Feeling Threatened? How to Use Your Smartphone as a Weapon

A smartphone isn't just for making phone calls. Learn about new mobile apps that can help keep you safe on the job.

July 8, 2011

Real estate can be a dangerous profession, as recent incidents in the news attest, but that smartphone you carry everywhere with you can become one of your greatest weapons in protecting you against danger.

A range of mobile apps are available — some even designed specifically for real estate professionals — that can do everything from instantly alerting others when you’re feeling threatened to even automatically accessing your GPS coordinates to request help when you need it most. The apps offer discreet ways to call for help when faced in uncomfortable situations, whether encountering squatters in vacant residences, meeting with strangers in empty homes, or even open houses where you never know who will walk through that door next.

Real estate pro Michelle Jones, ABR, GRI, with Realty Austin in Austin, Texas, recently worked with a developer to create Real Alert, a safety mobile app for the iPhone and Android for real estate professionals. She created it after facing some uncomfortable client situations herself that made her begin to question her own safety more. Following recent news of an Iowa real estate agent who was killed at a model home and a San Antonio agent brutally attacked during a showing, Jones’ husband also became fearful of his wife going to showings alone at empty houses with clients she barely knew, and so they came up with the idea for a safety mobile app that would give them both more peace of mind.

“We’re meeting strangers on our job and often we’re alone,” says Jones. “This app can make people feel more secure and it makes you more aware of your surroundings. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been uncomfortable, but I wanted to call for help without alarming the other person. By carrying things that protect ourselves and becoming more aware of the dangers, we’ll be less prey and maybe even prevent more attacks from happening.”

4 Safety Mobile Apps You Need

Real estate safety expert and trainer Tracey Hawkins with Safety and Security Source noticed in the real estate safety classes she teaches that practically all of the agents had smartphones lying out in front of them. That’s when she realized that the device that most real estate professionals already carry can become one of their greatest safety aids when meeting with clients and showing homes. Hawkins, a former real estate professional herself, began to research safety apps and came up with a list of her top four picks that she feels are must-haves for anyone working in real estate.

Devices: BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android (coming soon)
Cost: Free, premium plans available ($9.95 per month/$99.94 per year)

Hawkins chooses the Moby app as one of her top picks because of its check-in feature that could be beneficial to real estate professionals at open houses and showings. The app will send messages at predetermined times that ask “Are you OK?” If two questions go unanswered, the app will automatically notify the contacts you select that you failed to respond and provide your GPS location, which it gathers automatically from your smartphone.

Some of the app’s other features:

  • Tracking tool: You can selectively reveal your location to certain contacts. The app can be set to send your GPS location periodically to whomever you choose and keep others up-to-date while you’re on the go. You can also leave notes to your contacts, such as “on my way to a vacant property” or “a bit nervous around this new client.”
  • Alert tool: With one touch of a button, you’ll be able to alert your contacts or emergency personnel if you need help. The alert will automatically include your GPS location.

A stepped-up premium plan is available ($9.95 per month/$99.95 per year) that can be used to send your alerts to not only your contacts but also a 24/7 security monitoring system. The monitoring system can determine the appropriate emergency services needed and dispatch police, ambulance, or fire responders using your exact GPS location from your phone.

* On iPhone, find Moby by searching “Moby by Contigo” in the iTunes app store.

Real Alert
For iPhone: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/real-alert/id436455476?mt=8
For Android: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.realalert.android
Devices: iPhone and Android
Cost: $1.99

Jones’ app has gotten lots of buzz lately within the industry from REALTOR® associations and practitioners inquiring about it since it debuted late in May. The app allows you to quickly alert your emergency contacts or police when you feel threatened as well as discreetly record “creep data,” key details about suspicious people you encounter.

The app features:

  • A quick tap — one-button push — to speed dial and alert your emergency contacts when you need help.
  • A quick-tap button (double tap in this case to avoid accidental calls) to instantly call 911.
  • The ability to record “creep data,” which allows you to detail physical descriptions, vehicle information, and other important information for police. You can also record audio details or even take a photo.
  • Retrieve the location of nearby hospitals by using your GPS location.
  • A quick-tap button to sound an alarm to ward off potential attackers. (The volume will depend on the sound setting on your phone.)
  • The ability to turn your smartphone into a flashlight.

Devices: Most mobile devices
Cost: Free limited plan; full-featured plan $9.95 per month

With this app, whenever you feel in danger, you can press a panic button on your phone that instantly alerts others that you need help. E-mail and text messages then will be sent to your emergency contacts, along with your precise location using your phone’s GPS technology. The paid version of this app will also send the message to a 24/7 live conference call help center, which will contact emergency responders if necessary.

The paid version of this app also features an “Emergency Safety Profile” that is sent with your messages. This profile can provide critical details of your emergency situation to responders, such as your location, suspect information, and your one-hour location history. You also can upload images, sounds, and video to the profile to provide responders with extra details. The profile also includes your medical information, such as allergies, blood type, and your physical description (along with your photo).

Device: iPhone
Cost: $2.99

Take a photo of a suspicious person with just one press of a button and have it e-mailed instantly to your emergency contacts, along with your location information — you can even do it without that person ever knowing. IcePics (In Case of Emergency Pictures) is an iPhone app that makes your camera instantly accessible via an icon on the front screen of your phone. You can snap a photo discreetly too: Hold the phone to your ear and pretend you’re making a phone call but tilt the phone toward the person to take the photo — the photo is taken without a click sound and is instantly sent to your emergency contacts, without making any noise.

The e-mail to your emergency contacts will include the photo as well as your GPS coordinates and a link to a Google map so your contacts can pinpoint the precise location at which the photo was taken.