Are you protecting your clients? The safety talk you need to have with clients

Keep all parties safe in a transaction by offering buyers and sellers these important tips.

Have you had the safety talk with your clients yet? It’s not only for their safety but for yours too.

It’s a conversation far too many real estate professionals omit from their discussions with home sellers and buyers. September is REALTOR® Safety Month, and real estate safety information centers mostly on how to keep you safe when meeting new clients during showings or at open houses. But safety from your clients’ perspective presents an entirely new set of issues.

“When you go to listing appointments, do a security survey with your clients,” suggests safety specialist Tracey Hawkins, founder of Safety and Security Source and a former real estate professional. “Discuss with them how to make their home burglarproof when it’s on the market and how to keep their belongings safe. No other real estate agent is talking about that. This can be a way to distinguish yourself in a listing presentation. They may have already met with four or five other agents, but when you provide them with something different — a handout for a seller safety plan — you help set yourself apart.”

Learn more safety tips
Hawkins provides a checklist for agents to use as they walk through homes with sellers, looking for items to tuck away during showings, like those prescription medications and gaming systems, and checking the adequacy of the home’s lighting and door locks. She also says safety is an important conversation to have with home buyers prior to viewing homes for sale, particularly vacant homes like distressed properties where squatters could be present, or maintenance issues may pose added dangers.

SAFETY TIPS FOR SELLERS: Six Talking Points to Cover
Safety experts offer the following tips on the safety topics you should discuss with home sellers.

  1. Prescription drugs: Remove or lock them up prior to showings.
    A growing number of real estate professionals are reporting theft of prescription drugs from sellers’ homes during open houses. Indeed, nearly half of 164 real estate professionals surveyed at a REALTORS® Expo reported knowledge of prescription drug theft taking place at open houses. Which led the Association hosting the expo to begin a campaign to raise awareness among the REALTOR® community about the dangers of leaving prescription drugs out or in unlocked cabinets during showings.

    This Association teamed up with their local law enforcement and medical communities to create the Safe Homes Coalition. The team created a public service announcement, airing on local television and radio stations, and began raising awareness by distributing more than 8,000 plastic prescription drug collection bags. Real estate professionals were encouraged to have their home sellers use the bags to remove prescription drugs from their homes prior to showings or to properly dispose of expired prescription drugs (the bags included a list of drop-off centers for safely disposing of expired medications).

  2. Stow away valuables: Remind clients that you can’t be responsible for thefts.
    Valuables include everything from the mail left on the countertops (which may contain personal information and bank statements) to such items as jewelry, artwork, cellphones, and gaming systems.

    Agents need to do their part, too. In capturing virtual tours or photographs of the home for marketing purposes, make sure such valuables are not photographed, like a seller’s priceless coin collection, wine cellar, or equipment in a fully outfitted media room.

    “Too many people fail to consider that criminals nowadays can case houses from the comfort of their computer,” says Hawkins, who offers safety training for real estate professionals through her Consumer Safety and Security Specialist program. “They can see all the person’s valuables when you put them in fliers and on a website. If the valuables are not being sold with the house, why do they need to be shown anyway?”

    Also, Hawkins urges agents to tell their clients at the start of their relationship, “I can’t protect your valuables.” Remind them that as a seller’s agent you won’t often be present at home showings, and if you are, you likely won’t be following prospective buyers all around the house, particularly if you’re hosting an open house.

    “Before sellers leave the house for a showing, they need to be responsible for walking through the house and making sure everything of value is out of sight,” Hawkins says. “Then, if that antique ring or camera ever goes missing, you won’t get that angry phone call from your client. You already warned them. But if you didn’t say anything to them, they may assume you’re responsible.”

  3. Remove family photos: It’s for your clients’ safety.
    Many real estate professionals advise sellers to remove family photos from their home. But the conversations are often framed around staging and making it so prospective buyers can imagine themselves living there. Instead, Hawkins says, focus on the safety of their family. “Clients may be reluctant to remove their family photos just because you say it will help new owners envision it becoming their house,” Hawkins says. “I tell agents to tell sellers: You don’t know who’s walking through the house. You have photos of your wife, teenage daughter, children displayed, and you could have a pedophile or stalker walking through your home. Who would leave their family photos up after you say that?”

