Sounds of the door shuffling on its hinges echo through the house. You look around but see no one, just shadows. As panic washes over you the first thoughts that run through your head are run, get out as fast as you can. Are you safe?
Irrespective of whether you are a real estate agent, seller or potential buyer, this scenario can be very uncomfortable and downright unnerving. The sad truth is that because show homes are often vulnerable targets, many real estate agents, sellers and buyers have been in a rather precarious and potentially dangerous situation.
Adrian Goslett of RE/MAX Southern Africa provides a few simple guidelines and tips to showing a home safely:
Let people know where you will be
"Have a primary group of people, either family or colleagues that know where you are going and who you are meeting. In today's technological age there is no reason to be living in a cavalier way. Most people have a smartphone at their disposal and are easily contactable through the course of the day - use this resource," says Goslett.
He notes that there are also several apps that can be downloaded for free to help keep you safe. These include GPS trackers to lead people to your location or automatic video recordings to capture proof of criminal activity. While an app does not have the power to stop a senseless attack or incident from happening, it might just give you the tools to alert the right people and get help faster.
"One example of such an app is bSafe, in which you create a network of 'guardians' who can follow you via a GPS trace. The app also has an alarm function that can be used in an emergency situation. Pressing the alarm alerts your guardians of your exact location while recording audio and video which can be presented to the police later," Goslett explains.'"
Meet and greet in a public space
If you have received a call or message from someone who is interested in viewing a property, be sure to vet the person before taking them to the home. "Ideally the first time an agent meets a new potential client, it should not be at the property of interest. While meeting at another secure location may not be the most convenient method - is convenience worth the potential risk to either the agent or the seller? Your safety should always be a top priority.
It is not only children that should be aware of stranger danger. Anyone you have not previously met or engaged with could be a potential threat or be alert and vigilant," warns Goslett. Take the time to meet the person at the brokerage or public space such as a local coffee shop. An additional advantage would be to take the person to a meeting place that has a surveillance camera that both of you can be seen."
Use social media as a verification tool
There is a wealth of information that can be found through social media - use it to get to know a bit about the person you are meeting. With a name, phone number and email address it is possible to have access to a person's entire social media profile. Spend some time exploring various posts to get a feel for the potential client from both a safety standpoint and relationship building vantage point. Exchanging business cards with a potential client is a relatively easy, non-invasive way to get their information and to see whether they are who they say they are.
Be conscious of your cyber activity and information
Despite firewalls and security packages, cyber privacy breaches are still a possibility. Unsecured emails shouldn't contain confidential information no matter who the sender or receiver is. Also never transfer any funds to accounts that have not been phonically verified with the party.
"During a show day, ensure that there are no account or identification numbers on display. All vital documents and sensitive information should be packed away in a lockable drawer or cupboard. A prospective homebuyer should not be able to walk into a home office or study with unlocked cupboards and drawers that contain either business or personal account information," Goslett advises.
It is best to err on the side of caution and report anything strange or risky that you encounter, be it verbal, online or in person. Rather than adopting a wait-and-see approach, think safety first and report any suspicious behaviour to either the local security company or local law enforcement. "Spreading the news will help keep other in the neighbourhood safer, Goslett concludes."
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