Kaplan University School of Professional and Continuing Education Kaplan University School of Professional and Continuing Education

RealXperts - 30 Minutes that Could Save Your Life

RealXperts real estate webinar series Corporate security and risk management executive Carol Martinson shows you simple and essential strategies to create and sustain a safer environment as you do you perform your day to day duties as a real estate agent. As a real estate professional, you are at risk every day. Your simple habits, fixed routines, and trusting attitude could make you an easy mark for people with bad intentions. In this edition of RealXperts, Carol explains where real estate professionals’ biggest vulnerabilities exist and how to thwart them.


Good morning. Welcome to "30 Minutes That Could Save Your Life." Thank you for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking the time to be here.

My name is Carol Martinson. I'm the President of a company called Intentional Security Design. My career background and why I'm in front of you today is that I spent a whole lot of years talking to people about personal safety, working in corporate security, loss prevention, really going after and making sure we teach people not to be victims. So our goal today is to really talk about how do we keep you from being a victim. We're really talking about personal safety.

So as you look at the course overview today, just make sure we kind of set the stage here is we're really going to talk about agent safety because that was our premise today, to talk about people who work in real estate. We're going to talk about some basic safety information and processes that you can translate to no matter where you are, personally, professionally as you move forward. So that's really the goal today.

I'd also ask if you've got questions during the course of today's session that you submit them in the chat portion of the webinar. If we can, we'll answer them at the end. Hopefully, in the process, we'll have answered a couple of them as we get there. So please feel free to do that today.

So, again, let's talk about what we're going to do today. We're going to talk about basic information about your personal risk and safety. Hopefully, by the end of this, we're going to elevate your personal risk and awareness because that's really what this is all about today. And then just provide a few simple tools for you to use as soon as you leave our session today.

The National Association of Realtors did a survey that they published this March of 2015. This is one of the things that they found. I thought it was a pretty interesting quote. Ninety-six percent of realtors have never been the victim of a crime, but 40% have found themselves in a situation where they've feared for the safety or the safety of their personal information.

That's a pretty interesting dichotomy, 96% have never been the victim of a crime, but 40% of them have worried about it. So that leads me to a couple of things. One is maybe you've done things to prevent yourself from being the victim of a crime, but I think it also talks a little bit about some of the media concern and some of the issues that are out there. I think it's important that we put this in context and really talk about what it does really mean to you personally.

Some of the most common circumstances, again, cited from that same survey from March, National Association of Realtors, is that fearful situations were open houses, showing vacant and model homes or working with properties that were unlocked or unsecured and showing homes in remote areas. I'm sure some of you have gone through the whole foreclosure piece, what happened when you walked into those kinds of properties, etc. So we're really talking about things that you deal with every single day as part of your role as a real estate agent.

So let's talk about what's the real problem. Why are we even chatting a little bit today about this process? The real problem with personal safety is habits, routines and attitudes. We all have them and we all have processes that sometimes get us in trouble.

So if we're talking about my own personal habits or your own personal habits, it's always things like, "I've always done it this way. I'm always in a hurry. I've got too many things to do. I don't have time to do all this extra stuff." So it's really about talking about is safety really extra stuff or is it something you should be working on every single day as part of what you do.

Routines get in our way as well. Again, you drive to work the same way every day. You drive home from the office the same way. How many of you have gotten home and thought, "I don't remember the drive." You're so distracted by everything else going on, you don't even remember driving from point A to point B. All of a sudden, you're in your driveway. So that's really talking about how do we shake those things up a little bit and how do we step back and make sure that we are not getting caught into those kinds of situations.

And then the attitude piece is, "It won't happen to me, not enough time, too much of a bother. I just don't want to deal with stuff." Maybe if it doesn't sound like you, does it sound like your business partner? You can always help them out a little bit at the same time to do this. But just asking you to step back and say what are the habits, the routines and the attitudes that can cause problems for you and your personal safety?

So let's talk about vulnerability factors. By your very nature, being a real estate agent, you're a very independent person. You take risks. You're out there in the public every single day doing what you do and that's what makes you successful at what you do. So that's important. But you're in a very, very public business. Because of that, you have some potentially increased safety risks.

Let's talk about your personal information. Your business card probably has your photo on it. It's got your phone number, has your email, has your office address. You probably have a website that's got some of the same information on it and with more information about how you do business, how to get ahold of you, do all those types of things.