  4. Make a house safe for the buyers and the agent.
    Turn on the lights prior to showings — whether it’s daytime or evening — so that agents and buyers can move safely through the home and not have to face any dark unknowns. (During the initial safety check of a listing, practitioners should ensure all rooms have adequate lighting as well.)

    Also, sellers should make sure there are no potential hazards in their home, like loose floorboards or carpets. They don’t want to risk someone tripping and falling in their home and potentially open themselves up to liability.

    Hawkins says it’s important to tell sellers to remove not only weapons like guns before showings but also not-so-obvious weapons too. For example, many home owners may have a block of knives on their kitchen countertops; remove these for the agent’s safety as well, Hawkins says.

  5. Keep the house locked: Consider extra monitoring.
    Another safety reminder for your clients: Doors need to be kept locked at all times. A home is being presented to the public, and it may attract intruders.

    Hawkins tells real estate professionals to talk to their home sellers about deadbolt locks and explain to them why they’re safer. Also, sliding glass doors can be secured with bars and extra locks. Motion-sensor lights can be a good option for outdoor areas for added security. Windows should be checked to make sure they are locked securely.

    Some real estate professionals are taking an extra step with some of their properties, particularly vacant ones, and talking to sellers about installing a wireless security system. A company called Presence allows you to turn your old smartphone device into a home security system, for free. By uploading the video-monitoring app, you can use your old smartphone to feed videos remotely to your current phone to keep an eye on the listing. You can also use a motion-detection sensitivity feature to alert you to any detected movements in front of the camera and send a video clip to you via email. Presence works with iOS, Android, Amazon Alexa, and web browsers.

  6. Beware of unexpected visitors coming to your doorstep.
    You may need to warn your clients that when their house is for sale, they may also get some unexpected visitors who ask to see their home.

    “I’ve heard agents talk about clients who have had homes on the market, and a couple may knock on the door and just hand them a business card and ask to see the house, and the seller lets them in,” Hawkins says.

    Instruct your clients of the proper procedures for showings: Only real estate professionals using the lockbox should gain access to their home.

    What’s more, a growing rental fraud scam is causing more home sellers to report renters who are showing up at their doorsteps, too, ready to move in. Real estate professionals say their for-sale listings are getting scraped from websites by scammers who then place them as a rental listing on sites like Craigslist.

    If your client’s listing have been falsely placed on Craiglist’s or any of the other website, take a look at the side bar on page 9 for steps on how to get the information corrected on the site and what to do to protect your and your client’s information from being used fraudulently in the future.

FOR YOUR BUYERS: Three safety lessons for home shoppers
Safety needs to be an added component in your discussions with buyers, too.

  1. Educate yourself on the safety of an area.
    You may quietly have some concerns over the safety of a neighborhood, and your buyers might express concerns of their own. As a real estate professional, you can’t be viewed as steering them to avoid certain communities. But you can tell them the importance of educating themselves about neighborhoods. For example, you might advise them to drive by the property at different times of the day to get a better sense of the neighborhood for themselves and to talk to neighbors.

    Some real estate professionals provide a list of third-party resources for their buyers to check on crime statistics in an area, such as Family Watchdog to locate registered sex offenders in an area; CrimeMapping.com’s mobile app to uncover crime activity near your current location; and sites like DiedInHouse.com that reveal if any deaths occurred at the property in the past.

  2. Take extra precautions in distressed, vacant homes.
    As a real estate practitioner, you’ve been told to take extra precautions in viewing distressed properties, but you may need to warn your buyers too.

    First, when showing an REO, make sure it’s safe to go in, Hawkins says. Do a perimeter search around the property before entering. Do you see broken windows, a kicked-in door, or any signs of someone living there through the windows (such as a sleeping bag on the floor or food left out)? If you see such signs that a squatter may be present, don’t go inside.

    Also, homes that have been vacant may have maintenance issues. Buyers and agents may need to watch their footing as they tour the house, navigating away from any loose floorboards, steering clear of a rotted deck, and avoiding loose railings. Loose gutters or lighting fixtures may pose added dangers.

    Abandoned animals might be inside too. In an REO, pets can sometimes be left by the previous owner, or wild animals may find a way in. Never approach an animal. It can become hostile. Contact your local humane society or shelter.

    “These are not things you usually need to worry about in a home,” Hawkins says. “But in a distressed home that may have sat vacant, you need to be careful and prepare your clients to be more careful too.”

