Agent Decoded - Jay Thompson
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Agents Decoded: It's time to get serious about agent safety 

Amid a new wave of reports of the dangers of working as a real estate agent, Jay Thompson says the industry must take steps to improve safety for all agents.

July 29, 2023
5 minutes

The direction of your business depends on decisions you make every day. Agents Decoded can help you by presenting the perspectives of seasoned pros who have been there, made mistakes, and found success.

The New York Times recently published an article about the dangers faced by real estate agents, and it's resonating with many of us in the industry. Though the article focused on safety for female agents, who make up 62% of the industry, male agents aren't immune from safety concerns. Just ask the families and friends of agents Sid Cranston, Troy VanderSteldt, Orlando Marinez and others who were murdered doing their jobs.

Gender, age, physical appearance — it doesn't matter. The nature of your job puts you at additional risk, and safety should be a priority for all agents. With National Realtor Safety month approaching in September, it's a great time to brush up on safety tips — and lobby for support at your firm.

Crime victims: The underrepresented 2%

Agents face threats that are not always present in other types of work. You often meet prospects and clients alone and in private places, knowing very little about their background and motives. Your face and contact information are readily available online. 

A 2022 safety survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors revealed that 2% of residential Realtors are victims of a crime while on the job. Two percent might not sound like much, but that means 30,000 of the 1.5 million Realtors reported they were victims of a crime (attacks, assaults, robbery or worse) while on the job. The report also found that 23% reported feeling concerned for their safety. And since law enforcement experts agree that sexual assaults are the most underreported crime, the number is likely far higher. 

In addition, many predators have a misconception about how much money agents make. The man that kidnapped and murdered Little Rock agent Beverly Carter, one of the victims featured in the New York Times story, was asked by a reporter why she was targeted. He responded, "Because she was just a woman that worked alone — a rich broker."

The current state of agent safety and protection

Every time the media reports on an agent being attacked, industry organizations respond with a statement along the lines of, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim of this senseless act. We're going to start to do things differently. Agent safety is our top priority."

And every time, I wonder, why didn't safety protocols start over 40 years ago in 1981 when Virginia Freeman was brutally attacked and killed after meeting a potential buyer for a showing? Or when Ashley Oakland was shot twice while working in a model home?

Despite failures in the system, a great deal has been done over the years to try to increase awareness and improve safety protocols for agents.

In 2017, Beverly Carter's son, Carl Carter, started the Beverly Carter Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded to create a lasting, substantive and positive impact on the safety of real estate agents (full disclosure: I'm on the board of this organization and have worked with Carter). At training sessions nationwide, he somehow manages to retell the horrific story of his mother's kidnapping and murder — all to raise awareness and help other agents come home safely.

There are also a smattering of safety-related apps designed for agents now on the market. 

And in recent years, NAR created a safety committee, conducted training classes and numerous safety-related webinars, and made a gallant effort to increase safety awareness. But there's still more work to do.

Agent safety protocols to ask for now

Despite the resources available and best intentions of real estate organizations, many agents are still clueless about their on-the-job safety risks. Incorporate these practices every day to create a safer workplace:

1. Require photo ID of potential clients

Many agents refuse to take measures like requiring photo IDs of new clients, asking open house attendees to register, or insisting on meeting in public places — driven, I assume, by the pursuit of a commission check. No commission is worth your safety, or your life. Be clear with a prospect up front that ID is required so there are no surprises when you meet. 

2. Avoid meeting with clients alone

According to NAR's safety survey, a full one-third of agents met a client alone at a secluded location or property. Almost half of agents hosted an open house alone. While working solo is often necessary, at a minimum you should consider using a safety app and letting your brokerage leader, fellow agents or family members know where you're going and who you're meeting with. 

3. Sign up for a safety course 

Sixty percent of agents have never taken a basic self-defense class. Eighty percent haven't taken a Realtor safety course. Eighty percent! Find one through NAR. 

4. Advocate for required safety procedures for the industry

Fifty-one percent of real estate brokerages and offices have standard procedures for agent safety. That may sound great, but that means half either have no standard procedures or their agents don't know if they do.

NAR should make safety training mandatory. There are plenty of precedents for requiring ongoing training. Yet inexplicably safety training is merely "recommended." State licensing authorities also need to implement required safety training. Not "recommended" — required. And ongoing training should be required through continuing education hours.

Requiring safety training won't eliminate every threat, but it will go a long way toward improving threat awareness and understanding what can be done to reduce those threats. Real estate organizations, from NAR and state and local associations, to MLSs, franchises, brokerages and state licensing authorities, owe it to all the agents.

And agents, you owe it to your families, friends, loved ones — and yourselves.

Jay Thompson is a former real estate agent, broker-owner and industry outreach director. He is currently an industry consultant and sits on several boards. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

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