Social media, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, all those types of things have changed how people can find out you, but they're also tools that you can use to find out about your clients at the same time. So it's kind of a double-edged sword, but one of the things you need to be really cautious of is let's not put a lot of personal information, especially about your family, on Facebook or some other things. If you've got a Facebook business page, that should be different than your Facebook personal page.

So think about those types of things as you look at your electronic presence, your digital presence. It's really what can people find out about you? You want them to find out about you. That's where you find clients. But where's the balance between what's appropriate and what's not appropriate? Electronic stalking has become a much bigger issue than it used to be because of the digital types of situations.

The other thing you do all the time is you are going into new and unknown settings and you're meeting new and unknown people. So, again, that increases your vulnerability to potential situations. So it's talking about how do you take a special look at dealing with open houses. How do you meet new clients? How do you meet buyers and sellers? What are you doing with people like appraisers and contractors and other people that you perhaps are meeting and working with for the first time?

So those are kind of the factors that, at some point, make you and your particular business a little bit more vulnerable. But there are also things that you can do to offset that vulnerability. That's really the important part of what we're talking about today.

So we're going to talk about building an action plan, something that you could, at the end of our 25 or 30 minutes today, you're going to have a couple of things you're going to be able to apply instantly. So that's really the goal of what we're talking about. So when you start thinking about an action plan, I want you to think about the risk in any situation, whether it's a real perceived one. Then you prepare accordingly.

It isn't just blindly walking into an open house. It isn't just blindly walking into a coffee shop to meet somebody that you've never met before. So really thinking about the risk in any situation--it's going to be low risk and high risk, depending on what you're doing. So when you do that, you think about how do you prepare against that risk level. But thinking about it ahead of time is a situation.

And then action plans should be how do you approach new buyers and sellers? Is it the same or is it different? I think that's a good question to ask, is it the same or different depending upon the situation? How do you prepare for open houses? Do you have a buddy that you bring with you? Do you have pre and post procedures for opening and closing the property? How do you prepare for meetings with other professionals?

So really, we're going to talk about some of those detailed steps. If you've got a piece of paper, I'd like you to jot down a couple of things that you personally can do as you build an action plan. What do you do in each circumstance? What will you change? How are you going to enhance your process? Maybe you already have great processes. Good for you. That's wonderful. But is there a new agent that maybe hasn't thought about some of this stuff that you can help them with those kinds of issues. So it's really stepping back and saying, "How am I going to do this?"

Open house, so do you get there early? What's your walk in pre-clients? There are lots of things. The National Association of Realtors has good materials. Safety, Realtor Magazine had a really good safety checklist that I saw recently. So there are things out there about things you can do. But when you're going to have an open house, what's the time? What's the location? Is it evening? Is it daytime? What do you know about the property? What do you know about the neighborhood as you get there so that you're walking into that process?

There's also the 10-second rule, which is two seconds as you sit in your car, two seconds when you get out as you approach the house two seconds at the doorway, those kinds of things as you come and go from a piece of property. Lots of people will tell you to make sure you've got the doors unlocked, make sure you've got open windows, those kinds of things. So really keeping in place what you're doing as you get there.

So what's your action plan for a new client? Where do you meet? Who knows that you're going to meet them? Do you drive separately to the sites? One of the things that are happening in this digital age is that you might be getting a phone call from somebody sitting in front of a piece of property saying, "I want to see the house now," or they're going to send you a tweet or a LinkedIn message and you don't really know much about them as you get there. Again, that's part of the double-edged sword of using the social media to help you find out what's going on with a new person as you get there.

In all the years I've worked in corporate security, Facebook is one of the best investigation tools that's ever come up. We can find out what people are doing because they are crazy about putting too much stuff on your page. Maybe you can use that to your advantage if you've got a new client to say, "I just want to know what the person looks like. I want to know who they are." LinkedIn is another one you can do with that.

So you've got a new buyer. Where are you going to meet the buyer? Is it going to be at the office? Is it at the site? Again, what kinds of things are you going to do for each one of these situations to say, "This is what I'm doing to make sure I'm walking into this as safely as I can. It's going to be a good business transaction and it's going to be something that will work for both of us."

What about other professionals? Do you vet that new contractor or the new home inspector or the new appraiser? Do you have references for them? Are you really stepping out and saying, "How do I make sure I do this so I know exactly whom I'm working with and I'm not going to be leading my client astray by recommending this contractor or the home inspector or the appraiser?" So, again, vetting those references and doing that in as quick a manner as possible to do that.