  3. Prevent buyer regretand illness.
    Another growing concern reported with REOs: drug contamination, and how a home’s tainted history can get lost if it sits in foreclosure limbo. The number of meth- or clandestine drug-contaminated homes is growing, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. These drugs can seep into a home’s surfaces, and unsuspecting buyers who move in may face not only a range of respiratory illnesses or neurological problems but also a costly decontamination process of the home.

    The risk from meth and clandestine contamination in homes is a rising concern that has prompted more real estate professionals to raise the issue to their clients. For example, homes where marijuana was produced may be more prone to mold damage. Rewired electrical work also can present fire dangers too.

    No federal disclosure law exists for meth or marijuana grow houses, and the disclosure regulations vary greatly by state. Oftentimes, standard home inspections won’t turn up drug contamination problems either but requires extra testing by specialists.

    Some real estate professionals have been trained to look for the signs, like the strong smell of urine or chemical smells like ammonia or acetone; trash filled with products like paint thinner, lighter fluid, drain cleaners, and cold tablet containers; and chemical stains on the toilets and bathtubs. Or, buyers and agents sometimes may feel some of the signs when they step inside the property, such as a burning sensation in the eyes or throat.

    Buyers can be encouraged to check the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register, a searchable database of addresses that have been uncovered by law enforcement agencies to have clandestine chemicals or drug labs. Some counties and states also have databases to track such homes. They can also purchase meth-testing kits or have a professional test for contamination.

Remember, it’s for your safety too!
Having a safety talk with your clients is an important element in REALTOR® safety too. If sellers keep valuables out and prescription medications out in the open during showings, you may find yourself in that potentially dangerous situation of having a criminal in your midst and being unsure what to do.

In those cases, do nothing, Hawkins says. “The person is a criminal and they could attack or assault you if you confront them,” Hawkins says. “That puts you in a bad situation.” Let law enforcement later handle it.

Educating buyers and sellers about safety issues helps avoid trouble and, in the end, keeps everyone safer in a transaction.

You can also view more safety tips on keeping you and your clients safe at REALTOR.org/safety and at ColumbusRealtors.com/safety.

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at mtracey@realtors.org.

Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine Online, September 2014, with permission of the National Association of REALTORS®. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

DID YOU KNOW
The FBI reportedly received 301,570 complaints in 2017 and losses exceeded $1.4 billion. In the real estate/rental sector alone, more than 9,600 victims lost over $56 million in the same year.

Identity and credit card theft; package deliveries
Joy Barney, Keller Williams Classic Properties, reported that someone stole the identity of one of her clients, opened a credit card in her client’s name, made purchases at Amazon and then had the packages delivered to her client’s vacant property, which was listed in the MLS. Not sure how or when the theft occurred. Police were notified.

The Ohio Division of Real Estate & Professional Licensing notified us that they received an incident report where someone had a package delivered to a listed property. When they failed to retrieve the package, the man said he was interested in buying the home and asked the owner to let him in. Police report filed.

Is your potential client a sex offender?
A female agent reported earlier this year, that a potential buyer called asking about seeing property in Dublin ($450,000-$650,000, new construction, with an extra lot). When a colleague did an internet search, they found an arrest record (1998 - 2907.02 - Rape Sexual Motivation, release date 2007). However, this person does not show up on the Ohio Attorney General's official Offender Search. Please exercise caution when dealing with new customers! An internet search may provide details you'll want to consider when making the decision to work with someone and/or meeting them alone at a property. Always do an internet search on new clients and remember that no available information could be a red flag.

Craigslist rental scams on the rise again!
We continue to have members contact us about their listings being fraudulently placed on Craigslist as rental properties. This is just a reminder to search your listing addresses regularly to ensure that your listing seller information and your information are not being used fraudulently.

If you are victim of a Craigslist rental scam, here's what you need to do:

  1. Alert Craigslist by flagging the post as ‘prohibited’ (upper right corner).
  2. Send details to abuse@craigslist.org. Be sure to include the URL (or 10-digit post ID number) in your message.
  3. Contact the seller to alert them of the false Craigslist posting.
  4. Follow up on Craigslist and review the site to ensure the faulty posting is removed.
  5. Do periodic internet searches to ensure your properties are accurately listed on authorized sites.
  6. Go to forums.craigslist.org and tell the community about this scammer. They will shut him down.