Under Covid-19 regulations, open show houses are virtually a thing of the past. Viewings are by appointment only and prospective buyers are vetted and prequalified before an agent will show them a property for sale.
Where there is an occasional open showing, prospective buyers must fill in a register for Covid tracking, which does help to discourage criminals.
However, there is little that one can do to prevent criminals from providing false information, and finding new ways to commit crimes. Estate agents still need to be on their guard, and should always remember that giving out too much of the wrong information can make you a target.
The Realtor Safety Program from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) offers some tips to help keep estate agents safe as they go about their daily activities of showing homes and meeting new clients.
• Minimise the amount of personal information you share. Consider advertising without using your photograph, home phone number, or home address in newspapers, billboards, or on business cards. List only your office address - or no address at all. Don’t advertise your full name including your middle name or initial.
• Install caller ID on your cellphone. This will provide you with immediate information about the source of the call. You should immediately block unwanted callers, so they will automatically be rejected in the future.
• With new clients, ask them to come to your office and complete an identification form. Take photocopies or photos of their identity documents or driver’s licences and retain this information at your office. Be sure to safeguard this personal information and properly discard it when you no longer need it, in line with regulations in the new Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).
• Never drive clients in your car. Instead, have them meet you at the property to be viewed. When you leave your car outside the property, be sure it is locked and that all valuables are out of sight. It’s best to store your laptop, jackets, and any other expensive items in the boot before leaving the office so that clients or loiterers are not aware of what is in the boot.
• If possible, show properties in daylight hours. If you will be working after hours, advise your associate or agent-principal of your schedule. If you must show a property in the evening turn on all lights and open all curtains before going inside with your client.
• When showing a home, always have viewers walk in front of you. Don’t lead them, but rather gesture for them to go ahead of you from a position at least three to four arm lengths behind them.
Tips for sellers
Alert sellers that not all agents, buyers, and sellers are who they say they are. Advise them not to show their homes by themselves and to refer all inquiries to you.
• Remind sellers that strangers will be walking through their homes. Tell them not to leave personal information like post or statements of account, keys, or credit cards lying around where anyone can see them.
• Tell them to store valuables in a safe place, including expensive, easy-to-pocket electronics like cellphones or tablets. Also, remove prescription drugs. Some seemingly honest people will go to great lengths to get their hands on those.
Keep in touch
At any time of the day or night, always tell at least one person where you are going and when you will be back.
• Leave the name and phone number of the client you are meeting and schedule a time for your office to call you to check in.
• Make sure your cell phone battery is charged, and always check the cell coverage at the property before an appointment. If there is poor or no cell coverage at the property, always take someone with you.
Although traditional open showhouses are no longer held - in keeping with Covid-19 protocols - it is still sometimes necessary to hold showhouse viewings by appointment without the homeowners being on site.
The NAR guidelines advise the following:
• When entering a showhouse property for the first time, check each room and determine at least two ‘escape” routes. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked for easy access to the outside. If necessary, move furniture slightly to create a more direct path to the door. Open all interior doors to increase visibility and ensure that you don’t have to open an inward swinging door to escape.
• Don’t assume that everyone has left the premises at the end of a showhouse day. Have a colleague or friend help you check all the rooms and the backyard before locking the doors.
• Inform the neighbours that you will be hosting a showhouse, and ask them to keep an eye open for anything out of the ordinary.
To help increase confidence, some estate agents may want to learn some self-defence skills. Find out which classes are available in your area and what will suit your needs. Many gyms, martial arts studios, and community colleges offer some type of class. You can also ask colleagues, friends, and family if they have taken a self-defence class that they would recommend.
It’s important to strike a balance between paranoia and being alert to security risks. However, predators come in many different guises so estate agents need to take the necessary precautions to stay safe while showing houses.