at the office know when and where they're going with a client and at what time they expect to return.

Jan Hayden, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Ellicott City, stopped doing open houses once her friend McCoy was murdered. On the rare occasion that she does hold an open house, Hayden takes along her husband or another Realtor. She also insists on meeting with potential buyers at her office and requiring them to be prequalified before being shown a property.

"I've had buyers hang up on me because I won't run out there and show them a house," Hayden said. "I can't even remember the last time I met a stranger at a property."

Hayden said the competition and pressure to excel can put safety on the backburner.

"Sometimes I think we're in such a clamor ... we forget the basics," she said.

Safety tips for agents:

Meet clients at the office first and introduce them to a colleague so they can be identified.

If taking one car, take the agent's car.

Carry a charged cellular telephone at all times; do not leave it in a purse or car.

Don't advertise a listing as vacant.

Follow, don't lead, potential buyers through a property. Identify a distress code that is known by colleagues and family.

Use cellular telephone numbers and office addresses.

Source: Maryland Realtor magazine

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