Sept 25, 2018.
September is National REALTOR® Safety Month, and before you schedule your next showing or follow up on a new lead, it’s time to check your blind spots.
Thirty-eight percent of agents have found themselves in a situation where they fear for their safety. And while potentially threatening situations are most common among female agents and in suburban areas, using several strategies to heighten awareness can help all agents better screen clients and minimize risk to physical safety.
7 street-smart lead-screening strategies to keep you safe
Real estate tech is one of the fastest growing sectors in technology, and more than 90 percent of brokerages have an online presence. You need to put yourself out there so new leads can find you. You also need to use airtight cyber-screening tactics to make sure the prospective clients you meet are legit and safe.
Here’s what real agents (and real cyber safety experts) have to say about staying smart when following up with new leads:
1. Check them out on Facebook.
One of the strongest ways to screen a lead is to type their phone number into the search bar on Facebook.com, Jlyne Hanback, Keller Williams Realtor, e-PRO®, PSA, says. “You’d be surprised at the information that can pop up about a person, including posts they’ve made under different Facebook accounts, items they have sold on the Facebook Marketplace, or groups they belong to.”
2. Do a reverse phone number search.
Beyond the social media check-in, Hanback also suggests plugging a potential lead’s number into Zabasearch.com or another online reverse search engine. Here, you may find a lead’s family members or other people associated with him/her who have public profiles. Many of these profiles will have posts or information connected to your original lead, verifying their identity, Hanback says.
3. Cultivate a healthy paranoia.
As Robert Siciliano, Security Awareness Expert and CEO of Safr.Me, explains, a little paranoia, or a higher level of awareness, can go a long way. Keeping your eyes open during the lead-screening process could protect you from entering a potentially vulnerable situation. Siciliano recommends thoroughly checking out every lead before scheduling an in-person meeting. “Anyone can drive a nice car, dress well, and hand out business cards saying they’re a doctor or a lawyer. Go into client meetings prepared.”
4. Question everyone (especially sellers).
Along with a healthy paranoia comes a greater attention to detail. When screening new buyers, Craig Mracek, CEO of Keylo, a realtor referral service for buyers and sellers, suggests posing questions like: Does the client have a mortgage pre-approval to buy? If no, why not? Is the client reluctant to provide identification information to others than yourself? When screening potential sellers, in particular, Mracek advises Googling a property and looking up its sales history before agreeing to a meeting.
“Who is the registered owner of the property? If the name is different, ask the client why. This has the bonus effect of ensuring you are dealing with the person authorized to sell,” Mracek says.
The amount of leads who call about a property they don’t actually own is surprising, Earl White, co-founder of the Florida-based real estate brokerage House Heroes Realty, LLC, says. So surprising that White considers “Googling sleuthing” to be his main lead-screening tip for realtors. Since his brokerage gets approximately 75 leads per month, White says his team regularly vets leads.
“The first step I take after lead intake is to confirm the person is the actual owner in the public records. When there is a discrepancy, I call back and ask the seller to explain,” White says. “If there isn’t a clear explanation of why they are not reflected in the records, I will not meet the seller in person.” White says using this routine screening practice can ensure safety and help you avoid scams.
5. Inform leads about your screening process.
Setting clear expectations from the get-go sets a higher standard for safety. You can do this by informing a client that someone else will follow up with them, Mracek says. As Mracek has seen among the leads screened by Keylo, clients who know someone is following up may be less likely to cause a safety-related incident. Mracek also points out that an excellent referral service will screen clients out, not just pass along every lead without verifying who the client is.
6. Meet-and-greet on Facebook Live.
Social media is not just for being social. If you’ve already mastered Facebook Live for marketing listings and open houses, Chantay Bridges, CNE, SRES, coach, realtor, speaker, and writer, urges realtors to leverage the tool for safety-awareness. “When meeting a possible lead for the first time, do a Facebook Live video. Not only do you have a full audience, but the person’s face, identity, where you are, and what you are doing can be seen by lots of people at the click of a finger. Let the world see the meeting as a safety precaution,” Bridges says.
