What Everyone Can Learn from the Dangers of Selling Real Estate - Watch Your Back: How to Avoid the Most Dangerous Moments in Daily Life (2016)

Watch Your Back: How to Avoid the Most Dangerous Moments in Daily Life (2016)

Chapter 2 What Everyone Can Learn from the Dangers of Selling Real Estate

Real estate agents face a number of threats because, at one time or another, an agent is going to be alone in a vacant building with a complete stranger or a group of strangers. This is part and parcel of the business and the vulnerability is obvious. Yet the level of threat is dependent on a number of factors. Some are built-in and unavoidable. Others can be controlled. In order to understand the likelihood and prevention of incidents, it is helpful to study how real estate agents attract customers and how the sales process itself is structured.

There are two roles in which a real estate agent can operate. One is that of selling agent and the other is referred to as a listing agent. When acting as a selling agent, he or she represents a customer in search of property to buy. A listing agent specializes in developing an inventory of property for sale. Properties for sale typically appear on the Multiple Listing Service website or MLS. The MLS is an online database that serves as a catalog of available properties complete with specifications, pictures, and general description. The MLS allows the agent to help the customer choose which properties they would like the agent to show them before leaving the office.


Minimizing the danger of meeting a complete stranger at a vacant house begins with asking the customer to come in to the office to search the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) website. It should be company policy that all first contacts be made at the office and all prospective clients should be properly identified. Not only does this provide a degree of security for sales personnel, searching the MLS based on the buyer’s specific needs and priorities is the best way to serve the customer.

Most agents begin their careers as a selling agent waiting in queue at the office for their turn to work with the next customer. While the listing agent seeks to attract customers that already own real property, the selling agent is more likely to work with strangers of unknown means who call on the telephone or walk in off the street. That’s why the selling agent is typically more at risk.

Although an agent can in some cases work as both a selling agent and a listing agent (just not on the same deal), most agents prefer to specialize in one role or the other. Those who specialize in being a listing agent tend to be more experienced. One reason is that in order to win the approval of a customer with a home to sell, they should already have a track record of completed or closed sales with which to impress the property owner. Some listing agents concentrate on marketing their inventory to other agents or develop a network of buyers that are looking for rental property. With this strategy, they can avoid working directly with the public at large.

Not everyone gets into real estate sales through working with an established agency. And not every listing agent fits into the system of recognized realtors. People who buy run-down property or properties that have been foreclosed upon are looking to renovate and sell, or “flip,” properties for a profit. Either way, this approach can introduce a higher level of risk when compared to listing homes in top condition located in prominent neighborhoods. Homeless squatters may inhabit abandoned properties, making them dangerous to visit. In addition, abandoned properties are difficult to secure from vandalism and loss of investment by arson is another common risk.

Foreclosed, damaged, or abandoned properties are often located in neighborhoods scarred with higher rates of violent crime. When previewing less expensive homes for listing in a seemingly-nice neighborhood, make sure to look for exterior doors with more than two locks. Check the frames of exterior doors for cracks and obvious damage that would indicate it was previously forced open.

Whether you are a selling agent or a listing agent, you have the choice of where and when you work. Be aware that the location, condition, and the types of homes you show can determine the level of threat you may need to contend with.

Sometimes personality plays a part in whether a person specializes in being a selling agent or a listing agent. No matter how much society changes, women will forever be connected by nature to the home. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), there are about two million real estate agents nationwide, including those that operate without membership in the NAR. Fifty-seven percent of these agents are female. Median age is fifty-six years old. Whether it’s a homeowner trying to come to terms with the necessity of moving from a place with cherished memories where children were raised, or a newlywed couple looking for their first home, trust in a mother figure can offer the female agent a built-in advantage. Furthermore, the job’s flexible hours make real estate sales an ideal job for mothers with children in school or for empty nesters.

In most states it is mandatory for the prospective licensee to be sponsored by a licensed real estate broker. A real estate broker may also be active in sales and it is the brokerage license that provides the legal right to list and sell property. As such, sales agents work under the umbrella of the broker, who is either independent or affiliated with a larger company or franchise operation. Nevertheless, each sales agent must generate their own business. This is where problems, particularly for female agents, can arise.