So to get an action plan, one of the things you need for your plan is a toolkit. I'm not talking a little orange box with a handle on it, but it is a mental toolkit and there may be some actual physical tools that you could be using. It's called knowledge and awareness, the two most basic things to put in your toolkit are the knowledge and awareness of what you're doing, the knowledge of the neighborhood, the knowledge of the clients, the knowledge of the buyers and sellers, the knowledge of the property and the knowledge of what's going on in the neighborhood and what's the risk as you walk into that situation.

And then it's the awareness of what's going on. If I haven't said it earlier today, I should, which is put the phone down. Pay attention to what's going on around you. Don't just walk blindly down the sidewalk with your phone in your face because you're trying to catch up on emails and other kinds of things. You can't pay attention to your surroundings and the circumstances if you're distracted by a phone or distracted by trying to do email or a phone call or a text or whatever it might be.

I've been doing some work on a university campus and I'm just amazed that they don't lose 12 people a day tripping over sidewalks or walking into telephone poles because nobody is looking at where they're walking. If they're not looking where they're walking, they're also not aware of who's behind them or around them. That's that whole, general basic awareness piece that's so important.

And then physical things to put in your toolkit or to have in your toolkit would be your phone. I just said be careful with it, but it is a tremendously valuable tool. And then a good flashlight. Not the light on your phone, a really good flashlight. So if you're going into a property and all of a sudden the power is out, you've got a good flashlight. Also, bright LED flashlights are also good personal safety devices because you can shine them in somebody's eyes and temporary blind them and give you a chance to make a decision about moving away if it's important to do that.

So, again, phone, flashlight. You can get very sophisticated on the types of tools that are out there. There are jewelry alarms. There are apps for your phone. There are other types of things. Again, the National Association of Realtors had some very good information on those types of tools. I think you need to be cautious with them. Are you going to continue to use them as you move forward? So basic tools, knowledge and awareness, phone and flashlight and then you can decide what's right for you as you move forward.

Protocols, very, very basic protocols you need in your toolkit. The office needs to know where you are or your buddy needs to know where you are or your family needs to know where you are. What's the protocol around a new client, a new buyer? How do you meet them? Where do you meet them? How do you do these types of things? So the protocols that you put in place, which are habits, which are guidelines for you to use, are very important.

And then the basic processes that you should be doing every time you come up to do any piece of an open house or meet a new client. And that's just called stop, look and listen. Pay attention to what's going on around you as you enter a new situation or even one that's maybe gotten routine for you to stop and say, "I'm going to look at this just a little bit differently than I have before.

Then have things like a code word or phrase that you can say, "I have to call my office," and you can have a code word or phrase that you can have with the office to say, "I need some help. Have somebody come here. I'm concerned about what's going on." That can be anything that makes sense for you to do that. It could be, "Can you pull out the red file?" or, "Can you pull out the green file?" If red sounds like you're trying to alert somebody. Have some kind of a phrase. You can text that or you can call it that somebody is paying attention to that that can get you some help if you need.

It's really about paying attention to what and where you are every single time that you're in a business situation. The thing that's important that you notify law enforcement or your office of any serious issues. Don't assume somebody else is going to tell somebody that this person has kind of creeped them out from an open house or whatever else might be going on.

So the process should be to stop, look and listen, pay attention to what's going on around you, have a process for getting assistance if you need it. If it escalates to a point where it should be reported to the law enforcement, please do that. They would rather have you call them and tell you something small then get a call later when something happens. So it's really important that you do those kinds of things.

The neighborhood I live in, we've had some very, very minor, petty crime. It's like the scrappers taking stuff out of the garbage things. It's become this big deal in the neighborhood. It's like if you call the police, they'll take care of it, but the police don't know about it unless you call them.

So whether it's your office or the police, when you've got a concern, please let somebody know. Maybe you've got a seller or a client or somebody who's kind of skipping around agent to agent, that's something people should know. So just pay attention to these kinds of things as you put your toolkit together.

Here's a quote from an article from the National Association of Realtors. I think one of the things that are really important is we forget sometimes, something happens and it's top of mind for 30 to 60 days. In some of the research that we've done the last six months, I think we've determined that 19 agents have been killed since 1990. Now, that's less than one a year, but that's still way too many.

The reality is that we get media coverage of very serious incidents. It makes the national news. It makes the local news. It causes all of us to dust off our safety plans and we buy new things and we do all kinds of stuff and then it fades from our memory. We're humans. That's how it happens.

So it's really appropriate and important that we don't let that happen, that you are doing what you need to do every day to make this top of mind. You want to go home to your family every night. You want to go home intact. You don't want to go home frazzled. You don't want to go home concerned and upset by having a really negative incident when you were trying to do your business.

So this quote I think is pretty typical. It's really easy for us to go back to our old habits and routines. So the challenge for us personally, every single one of us, every single day is to say, "How do I do that? How do I keep this top of mind without being paranoid?" Remember, the goal of today was not to make you paranoid. The goal of the day was to give you some tools and give you some thought processes around how you can make personal safety every day.

We're really talking about elevating personal safety to an everyday level. You're probably looking at the slide going, "Water and electricity, what's that got to do with any of this stuff?" Well, a long time ago I had a crime prevention person talk to hundreds of people after a personal safety incident after we'd had some pretty serious crimes around the facility I was working in.

She started the session by saying, "How many you used a hairdryer this morning?" Then she said, "How many of you stood in the bathtub when they did it?" Of course, nobody did because they were still at the session. She said, "My goal is to get you today to build personal safety into your everyday life just like you have been taught since an infant not to mix water with electricity. We don't do that. We know it's not the thing to do. It's really about making sure personal safety becomes part of what you do every single day.

Have a buddy system. It's important that you do that. Your office, your business partner, a family member, take somebody with you when it's appropriate to do that. At least make sure that you've got different kinds of things to really focus on that as you move forward. Knowing your routines and how to minimize those bad habits and the routines and the attitudes that we all slip into every single day, know what they are and how to increase your awareness.

Then follow those basics. What are your tools? What's your toolkit got? What are you adding to it after we're done chatting a little bit today? What are the protocols that you have in place or that you're going to enhance? I'm willing to bet most of you have got something, but let's just dust it off, take a look at it and make sure that it's still the right thing for you with the right risk and the right types of things that you're doing from a situation perspective.

And then having the processes in place that are appropriate for you to really make sure you're moving forward safely as you go through your daily work. You have a great job. It's a wonderful, independent job, but because of that, you're a little bit more vulnerable than some other people, but you've also got the ability and the tools and the processes to take that vulnerability away and be able to operate really safely every single day, whether you're working or you're in a personal situation or you're travelling with your family, whatever it might be.

So remember, knowledge is your best safety friend. I would probably add awareness in there as well. So even though you work independently, make sure someone else needs to know what, when and where you are conducting business.

So with that, I really want to thank you today for your time. We're willing to take questions if you'd like. We can put them on the chat. I see one that's come up here already. We'll do that one. The question is, "Should I have a weapon, particularly a concealed weapon?"

My personal philosophy on that is that you should not have a weapon, especially a gun. I'm assuming that's what that means by concealed weapon. Weapons can be guns. They can be knives. They can be things like pepper spray or mace.

The question you need to ask yourself about a weapon, any one of those three or four things I just mentioned, is that you need to be trained. That means going to classes to learn how to use especially a firearm. You need to be able to answer the question that says, "Can I use it if I need to? Would I be willing to shoot somebody if I need to?" Otherwise, you shouldn't have a weapon, in my opinion, because otherwise it can be used against you. So weapons are appropriate if you are willing to go through a training and you're willing to use them appropriately. If you have things like mace or pepper spray, you should have them in your hand, not in the bottom of your purse or in your briefcase or in the car.

So weapons, I think you need to very cautious about them. Again, that probably depends on your personal ability, the environment you're working in, but I would be exceptionally cautious about weapons. You have to be trained and you have to be willing to use it. If you can't say, "Yes, I'm willing to shoot somebody," then you should have a gun.

"Where can I learn more about the topics we're talking about today?" One of the best resources out there is the National Association of Realtors. Their website has a lot of safety information, including some of the equipment, some of the apps, some of the other types of things that are available, the alarms, some of the special things like that.

Also, if you would like to read more about personal safety and the awareness, I think one of the best books out there is called "The Gift of Fear." "The Gift of Fear" is written by Gavin de Becker. It really talks about the fact that we should all pay attention. We all have all these innate senses to detect that there's something wrong. It's called intuition. But we are socialized to ignore it, especially women. I think it's important that "The Gift of Fear" talks about how important it is for us to read our environment, react to our environment and not be afraid to change something. What he's saying is the "The Gift of Fear" is if your intuition is telling you there's something wrong, don't ignore it. So fear can be a very powerful tool for you to understand what's going on in your environment. I think it's really important to do that.

