Realtor job description (partial):
Meet people online, put hitchhikers your car, take them to vacant homes, and say “How do you like it?”
That sounds safe, right?
On a quest to develop THE BEST systems for running THE BEST real estate business, my partner and I debated how to stay safe. In the past, we've just relied on our “Spidey Senses” to determine when to remove ourselves from a situation. We also don’t think we work in a high-risk area, but only a few years ago a Honolulu Realtor was murdered by a personal acquaintance. We know we shouldn’t be too comfortable.
So, what can we do to promote Realtor safety?
Weed Out Real Business vs. Fake Business
At least weekly an email will circulate in our office with one agent asking all the others if they’ve received the same email or phone inquiry. (Follow-up blog on email etiquette later.) There’s just enough information to get an agent salivating over the next deal, but vague enough to make them wonder. Real or fake?
And by that I mean cyber-stalk like a jealous ex. Look at Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. to make sure the details fit. If the person isn’t findable online, ask more questions. If they are findable, decide if you’re comfortable connecting with them. I use a separate Facebook list for this purpose. This creates another tie back to that person. Evidence for the trial!
Look in the online tax record to see if the person owns any property.
Pick up the phone before emailing.
That's such a "no duh" of sales, but we know many Realtors are hesitant to pick up the phone when e-mail is easier.
Reply with specific instructions requiring essay style answers.
“Tell me about the property you want to buy/sell.”
“Tell me about your move plans.”
“Tell me about your hobbies and interests.”
“Tell me why you are….”
Feel free to get personal! Discovering and connecting with your clients is all part of great sales, and it helps you find holes in their story. Use friendliness and enthusiasm for your work as tools to protect your safety.
Ask related follow up questions.
This allows you to pick up on false motives and separates the bots from the humans. Real buyers or sellers know what they own, what they prefer, and why they want to transact, or at least can have a detailed conversation about what they’re considering. Asking deeper questions allows you to differentiate a ready client from a looky-loo or a spam scam.
Also, when you’re dealing with someone who may have ulterior motives, the more questions you ask, the more alert and conscientious you prove to be. They may choose an easier target.
Buy the right tool for the job.
At the recent National Association of Realtors annual conference in Chicago, at the trade show I found security companies like Forewarn, which will verify your lead’s contact information, provide criminal background searches, and verify their current assets. Now that’s pre-qualification! If you’re meeting many strangers, this would be a tool worth using.
Here are some indicators of fake leads:
“I’m out of the country.” Of course, especially in the Honolulu market, a lot of people really are out of the country. If they’re real, they’re giving you specifics about how and when they can do business, not asking you to do something strange using their absence as an excuse.
Dealing with “the handler” on a web or phone lead. Unless you handle zillion dollar deals regularly, no one with “people” is calling you out of the blue. Those people don’t pick up the internet equivalent of the Yellow Pages to find a Realtor. On a slow business day I entertained myself chatting on the phone with one for a while. It ended up with him trying to sell me phone cards.
Non-working phone number. Leads come in with bad phone numbers regularly. Email the client to ask for a replacement. Say you’ll use the client’s preferred method to communicate, but you do need a personal phone number for any transaction.
“I’m waiting on a settlement.” Aren’t we all? In fact, I’m still waiting to spill my hot coffee on my lap so I can then wait on the settlement.
You are as entitled to your safety as your buyers and sellers are. Act like it. Good people will respect you for it.
Much of our job is to set expectations with clients. We tell them about the services we do and don't provide to list and sell their homes. We explain the purchase contract and what’s coming next in the transaction process. We warn them to lock up their valuables and prescription medications, and we explain how the Sentrilock box records exactly who’s been given keys. We talk about the security of their deposits and minimizing risk through contingencies. It shouldn’t be difficult to work in the expectation of our safety as well.
We can prime our clients to look out for their own safety and ours by adding a few lines to our printed literature and emails, or practice saying these out loud.
Use Safety Scripts & Systems
“Prior to our first showings we will meet either at my office or another mutually convenient location. This meeting allows us to make sure we’re seeing the right types of properties that fit your needs and budget, and we can discuss strategies you can use to view a home.” It also allows you to size up a client in public. Beware of the “Just open the door!” attitude. Even if that client is not a criminal, they're one who only sees you as a necessary tool and is likely abuse your relationship, not one who will be respectful of your business and time.
“Please provide a photo of your identification. When we open a transaction, the escrow company and lender will need it on file.” Make this part of your in-processing routine and it just becomes ...routine.
(To the lender) "Just checking in to see if you've received identity verification for this client, and what kind." Verify through another party if you're not comfortable asking the client.
“In order to reduce liability and increase agent security, our brokerage requires identification from all new clients before showings. Please send a photo of your identification for our file.” Blame the broker.
“We leave a record of our client appointment schedule at the office.” A casual mention lets people know you leave a trail. And DO IT.
"When I told my husband I was showing you this house, we decided to meet up for dinner nearby." Someone knows I'm here with you and is expecting me soon.
“We want our buyers to feel comfortable during showings. You’re welcome to ride with me, or drive yourself to showings. For your safety, we carry additional insurance and have a clean driving record.” We care about your safety, too.
"We use (insert selected tool) to ensure the safety of our agents and clients." After all, if you're keeping yourself safe in your client's home, you're protecting their interests also. They don't need a violent crime disclosure on their property.
If you're getting push-back:
“My mother told me never to go with strangers.” Add humor. Shout out to mom!
“Please understand, not all of the public is as trustworthy as you are. We can’t legally pick and choose who we ask for identification, so we ask everyone to provide it.
"You’ll need to provide it to various parties throughout the transaction anyway.”
No other agent has asked me for this. "Wow! I'm surprised! It's very common in today's business."
Activate your safety app.
Stand between the client and the door.
Stand a few feet away.
Hold the keys.
Hold your phone.
Leave the front door open, if it’s appropriate.
Greet the neighbors if you see any.
If you drive separately, don’t let a client block your car.
Safety Before Sales
Understand there isn't a sale if there isn't safety. We all want business, but much of our job is discriminating between the people who will or will not buy or sell a home. If a potential client isn't meeting the personal safety criteria you set, show them the door.