Perhaps there’s been too much influence by television, but the demand for a glamorous appearance has become a driving force in advertising. No one can really tell how skillful or how honest a real estate agent will prove to be by looking at a picture on a billboard. This goes for men as well as women. But to the predator, a good-looking woman is the more preferable target. When it comes to advertising, keep in mind you are not the product. Your services are the product. No one is going to say, “What do you mean the deal fell through? You’re so pretty.” Or, “But you’re so handsome and well dressed.”


Scarred or repaired doors are red flags indicating the property has been broken into at least once before. What this says about the property and the surrounding area should be of concern to the prospective real estate listing agent as well as to buyers. Be aware that the location, condition, and the types of homes you show can determine the level of threat you may need to contend with. Photo courtesy of The Door Refinishing Company.

Even if you have already posted pictures of yourself that highlight an attractive or provocative appearance, this doesn’t mean you have to follow through with dressing “to the nines” every day. Your work and showing attire should be modest and professional. By modest, I mean attire that is not revealing or suggestive in any way. When asked about the glamorous you that appears on billboards, just say that’s the “Hollywood” me. Your showing attire should also be comfortable and, in a sense, athletic. That way, if you have to defend yourself or make a run for it, your clothing will not get in the way or otherwise limit your movement.

Many agents use glamour shots for their business cards but consider taking a cue from headshots used by actors and actresses looking for a movie or television role. If you’ve ever met a model, TV, or movie star, you’ll notice right away that in many cases they do not look quite the same. That’s because professional headshots are produced not to show how the person looks in real life but how they will appear on the big screen. Some actors even take headshots geared toward a specific role. Instead of merely trying to look your best, consider having yourself photographed as if you were going to audition for the role of a successful businessperson. According to Deb Wallace, proprietor of Barfield Photography in Houston, Texas, portrait photography can be engineered toward role-play just as certain techniques are employed specific to wedding photography in order to bring out the purity and beauty of a new bride.

Before presenting a series of incidents in which real estate agents were the victims of crime, let’s take a look at what standard operating procedures, indeed preemptive behavioral responses, are already built into the process to protect the agent. In short, what precautionary measures are readily at the real estate agent’s disposal.

There are a number of safeguards available to the real estate agent and such protocol is not to be taken lightly. Initial contact should always be face to face. If someone calls in about a property, make any excuse you can think of but get them to come into the office. Offer to show them a preview of the house on the computer first. Tell them about the Multiple Listing Service website, where they can view the interior and find out all the specifications and costs attached to the property. Enthusiastically inform the customer that the MLS will enable them to compare it to others with all the characteristics they are looking for. A good lie like “I’m waiting for another agent to return to the office with the key, why don’t you come over in the meantime,” should work. Of course, there’s always the default “fallback” position of it being company policy for all customers to come into the office first for a “buyer consultation.” And this should not be a lie. Offering a buyer consultation is not only a valuable service to a genuine customer but also provides a considerable measure of security. Most perpetrators will not be willing to sit through a meeting describing key points of the buying process such as property search, the closing process, and lender requirements, let alone verification of identity.

In any first contact between sales personnel and a prospective customer, there will be the necessary exchange of pleasantries for the purpose of bonding. From the customer’s standpoint, the professional stature of the salesperson is already in place. At the very least, the customer can be sure the sales personnel are who they say they are and their motives revolve around selling or leasing property. The agent, on the other hand, has no idea who has just walked into their office or approached them at an open house. Identifying the customer is the first and most crucial firewall.

Once verbal introductions are out of the way, discussion of what the customer is looking for should offer insight as to whether their goals are realistic. If the customer is unclear, they may just be uninformed as to how a real estate office operates or their motives may not be genuine. The next step a sales agent should take is to qualify the customer’s ability to get a loan. If it hasn’t been done so already, this is a good time to formally establish identification, beginning with taking a photocopy of their driver’s license. This should not raise any objections whatsoever. If the customer shows any hesitance at all, that’s a red flag. Either they are not serious customers or they may indeed be dangerous.

Not everyone who shops for a home understands how much money they will actually need. Nor are they always sure they can qualify for a loan. By qualifying the customer’s credit status, the agent should be able to find out if they are truly ready to buy and if working with the customer is going to be worthwhile. Of course, not even the ability of the customer to pay for property is a guarantee that a sale will be made. And the claim of being a cash customer should not be a signal for the agent to lower their guard. A good question to ask before agreeing to show property anywhere but on the computer should be, “Is there anything that would prevent you from buying a house today?”

