Personal Safety: To Meet or Not to Meet?

Make it a common practice to always meet at the office—and put your safety before business.

September 1, 2003

“I just have a short time—I’ll be looking during my lunch hour.”

“Your office is 20 minutes away and I live right beside the property.”

“We have to be at another appointment at 2 o’clock.”

Some customers have a myriad of reasons for avoiding the office of a real estate practitioner. Our responses to these avoidance tactics can save us a lot of time, help us establish ourselves as professionals, and most importantly, keep us safe.

Agents are often confronted with buyers who want to meet at a house. I cringe when I hear of an agent taking a floor call and then rushing out the door to meet a complete stranger. Perhaps a short story will bring my point home.

About two years ago, a young, attractive female agent in our office received what seemed to be a very legitimate floor call. Our market includes Fort Campbell, Ky., and the call was from a purported lieutenant who explained in earnest that he had several staff meetings to attend that day and really wanted to see her listing during the lunch hour. This ambitious agent agreed to the meeting and, luckily, had another agent in the office accompany her. When they arrived at the house, the front door was unlocked. They entered the house, went up the steps, and were confronted by a stranger who jumped out from hiding, shook the male agent's hand, and fled down the stairs. This stranger was wearing black gloves, and his true intentions will never be known.

As real estate professionals, we constantly market ourselves to the public with photos, phone numbers, and production. We often reveal personal information, such as our family members, hobbies, and where we live. We tell the public everything about ourselves and yet may meet at a house knowing only the prospect’s name.

I am a very positive person, and I have a great deal of faith in people, but I am not naive. Prior to entering the real estate profession, I taught in a medium security prison. Criminals and those who want to do us harm are convincing and calculating. It only takes one meeting that goes sour to result in personal harm.

With all of this in mind, why do many real estate practitioners agree to meet these strangers? I believe it is because of the fear of losing a sale. It is my personal experience that the only true buyers are those who will meet at our office without resistance. Ready, willing, and able buyers will appreciate the professional approach and will be interested enough to gladly meet you at your office.

Although meeting at the office is only one safety strategy, I believe it goes a long way towards eliminating the guesswork of meeting new prospects and reducing the risks to your personal safety. I think you should make it a habit to make an office meeting the first step in meeting a new customer or client.

If you face resistance, I believe that says a lot about the prospects. The real reasons potential buyers don’t want to come to the office are:

  • They are not ready to buy. We have all experienced the buyer who meets us at a property, looks it over, and then says, “We’ll have to think about this one. We’ll let you know.” The “lookers” are very difficult to talk to at the property. They will travel through the house and evade answering questions to the best of their ability.
  • They do not qualify. Enough said!
  • They have appointments set up all over town. I still remember a husband and wife who I foolishly met at a property. They were very evasive and rudely buzzed through the house. When I tried to talk to them outside about the benefit of using an agent, they explained that they had to meet another agent at a property. They had been looking for more than two years and yet were not committed to an agent.
  • They don’t like salespeople. Regardless of the controversy over this term, we are salespeople and we need to be professional salespeople. Think of the last time you shopped for a car. Perhaps you used the Internet or avoided a salesperson. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume you went to a car lot and had to talk to a salesperson (dread)! Perhaps you found a car that interested you and you said, “What can we do on this one?” Did the salesperson run in the showroom, grab a briefcase of papers, and give you a bottom line on the hood of the car? Not in my experiences. The astute salesperson says, “Let’s go in the office and we’ll put some numbers on paper.” My point— the salesperson knows that the closer you are to the office, the more committed you become.

How to Get Buyers on Your Turf

Actually, I have found motivated, earnest buyers easy to deal with when a professional approach is taken to get them to the office. Following are some techniques that have worked for me that you might find helpful.

  • Ask them! Many buyers are very cooperative when simply asked to meet at the office. When a buyer calls about an ad you’ve placed and wants to see the property, a quick and effective response can be, “Certainly, when can I meet you at my office?” or “I will be in my office from 1 to 3 p.m. tomorrow. What would be a good time for us to meet?” Often, first time buyers do not understand the buying process and will be glad to have it explained to them.
  • Explain how painless the meeting can be. If your potential buyer resists when asked to meet at the office, let them know that they will not be drilled. “I can understand that you are busy, because I have a very busy schedule also. We can limit our meeting at the office to 15 minutes and then be on our way to see the house.” In 15 well-structured minutes, you can obtain a great deal of information about your prospect.
  • Give them a personal benefit. “I can understand your busy schedule. To save time, we can review much of the property information at the office. I also have photos of the interior and a disclosure I’d like to review with you prior to previewing the property.”
  • Let them know about the showing process. “This home is occupied, and I need to make an appointment to show it. I’ll set a tentative showing appointment, and we can confirm it when we meet at the office.”
  • Explain your future relationship with them. Once you have repeat customers and those with whom you have a buyer’s agreement, meeting at a property is perhaps mutually acceptable.
  • Lay down the law. Explain to the customer your requirement to meet at the office for your safety. “I certainly understand, and I’m sorry to inconvenience you, but this is a dangerous business. We don’t know each other, and it is important that our first meeting be at the office.”

Safety Strategies at the Office

Once you meet someone at the office, you need to have some valid reasons for getting them there. Being prepared is critical. Have the property disclosure (if appropriate) available, and provide them a copy. If the property involves land, it would be helpful to review the survey at the office. Explain agency and discuss any disclosures.

Following are some additional safety steps you should take when you meet a new prospect at the office:

  • Ask “Please give me your name and phone number so I can add your information to my database.” Sure, you probably got their name over the phone, but it’s okay to ask again. I also get all the phone numbers I can.
  • For buyers who are relocating, ask “Where are you staying until you find a house?” Many buyers are renting month to month, others may have a house to sell (listing prospect), and those very motivated are staying in a hotel. If you feel it necessary, you can get more information about where they are staying.
  • Let the prospects know that it is policy to make a copy of their driver’s license and leave a copy at the front desk. Make sure someone at the office knows where you are going and when you can be expected to return.
  • When showing property to a stranger, always have an escape route. Place yourself between the customer and the door, and have your cell phone readily available. Never get in the car with someone you do not know well, and if you feel uncomfortable, ask that they follow you to the house.

If you have any reservations about the prospect, do not take a chance. Do one of the following:

  • Ask another agent to accompany you on the showing.
  • Excuse yourself briefly, call the sellers, and ask them to make an exception and be present for this showing.
  • Let the prospect know that you cannot show the property immediately, but that you will be glad to set up a showing appointment for him/her.

You should always exercise caution, but if a situation gives you strong reservations or suspicions, don’t take the appointment at all.

Bottom Line

Our business is based on the bottom line—how much of what we make we can keep. Sometimes when calculating this, however, we forget to consider the intangibles, such as our personal safety. Research on the number of REALTORS® killed on the job is difficult to find; the statistics I found indicated that 21 agents were killed in 2001 and approximately 70 agents have been killed from 1980 to 1992. Several articles have been written about agents who have confronted attackers, but survived. No matter how careful we are, this is a risky business. Don’t become a statistic. Take the time during REALTOR® Safety Week, Sept. 14-20, to make a commitment to yourself to put your personal safety above all else. Sell smart, sell safe—meet your buyers at the office!

Barbara Peterson is an affiliate broker at Crye-Leike, REALTORS® in Clarksville, Tenn. She and her partner-husband, James Peterson, have been in the business for eight years.

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