In 2018, 67 percent of real estate professionals experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety or the safety of their personal information, according to the 2018 Member Safety Report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In fact, 28 percent of respondents reported that they feel unsafe every few months.

According to Mark Leetch, senior risk control consultant at CBIZ Inc., this is a very real problem. "Realtors face the exposure of sexual assault, robbery, and even being murdered," he says.

This sentiment is shared by Angela Williams, a Birmingham, Alabama-based realtor at Extreme Agent. "The very nature of this effort often places us in harm's way," she says. "Because we engage strangers or people we are not familiar with, the risk of harm is a plausible concern.” And she believes that social media contributes to the risks that realtors face. "Social media is a great marketing tool, and has become a necessity for our business, but it also increases the potential for risk."

In the NAR report, some of the common scenarios in which realtors felt unsafe included open houses, vacant homes/model homes, properties in remote areas, properties that were unlocked or unsecured, and buyers who wouldn’t meet in a public place.

Tips for staying safe

The goal of this article is to make realtors aware, not afraid. Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to stay safe while enjoying the advantages of your profession.

"We care a lot about realtor safety — both as an association looking out for our members, and each of us as individuals," says Anne Meczywor, president of the 2019 Massachusetts Association of Realtors and also a broker/associate at Roberts & Associates Realty in Lenox, Massachusetts. "We must constantly remain aware of the potential risks and dangers of working in this profession," she says.

Tip 1: Create safety policies

Meczywor advises realtors to routinely review the various safety procedures of their brokerage, and if there are no procedures in place, she recommends creating and implementing them as soon as possible. Nearly half of survey respondents reported their brokerages have a standard set of procedures for agent safety. (Also, 71 percent of brokerages have procedures for safeguarding and disposing of client data and information.)

"While technology, in the form of safety applications, has come a long way in keeping us safe, having a safety plan that is understood and practiced consistently by everyone in the office is our greatest defense," says Meczywor.

Tip 2: Utilize technology

Speaking of safety applications, NAR survey respondents reported using a variety of smartphone apps. The Find My iPhone feature is used by 30 percent of respondents, while 6 percent use GPS Phone Track for Android, 3 percent use HomeSnap Pro, and 2 percent use either Life360 or SentriSmart.

Whether you’re using technology or leaving sticky notes, the key is to make sure your whereabouts are never in doubt. "I cannot stress the importance of communication," says Williams. "Someone needs to know where you are at all times."

Leetch also recommends communicating on a routinely basis. "Notify office, family, or friends of a showing and indicate that there will be hourly ‘check-in’ phone calls or texts," he says. "If there is no correspondence within an hour, your office, family, or friend should call you."

He also recommends checking your cellphone signal strength before entering a property and he advises you to have emergency numbers programmed and ready.

Tip 3: Don’t work alone

Your chances of being harmed decrease significantly when you’re accompanied by someone else. "If possible, work with a partner, friend, or family member at an open house," advises Leetch. And this is the approach that Williams uses. "One of the ways I have chosen to protect myself is to bring my husband or one of my sons with me," she says.

Tip 4: Carry protection

Williams also recommends carrying a firearm for protection. "Follow lawful requirements of your local government by obtaining a license and permit to carry, get trained on how to use it correctly, and carry it," she advises.

"But if you just cannot fathom the thought of using a firearm, get pepper spray," Williams says. "It is better to be prepared and the risk does not present itself than to not be prepared if it does."

According to the NAR report, 16 percent of respondents carry pepper spray, 15 percent have a firearm, 7 percent keep a pocket knife and 5 percent have a taser. Eight percent didn’t want to reveal the type of self-defense weapon they carry.

Tip 5: Scope out the property

Leetch also provides the following tips to remain safe when showing a property:

  • Upon entering a property for the first time, check all rooms for possible "escape" routes. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked to facilitate a faster escape.
  • Identify escape routes off the property. If exiting out the back door, make sure fencing does not prohibit egress from the property.
  • Have all visitors “sign in” with as much information as they will provide.
  • When showing a property always walk behind the prospect; direct them, don’t lead them.
  • Avoid attics, small rooms, or basements with no escape route.
  • Meet the neighbors of the property being shown, let them know there is a showing and you will follow up when it’s over. Ask neighbors to keep watch.
  • Don’t assume that everyone has left the property following a showing or an open house. Check all rooms and be prepared to defend yourself if you find someone.

Tip 6: Follow your instincts

There’s no way to cover every potential scenario that could occur. Williams says you should trust your gut instinct. "Do not allow the potential for monetary gain to cloud your judgment," she warns. "If you feel as though something is amiss, you are probably right."