7. Look for prequalified buyers.
Getting buyers prequalified early on makes the house-hunt easier since your clients will know exactly how much they can afford to buy. It can also make your professional relationship safer, Siciliano says.
For realtors, Siciliano recommends requiring identification and lender prequalification at your first meeting. “It’s to a realtor’s benefit that a potential buyer gets prequalified before buying a home. A buyer who’s gone to the trouble of getting prequalified by a lender is less likely to be predatory.”
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7 simple physical safety tips that sharp realtors are using
You’ve done your homework by screening potential leads before a first meeting, but don’t let down your guard completely.
Stay on your toes and continue to stay safe with these physical safety precautions tested by fellow agents:
1. Ask for ID.
While this no-brainer safety tip is easy to overlook — especially for a prospective client who has been vetted and appears trustworthy — Bridges advocates making an ID check an automatic reflex. Bridges takes the direct approach, asking leads to forward a copy of their identification before a meeting. You can also double-check identity by asking a new client to show ID in person. “If they are crooked or up to no good, they will refuse, and that will help to weed them out anyways. A win, win,” she says.
2. Keep communication digital, whenever possible.
Multiple in-person meetings may be necessary to effectively serve your clients, but these days, technology makes it easier to cut down on time spent face-to-face. When you can, send an email so clients can sign on the dotted line without leaving their house. Bridges suggests staying in and using one of the many doc-signing programs available to make it easy for your clients to sign a listing agreement electronically or even prep to close on a new home in the middle of the night.
3. Park on the street.
Small as this step may seem, Hanback urges realtors to park with an exit strategy in mind. When parking in the driveway, someone could intentionally block your car in and prevent you from leaving a potentially unsafe situation. “Always park somewhere well-lit and easy to access,” she says.
And, in the times you find yourself waiting for a client who’s running behind, a well-lit parking lot or street is a safer bet. John Graden, executive director of the realtor-focused self-defense and safety training company Cobra-Defense, recommends waiting for clients in a locked car instead of inside a property.
4. Don’t get too comfortable.
Successful realtors are known for their exceptional personalities. But try not to let your friendliness overtake your intuition. “Just because you may have shown a client multiple properties in the past doesn’t mean they may not have ill intentions at a later time,” Bridges says.
In his self-defense course, Graden teaches realtors to look out for subtle clues, like clothing, even among familiar clients. A man wearing a bulky or long coat on a hot day could be concealing a weapon and should be automatically considered suspect. With new or repeat clients, Graden says to trust your gut and get out of a situation that feels uncomfortable right away.
5. Don’t be afraid to say no.
Setting boundaries in such a personal business can be tough — but necessary. It’s also individual to the realtor, Mracek says. Still, some universal standards of unacceptable behavior include harassment in any form, ranging from verbal to physical to sexual. Mracek recommends establishing your list of “hard no’s” ahead of time and immediately sticking to them. “A client that says ‘That’s a beautiful dress,” for example, can mean many different things depending on the delivery and context. If your gut is telling you it’s not a good situation, then simply leave.”
6. Blame your boss.
To get ample personal information without making a client feel overwhelmed, point the finger at the higher-ups. Graden suggests telling a new client that your brokerage has a strict safety policy when requesting to snap a picture of their license and/or license plate. Clients who object to such basic safety precautions throw up a red flag, cluing you in that it’s time to head back to your car and leave.
7. Seek out support.
There’s safety in numbers, and for realtors especially, Bridges suggests using the buddy system. It helps to decide ahead of time that you and a team member will help out at each other’s events, Bridges says. “When it’s your turn, be there for the other agent and vice versa. Two are better than one.”
Mracek also emphasizes the need to work with a brokerage that will back you when ending a potentially threatening client relationship. If your brokerage hasn’t supported you or other realtors in risky situations, it may be time to move on.
We work better together.
Safety is but one critical part of what it takes to run a successful real estate business. While you’re screening leads, we can work hard for you behind-the-scenes. Click here to learn more about the big benefits of becoming a Cornerstone Realtor Partner. With co-branded marketing, prequalified buyer referrals, in-model kiosks, super-speedy closings, and unparalleled communication, we’ll help you grow your business one happy client at a time.
For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.
Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.