So he has two books, actually. One is "The Gift of Fear," which is his basic one. I would recommend it. We used to hand it out to people when we're dealing with domestic relationship issue kind of stuff. He has also written another one called "Protecting the Gift," which is about children. Both of those are very good tools.

Any other questions out there? Oh, 10-second rule, I didn't go through the whole ten seconds, did I? So the ten-second rule is two seconds in your vehicle, two seconds as you get out and you look around, two seconds as you walk up. You're kind of in your car, on the sidewalk, approaching the house. You look at the house at the door, and then it would be just as you step inside. So it's really about kind of breaking down ten seconds and being very conscious every two seconds about the steps.

Ten seconds isn't very long. It just took me longer to tell you about it than it does to do it. It's just being conscious. You start at the street. You do street, sidewalk, yard, steps and then the door. It's really looking from that perspective what the 10-second rule is all about. You can actually find that on YouTube. There is a link to that 10-second thing on YouTube.

Any other questions? If not, I would very much like . . . oh, I'm sorry. I've got one more coming in. Just waiting for the typist. We'll be fine. Tasers, what about Tasers? Again, I think they're another form of weapon. They are used by police lots of times in place of having to use a gun and it's obviously less fatal than a gun can be. But, again, you have to know how to use them and you have to be able to be very close to the person to do that. I would put a Taser pretty much in the category with a gun because you have to be trained and you have to know how to use them. Again, you have to answer those questions before I would recommend that you get one.

Okay. It looks like we've got another one coming in here. "What would you foresee as red flags, things to look for as you're approaching a site?" Let's say you're coming to meet a client at a house or somebody you've not met before, somebody who wants to see the house. A quick notice would be one thing. I think that's a red flag, all of a sudden, "I want this and I want it now." If you're not able to verify any information, that means you've got somebody else looking up a LinkedIn or Facebook page to say, "Who is this person?' You've not had any chance to talk about why are they really interested in the property. That to me is one red flag.

The other thing would be when you get there, what are they asking about the house, what are they asking about the property, do they seem more interested in you versus the property? That would be another situation to take a look at. If they say things like, "No," you always should have the person go in the house first so that you've still got the ability to exit. If they insist on going in after you, I would say that's a red flag and that may depend some on culture, so you have to be careful with that piece.

All of those types of things that you say there's something wrong here. I read something that said if the person has got a long coat on and it's summer, why would they have a long coat on? That's one of the things we talk abbot with shoplifters too. If they're not dressed appropriately for the situation, does that mean they're trying to conceal something?

So those kinds of things that you say normally when I meet somebody at a house, this is what the norm is and there's something about this that's not normal. That doesn't mean you don't proceed with it, but maybe a step back, take another look, you ask them some more questions before you step into the property, those kinds of things. If they can't say what they're looking for, why they're looking for something, then again, stepping back and asking them more questions.

Okay. Another question, "Do you have any recommendations for physical placement within the property?" Always stay between the client in the door. Yes, that's hard to do. I think sometimes as you're going through a house. One of the things you do in a property is to make sure you've got more than one way to get out of the property, which means make sure you've got more than one door unlocked, consider opening a window or two.

But just remember they've got to be closed when you leave. And then the other thing would be really making sure that you do have the ability to leave and that person can't block you. So if that means staying between the client and the door, that's what you should do depending upon the house, I wouldn't go down to the basement before them, those kinds of things. So you can make sure you're doing those kinds of things.

More questions? There's one coming in. "What would be your number one safety device to carry with you as a female agent?" A cellphone and a really good flashlight, a flashlight that can actually be used as a weapon if you need to. Again, the ones with the bright LED lights, you can temporary blind somebody. So you could get seconds to break away. The other thing is if it's a big enough one, the old Maglites, they are literally weapons. That isn't just going to help you from a safety perspective, it helps you do your business and being able to see the property and those kinds of things. So I think it's your phone and a really good flashlight.

It looks like we have another one coming in. "Can you repeat the 10-second rule?" I can try. I don't have it written in front of me. So you're asking me to do this.

So the 10-second rule, you break it into five steps. In your vehicle, on the sidewalk, walking up to the public sidewalk, then the walk up to the house, at the door and then just inside the door. So, again, five steps, it's just as you walk up and it's just really tuning into those five areas as you walk in that you should be looking for information coming in. Hopefully, I got those, the same five steps both times.

Okay. We're just about out of time. Is there anything else out there? Okay. I want to thank you for joining us very, very much today. I really hope there are at least a couple things that we talk about today that you put into practice this afternoon and that your personal and professional lives will be safe going forward. Thank you.