Being a property manager, a landlord, a broker, or a real estate agent usually involves showing strangers around vacant properties.
On rare occasions this can be dangerous because sometimes “potential buyers” have other intentions. There have been reports of real-estate agents being robbed, attacked and in a recent case, murdered. Some brokerages are putting their employees through self-defense classes, while others are suggesting all potential buyers meet their real-estate agent at their offices before heading to a property, or using a buddy system.
“Statistically, ours is the most dangerous white collar profession for the simple reason that it’s easy for someone intent on committing a crime to orchestrate an encounter with a Realtor,” Said Tyler McKenzie, who works as a realtor and is the 2015 president of Seattle King County Realtors. “This isn’t to say crime befalls us every day, but the risk is real.”
In July, the Bothell Police Department sent a warning out to relators after a man attempted to beat down a bathroom door to get to a female broker who had locked herself inside to escape him. The woman was showing houses and closing out for the day when the man, who showed interest in the house earlier that day, tried to attack her. He was hiding on the third floor of the home. The agent threw a cup of coffee at him before making her way to the bathroom, locking the door and calling the cops, according to Bothell police.
In September, a real-estate agent in Arkansas was killed by a man who was posing as a prospective home buyer. Aaron Lewis was charged with the murder of Beverly Carter. When asked about his motive, he said “she was just a woman that worked alone – a rich broker.”
According to the Women’s Council of Realtors, Carter’s death has sparked a nationwide debate among real-estate professionals about how to be safer on the job.
And now a Seattle woman, Lynn Robertson, has designed a program that would help keep industry professionals safe when they go on these blind, face-to-face meetings. She calls it SecureShow.
SecureShow works by verifying someone’s identity before meeting them in person.
Prior to showing a property to a potential buyer, a realtor purchases an online verification package. They send a link for the verification to their client who is then directed to an online form, which asks for basic information (a working email address, a phone number, a picture of a license, and a selfie). This information is then hand verified by an employee at SecureShow. Once verified, the full name of the person and a photo of them is sent to the agent.
SecureShow is not a background check. Their systems do not cover court records and wouldn’t show someone’s criminal background.
To use SecureShow, you must be verified as well. So when a realtor receives the name and picture of a potential client, the client receives the realtor’s as well. Along with that comes a unique match “code,” customized for every meeting. It takes less than 30 minutes to verify both parties.
Robertson owns a brokerage and has worked in the industry for 27 years. Her idea for SecureShow came in part because of the internet, and how it changed the property buying industry.
“It became all about getting clients through online leads, that was the main focus,” said Robertson. “Throughout time, we just sort of lost focus of covering our backs.”
A few years ago, Robertson received an email from someone who wanted to view a property. Nothing out of the ordinary for her line of work, but, this email was signed with initials only – not a full name.
Robertson was going to meet a prospect at a vacant house, in a remote setting, at night, by herself. And, she didn’t even know the first name, let alone the full name, of the person she was meeting.
In another outlook changing experience, Robertson was meeting a customer from an online lead. As she got out of her car to meet the person, she took her scarf off, realizing she “didn’t want it to be used as a weapon” against her.
“I was subconsciously pushing past my fear and ignoring it – and putting myself at risk,” she said.
“I’ve never had a scary situation” Maria Colantino said. Colantino is in her 20’s and has worked in the industry for a little over three years. “I sometimes get calls where the person is driving by a property and they want to meet me instantly.”
Colantino began working real estate in a small office. Now, she works for a John L. Scott branch. She said her office change had no effect on her sense of safety, or precautions taken.
“We use the buddy system,” she said. “You always let them walk in front of you so there’s never someone behind you.” Also, they call each other to check in. Is this enough to stay safe?
Colantino believes SecureShow is a good idea, but she is skeptical of how well it would work, and the impact it would have on business.
“For normal people, it seems like a lot to go through. If it’s not going to be widespread throughout the industry, it might deter sales,” she said. “If it was an industry standard, it would be easier to implement because everyone across the board would be doing it.”
In real estate, Colantino says you never want to put a layer between you and the customer.
“And that’s the biggest obstacle in this,” said Robertson. She said agents are afraid to ask their buyers to do something that another agent wouldn’t ask them to do. They fear an extra hoop would push them, and their commission, to a different agent.
When Beverly Carter died, the real-estate community was hit hard. Robertson said a part of her feels personally responsible for the incident.
“She did everything right. She texted her husband where she was going, she left all her valuables in her car, she went into the house to show it, and then she disappeared. Anyone of us could have been her,” she said.
Robertson knows that introducing a new way of doing business into the industry will be an uphill battle, but still she is hopeful SecureShow will catch on.
“When it comes to your life, you don’t get a second chance. We really need to take accountability for ourselves.”
Aside from deterring ill-willed people from real estate agents, SecureShow can also be used before going on a blind date or buying something online.
Taylor Winkel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @twinkelnews