Stop Crimes of Opportunity

The past two years were some of the most dangerous on record for real estate professionals. Assaults and murders were up. Don’t let your daily routine distract you from staying alert: Here are four easy tips to change violent trends this year.

January 1, 2012

Hosting open houses, going on listing appointments, and visiting vacant properties are routine duties for a real estate professional. But don’t let routine hamper you from staying alert.

According to Andrew Wooten, crime-prevention expert and president of S.A.F.E., the last 12 months were dangerous for REALTORS®. “I’ve been teaching safety since 1986, and last year was the most violent year I’ve ever seen in the industry,” he says.

Wooten teamed up with AGBeat and Moby, a safety app for REALTORS®, to release the 2011 REALTOR® Safety Report in September. They tracked data collected from police reports, state attorneys’ general offices, and expert interviews. What they found was a rise in violent attacks on real estate professionals, which totaled 16 assaults and seven murders by July 2011.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show a similar violent trend. Although 2011 numbers have not yet been released, 2010 was the most dangerous on record for real estate professionals since the agency’s categorical tracking of the “real estate, rental, and leasing” sector began in 2003.

Of the total 85 real estate occupational deaths in 2010, 35 were due to assaults and violent acts, and 25 were deemed homicides, according to BLS data. These were the two most common causes of on-the-job real estate fatalities in 2010 – even more common than vehicle accidents.

REALTORS® are targeted because they are crimes of opportunity, says Marcia Peot, a full time police officer and chief safety officer with StreetSafe, a mobile safety app. The rise in offenses also has to do with the economy putting more people into desperate financial situations.

Perpetrators target real estate professionals because know they carry a phone, purse, or wallet, and are often alone. “It doesn’t matter what area you’re working in, whether it’s the suburbs, city, or rural area, these crimes are everywhere,” she says.

Tragedy struck at home for Iowa REALTORS® last year when a real estate agent was assaulted during a showing in Ottumwa, Iowa, in February. Then the unthinkable: Ashley Okland, a 27-year-old real estate practitioner, was murdered in a West Des Moines model home in April.

“Safety has always been a priority for me, but now safety is even more important,” says Dave Bert, CEO of the Iowa Association of REALTORS® (IAR) and 30-year industry veteran.

IAR responded to the tragedies by launching a series of safety courses taught by Wooten throughout the state during the summer. They also offered IAR’s own safety course in four areas in which Wooten did not travel. In total, IAR reached more than 775 agents in over 25 local boards and associations and promoted the courses to all 6,700 members of the state.

Additionally, brokerages and local boards brought in local law enforcement officials to membership meetings to educate agents.

What’s more, Iowa Realty established a Web site,, where they publish videos, tip sheets, and a schedule of local safety courses.

“We are trusting because buyers and sellers place their trust in us. We want to place our trust in them, but you have to think about safety first,” says Bert.

The Washington Real Estate Safety Council was also formed as a result of tragedy. Mike Emert, a Bellevue, Wash., real estate agent was stabbed in a home he was showing in January 2001. The nonprofit offers free office forms to help brokerages identify clients, keep emergency information for everyone in the office, and track where agents are at any given time.

Make sure one of your New Year’s resolutions is to incorporate safety in your 2012 daily routine. Here are four tips to change this trend of violence against REALTORS®:

1.      Trust Your Instincts: Wooten has a Golden Rule: “You are your best weapon – your mind, voice, and body. Listen and trust your inner voice.” If something doesn’t feel right, or someone is making you feel uncomfortable, head for the door. Never ignore your intuition in fear of losing a sale. It’s not worth it!

2.      Have a Procedure in Place for New Clients: Always meet new prospects at your office when your fellow associates are around. Have them fill out a prospect identification form with their name, phone number, vehicle make and model, and license plate number — and verify their information. In addition, get a photocopy of their driver’s license and keep it on file. Visit NAR’s REALTOR® safety page for a complete listing of safety forms that you can customize with your company logo.

3.      Use a Buddy System: Establish a buddy relationship with a coworker or fellow agent. Whenever possible, take them with you to vacant listings and open houses. If it’s not possible to have the second person with you, make sure they at least always know where you are. The Washington Real Estate Safety Council advises agents to walk through listings and plan their escape routes before a showing, leave doors open, avoid attics and basements, and always walk behind clients.

4.      Utilize Technology: Always keep your cell phone charged and close to you. Download personal security apps such as StreetSafe or Moby. StreetSafe’s “Silent Red Alarm” can be enacted with a discrete slide, communicating your location and profile information to the local 911 center. If the situation is uncomfortable, but not significant enough to call 911, the “Walk With Me” green button puts you in contact with a live, 24/7 safety advisor who will offer safety tips and contact police if a situation escalates (use promo code BESAFE for a 15 percent discount). The Moby app allows you to send your GPS location periodically to designated contacts. It also has an emergency alert button that will contact 911 with your GPS location if you need help.

Interested in passing on the safety message in 2012? NAR has its complete REALTOR® Safety presentation available for download, so you can conduct training at your office or association. It will also help your organization establish easily-adoptable safety procedures and policies.

Erica Christoffer
Product Manager

Erica Christoffer is the product manager for REALTOR® Magazine, driving growth and helping make data-driven decisions for the editorial products and programs that fall under the publication's umbrella. Erica also co-manages the magazine's 30 Under 30 program. During her tenure as an editor, she wrote and edited hundreds of articles for the magazine and launched the Broker to Broker section. Connect with Erica via email: