"The risks Realtors face often have an impact with tragic consequences," said Cathy Whately, president of the National Association of Realtors. "Working with an unfamiliar person, in an isolated location, may potentially expose both male and female agents to life-threatening situations."
A 2003 association survey reported that one-in-every-four Realtors said he or she had been involved in a safety incident on the job. The National Safety Council reports that six real estate practitioners lost their lives on the job in 2001, the last year for which statistics are available, according to Realtor magazine.
In most cases, agents do not take the time to find out who they are meeting at a property for sale. To them it's a lead, and in a highly competitive business, leads need to be followed.
Veteran agents say that because most agents these days are women, and with the competition for business so acute, they are surprised that there haven't been more incidents.
No matter who an agent is meeting, it is important for the agent to tell someone at the office where he or she is going.
In a situation where you've never met the person, ask for that person's telephone number and leave it with someone else in the office. By doing so you can confirm the caller's identity and give the police something to go on if anything happens.
Brokers usually send agents to meet a client at a vacant house in an isolated area. Many also tell their agents to make prospective clients come to the office first. This is not simply a safety issue, but one to better gauge the client's needs and pre-qualify prospective buyers for mortgages before showing houses they neither want nor can afford.
Most agents understand the difficulty in getting some clients to do what they want. There are clients who want to check out agents one-on-one and want to avoid the high-pressure atmosphere of an office.
Yet agreeing to do this is just asking for trouble, considering the number of agents who reported having problems related to such meetings, according to the survey.
Many agents and brokers are uncomfortable about advertising an open house, preferring visits by people they are marketing rather than ones off the street.
One school of thought favoring advertising the open house is that you want to attract neighbors who might have a relative or friend who would be interested in the house.
Many agents will not meet new prospects at listings, not for safety issues, but because they often are left at a corner waiting for a no-show.
City agents face situations different from those in the suburbs. Parking in a lot of city neighborhoods is tough, and in the evening if you have to find a space far from the house you are showing, it increases your vulnerability.
That's why agents should let the broker and each another know where they are at all times. If the office gets a weird phone call, the broker or an experienced agent should handle it.
Real estate agents should trust their instincts. If they feel uncomfortable, they should go to an appointment with someone else. A Realtor has to apply the same good judgment as everyone else.
And that includes people who sell their own houses. FSBOs in a sense are more vulnerable than real estate agents because they have no way to screen appointments. Prospective buyers come directly to the house, without being sifted through the office procedure. How do you know what this person's motives are for coming?
Agents and brokers have to consider the safety of their clients as well. There are a lot of clients who don't want open houses or virtual-reality tours on the Internet because they don't want their lives and possessions to be exposed and vulnerable. It can create marketing issues, but it is all part of the job.
Some safety considerations are not obvious.
NAR materials suggest that if an agent is driving and a car with a flashing blue light comes from behind and orders the driver to stop, you should call 911 to make sure the person in the other car is really a police officer.
The association also suggests that when an agent brings a client into a vacant house, the agent should leave the client at the door and quickly check through the house to make sure things are safe.
However, consider the reaction of the prospective buyer. If they see that you are nervous about entering the house, they might immediately write-off that house.