September is Realtor Safety Month, and area Realtors are taking pause to review their safety practices when meeting with potential buyers during open houses and showings.
Sunflower Association of Realtors president Jamie Sauder says safety is always a concern for Realtors in northeast Kansas and across the country.
“I think from the standpoint of the way people search for real estate online now, there’s less of a relationship now than even 10 years ago when (buyers) would drive around and look at signs and build a relationship with a Realtor,” Sauder said. “Ninety percent of real estate searches are online.”
After an agent in Arkansas was assaulted and murdered a few years ago while showing a house, as well as a more recent case of a Realtor in Texas who went missing while keeping real estate appointments, Realtor safety is a legitimate concern in a profession where meeting with strangers in unfamiliar locations at various times of day and night is a regular occurrence.
“Generally speaking, it’s very safe,” Sauder said. “The biggest concern is not knowing the person or having the time to establish a relationship. We always have to be wary and on guard and be prepared for someone who has bad intentions instead of wanting to look at a house. We want our agents to be prepared.”
Erica Lichtenauer, a Realtor with Countrywide Realty Inc., has firsthand experience with situations that have made her and other Realtors uncomfortable on the job.
“We report anything that happens to our board of Realtors, and they are quick to get information out to just us that allows all agents to know what’s going on,” she said. “We support each other’s safety.”
Lichtenauer and her fellow Realtors have safety measures and preventive strategies in place for ensuring their personal safety, including checking in with someone when they arrive and leave showings, pairing up with another Realtor when showing homes or hosting open houses, and screening potential clients and buyers by asking questions before agreeing to meet with them.
Some have even taken concealed-carry courses and are licensed to carry a gun. She said the board of Realtors is appreciative of the support provided by local law enforcement officials.
Still, things can go wrong, and when they do, Lichtenauer urges Realtors to have an exit plan.
“If I was ever in a situation where I didn’t feel comfortable, I would leave,” Lichtenauer said.
Sauder urges Realtors to listen to their instincts when meeting up with clients and potential buyers who are strangers to them.
“If it doesn’t pass the smell test, it’s OK to assume that if something seems funny it is funny and take someone with you,” Sauder said. “Take the approach (that it’s) better to be safe than sorry.”
Both Sauder and Lichtenauer ask for understanding from the general public when working with a Realtor with whom you haven’t yet established a working relationship.
“I would encourage anyone to create a relationship with an agent and stay with that agent if (they) are taking good care of them,” Sauder said. “We don’t go into a situation assuming something bad is going to happen.”
Sauder also encourages prospective buyers to complete initial financial paperwork and seek preapproval for a loan prior to contacting a Realtor to look at homes. This helps establish a sense of trust between agent and buyer that they are serious in their search.
“The more educated the buyer is before creating the relationship, the smoother that relationship goes,” Sauder said.
Lichtenauer echoes the value of establishing a relationship for both the Realtor and the client.
“If an agent isn’t willing to just show up at a house having never met you or talked to you before, then it might be for safety reasons,” Lichtenauer said. “Please try to understand that if you are serious about buying, we would like to meet with you prior to just showing you several homes. We all want to show houses and do it safely.”
Shanna Sloyer is a freelance writer from Topeka. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.