Agents' Safety Must Come First

August 09, 2009|By Mary Ellen Podmolik | Mary Ellen Podmolik,Tribune Newspapers

If a real estate agent seems to size you up the next time you walk into an open house, don't take it personally.

He or she would love to sell you the home. But they also want to stay safe.

Personal safely isn't a subject that real estate agents like to talk about, but it's there in the back of their minds. A quarter of real estate agents surveyed by the National Association of Realtors say they've been involved in an unsafe or harassing situation.

With unemployment high and an increasing number of homes falling into foreclosure and sitting vacant, there's even more cause for the real estate community to be on its guard. Safety is an issue whether it's a sparkling home in a well-heeled community or beat-up foreclosure with no electricity.

"We put strangers in our cars," said Pat Mazzone, senior vice president and branch manager of Prudential Preferred Properties in Chicago. "We take strangers to vacant homes. We invite people into vacant open houses."

Or, as Joe Rosner, a Hebron, Ill.-based self-defense teacher puts it, real estate "is the only business I know where [you] get glamour shots and then use them to advertise where to meet people in vacant houses."

Rosner spends much of his time these days traveling to real estate offices, speaking to agents about the dos and don'ts in potentially threatening situations. His talks capture the attention of longtime agents who previously sat motionless during recaps of yet another slow week in residential real estate.

Mazzone has never had a bad experience herself, but on a recent day she had Rosner in her sales meeting so agents could brush up on safety.

"There's not a deal out there that's worth risking your safety," Rosner said.

Real estate agent safety tips

* Buyers shouldn't be miffed if the agent at an open house requires them to sign in and even show a picture ID. The practice is likely to cut short the visit of anyone who's there for the wrong reason.

* Sellers should not only put away any prescription medicine vials but take down certificates on display that list any personal information that could lead to identity theft.

* Buyers shouldn't expect an agent to meet them for the first time at a listing, or to share a ride to a listing in the buyer's car. Expect to meet at the office and either drive to the listing in the agent's car or in separate cars.

* Agents who stay upstairs while buyers check out a basement aren't ignoring a potential customer. They're just staying safe.

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