Sam DeBord is managing broker and vice president of strategic growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, past president of Seattle King Country REALTORS®, vice president of government affairs for Washington REALTORS®, and NAR president's liaison for MLS and Data Management. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.
A National Open-Door Policy
The solution to one of the main dangers of the real estate profession is right in front of our faces. But it’s going to take all of us collaborating for safety to succeed.
November 20, 2014
The murder of REALTOR® Beverly Carter saddened us all. However, most were not shocked. While these occurrences are rare in absolute terms, the frequency with which agents are targeted by criminals is high enough that we all remember a handful of similar stories.
Our usual response is some hand-wringing, reminders about safety policies, the adoption of new apps, and the inclusion of a “Top 10 Tips To Stay Safe” list in our newsletters. It has never been enough, and it won’t be this time, either. Our primary goal shouldn’t be to notify others after we’re in trouble. It should be to significantly change the way we work in order to prevent those situations in the first place.
The ability to meet a potential client at a real estate office is by far the most effective way to deter stalkers and criminals. It avoids the situation that defines nearly every crime we hear about against agents: being victimized by an unknown person at an unsupervised location.
The core issue is time. Real estate is a frantic industry, and we’re always scrambling to save a few minutes. We may follow standard safety procedures most of the week, but when a home on the east side of town just needs one quick showing on a busy Friday, and our office is 10 miles west, we don’t want to burden anyone with the drive. We make the “just this once” excuse in our heads, and we show the property to strangers.
We all know that real estate is essentially about location, and so is our problem. Some of us work for companies with a dozen offices scattered around our region, but most of us don’t. If every agent only had an office nearby, the extra 10 minutes for a safety meet-up wouldn’t be such a hassle.
Here’s the thing: Every REALTOR® does have that office, if we only think of ourselves as a community banding together for safety. Every real estate office across the country should promote an open-door policy that would allow real estate agents with other companies to use their public space for quick safety check-ins with new clients.
We talk a lot about the unique spirit of cooperation in our business, but extending it to our competitors and associates in the brick-and-mortar world would really put our money where our mouths are.
I’m not suggesting brokers provide coffee, Wi-Fi, or a formal space for writing up contracts. This idea would simply allow any REALTOR® to ask potential clients to meet up and shake hands in a professional, public environment.
Some companies may already have an implied open-door policy. Our management at Coldwell Banker Danforth has committed to it for our offices in the greater Seattle market. The effect would be exponentially greater, though, as a national standard of practice. It would be an accepted requirement for being a part of the professional ranks, and agents in the field would know they could rely upon it if it was adopted across the board.
There will be plenty of broker objections, but most are shortsighted:
“An agent from across town may end up in my office every morning.”
“Virtual agents who don’t pay for their own desk will be trying to use mine.”
“That agent who stole our listing will be standing in my lobby, trying to sell it to her buyer.”
If we were always laser-focused on safety, these objections would melt away as petty, and we could secure our industry against predators based on goodwill alone. Luckily, there are also business advantages to such a national policy.
Brokers are constantly looking for ways to get in front of successful agents for recruiting purposes. The agent who ends up in your office regularly with clients is clearly someone who works your region well. She’ll make friends with your employees at the front desk. You can get to know her face-to-face and explain why she should be working in an office that so obviously fits her needs. These agents who are constantly out in the field are on the upward success trend. Most of us work for more than one company over the course of our careers, and it’s usually personal contact that creates those conversions.
Now think of it from the individual agent’s perspective: They wouldn’t bring clients in to your office and expose them to your branding if they didn’t really need to. They clearly value your office, and it’s up to you to close the deal. Even their clients will be sitting in your nice lobby, wondering if this might be the local company they should be working with in the future.
While this solution wouldn’t cover all showing situations, we’d have countless REALTORS® whose safety would benefit greatly from this policy. Brokers who pride themselves on positive branding, foundation building, and a forward-thinking recruiting strategy will understand the potential benefits.
As I mentioned above, we shouldn’t need all of these ancillary broker benefits for the open-door policy to make sense. We should adopt it immediately simply because a fair number of our own have been beaten, abused, robbed, and murdered for simply doing their jobs. Still, the recruiting benefits for brokers who employ a brick-and-mortar model are clear. Your new recruits will be walking through your door, and your long-time agents will have greater security when they happen to travel outside their usual neighborhoods.
An open-door policy costs nothing, improves safety, and increases collaboration within our industry. What are we waiting for?