Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Phones Offer Touch of Safety
Mobile apps are on guard to alert authorities with the touch of a button in case you find yourself in a dangerous situation while on the job.
January 21, 2015
Michelle Jones never anticipated that a phone could save a life—until one played a role in the safety of a local agent she knew.
Jones’ colleague was on her phone talking to a friend during an open house when a man walked in and attacked her, recalls Jones, GRI, a broker-associate with Realty Austin in Austin, Texas. Luckily, the friend on the other end of the line heard the commotion and called authorities.
Is Your Phone Ready and Able?
- Ensure your smartphone is fully charged before meeting with new clients or holding open houses.
- Have your phone’s cellular tracking and GPS functions turned on.
- Check your phone’s signal strength before entering a house to make sure you have strong reception.
- Keep your smartphone in your hand or on your person when touring homes with prospects. Don’t leave it lying around.
- Have your safety app of choice open and running in the background on your phone in case you need to use it in an emergency.
The incident convinced Jones and her husband, Thaddeus, who has since joined her as a partner in the brokerage, that something more was needed. They began developing a mobile app specifically for real estate agents that would allow them to call for help with the press of a button. That’s how the Real Alert app was born in 2011. Since then, the market for safety apps has exploded with a slew of products now available to help practitioners stay safe on the job. Some of these apps allow agents to enlist a “safety team” that can track their whereabouts as they tour homes. Others have the ability to instantly and discreetly send alerts when an agent feels threatened.
The murders of Iowa agent Ashley Okland in 2011 and Arkansas agent Beverly Carter last September thrust the issue of safety in the real estate industry into the national spotlight. While installing an app is hardly a foolproof solution for managing risk on the job, it’s important to know about technology advances that can help you stay safer.
Here’s a sampling of mobile apps that real estate trainers have been touting.
Jones’ app can give you instant access to emergency services. Double tap to call 911 or tap the “alarm” button to sound a high-pitched alert to ward off potential attackers. The “alert a friend” button allows you to speed-dial an emergency contact. You can also use the app to collect “creep data”—details about a person who assaulted or threatened you—and to take photos or record audio. $1.99.
Tap the app’s “panic” button to alert your designated “safety network” of friends and family when you need help. They’ll receive an e-mail or text message that includes your GPS location. The app’s paid version will also send the message to a 24/7 SafeTREC Response Call Center, which will notify emergency responders, and includes “threat alerts” that let you know when you enter a higher-risk neighborhood based on reported crime levels. Free limited plan, $9.95 a month for premium plan.
Originally seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” this app allows you to tap once to stream live video, audio, and GPS information to your emergency contacts. In “stealth mode,” your smartphone’s screen will go black so no one around you will know you’re streaming video. A paid version of the app also streams video and GPS tracking information to a 24/7 professional monitoring team, which can dispatch help for you. Free limited plan, paid plans starting at $8.99 a month.
Quickly check in at properties and capture information on new prospects. Press the app’s “showing” button and leave a voice note with the address of your showing, which is stored in the Agents Armor database and can be sent to your designated safety contacts. When a prospect arrives at the showing, you can use the “voice notes” function to provide a description of his or her vehicle. Ask for a photo ID before entering the property and use the “image capture” feature to store a copy of the prospect’s -driver’s license. Thirty minutes later, the app automatically checks in to make sure you’re safe. Starting at $5.95 a month, brokerage plans also available.
When you press the “alert” button, the company’s monitors will be able to listen to audio from your mobile device. You can use a safe word, which you provide at the time of registration, to confirm that you’re in distress and need help. Free trial, $14.99 a month afterward.
You don’t even have to tap a button or dial a phone number to send alerts with this app. Simply shake your phone or click the power button three consecutive times, and the app will send a text message or e-mail to your preselected emergency contacts to notify them that you’re in trouble. They’ll also see the time of your alert, the amount of battery life left on your phone, and your GPS coordinates. The phone will vibrate to confirm the alert was sent. Messages to your contacts will then be continuously sent to update them with your GPS location. You can also include a one-minute voice message to your contacts detailing the situation. Available only on Android devices. Free.
This app has three life-saving buttons: M, E, and A. “M” stands for “medical”; use that button to send messages about your allergies or medical conditions, or call for help in a medical emergency. The “E” button stands for “emergency,” a way to instantly send a preset message to your contacts when you are in an unsafe situation. “A” stands for “arrival” and can be clicked to let your preselected contacts know when you arrive safely at a location. $2.99.