The previous paragraph may well be found in “Real Estate 101.” However, the above procedures will not shield the agency from someone with false or stolen identification. Identification theft for the purpose of buying property or obtaining funds under false pretenses in general does not usually take place in face-to-face situations at a real estate agency. The more typical schemes involving real estate and identity theft are found in the arena of ID thieves posing as the owner and obtaining funds via a home equity line of credit for property they do not own. Such schemes can actually be revealed when the real estate agent investigates the credit of a completely honest customer. According to Paul Wylie, founder and former owner of Metrocities Mortgage, in an article published at ProtectMyID.com, an arm of the credit giant Experian, “Too often a victim does not learn of the identity theft until a mortgage originator pulls his credit score in preparation for a home loan.”1

For any business that makes sales based on the customer’s ability to pay on credit or borrow money, rule number one is to identify the customer. Let’s take a look at how to spot a phony or questionable ID. While you should be familiar with what your state driver’s license looks like, a buyer may be coming from another state and you may not be familiar with what that license should look like. This can be checked by searching that state’s website. One preemptive behavioral response would be to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles websites of all bordering states and memorize what the license from each state should look like. In addition, research the licenses from such states that people are most likely to emigrate from. For example, a real estate agent in Florida should be very familiar with a driver’s license from the state of New York.

Pay attention to the quality of the license regarding materials and construction. Look for paper that has been laminated or laser printed. New licenses in many states now have the state crest or other insignia embedded by a pattern of holes so holding the license up to the light can be revealing. In addition, there are patterns and holograms unique to each state of issue. The next time you travel by air, be sure to watch how the TSA officer checks your license before entering the gated area. They will hold your license beneath an ultraviolet light in order to view anti-counterfeiting images not visible in common ambient light. You can also benefit from this preemptive behavioral response. Small handheld ultraviolet flashlights are legal to own and should cost no more than twenty to thirty dollars, so it’s reasonable to keep one handy.


Identifying your client begins with a look at a state-issued ID, most commonly a driver’s license. There are many ways a phony driver’s license can be reconstructed to appear genuine, but the beam of an ultraviolet flashlight will reveal the truth. An outline of the state of issue may be visible when held up to a common table lamp but a separate holographic image of the rightful owner will show up on the reverse side under ultraviolet light. Small pocket lights like this one from 5.11 Tactical are inexpensive and legal to own.

Whenever you are presented with an out of state driver’s license or other ID, the most natural question is to ask why they are moving. It can be presented as little more than small talk so why not probe. Keep in mind that no one is going to come right out and say, “To avoid child support payments” or any other sort of negative admission. Rule 1A when asking questions related to veracity is to follow the most basic of SOPs (standard operating procedures). Take a deep breath, look them straight in the eye, and ask the question. Trained con artists know how to lie but there really aren’t as many “evil geniuses” as you may imagine. If they avoid eye contact while answering, there may be a problem. If they take a deep breath and look you in the eye before answering, they may be one of the evil geniuses in training.

“Is this your current address?” is pretty standard repartee so have some additional questions ready. Follow-up questions can be probing without necessarily being followed by the vocal inflection of a question mark. For example, “I like you better as a blonde” if they are blonde in the picture and the hair color has changed or, “I like contact lenses better than glasses, don’t you?” if corrective lenses are specified and there’s no evidence as such. Weight can vary but the person’s height should be in line with whatever it says on the license. If you’re not good at guessing people’s height, the average doorway is about 80 inches or 6 feet, 7 inches high. You can memorize or even unobtrusively mark different points on a doorframe. The whole idea is if you are 5 foot 9 inches tall, someone else listed at that height on his or her driver’s license shouldn’t tower over you.

Just because you are being cautious does not mean you have to be outwardly militant or severe in attitude while communicating with a prospective client about identification. Follow the example of patrolmen who pull over strangers all the time and report that keeping a playful mindset can de-escalate a traffic stop with questions like “You’re not carrying anything dangerous are you? No anti-aircraft missiles, tanks, nuclear weapons, or stale cheese?” If the subject starts sweating instead of laughing, you know there’s a problem.

One of the quick links or “favorites” a real estate agent has on their computer, iPad, smartphone, or other online device would most assuredly be the local Multiple Listing Service website. In order to be ready to service a client this would qualify as a preemptive behavioral response. So would doing a simple Internet search for the client’s name, but here’s a better source. Every county or state has a criminal database. All you have to do is enter last name, first name, and date of birth. Have the link for a criminal database ready to go on your Internet device.


If you have any suspicion about a prospective client, the Internet affords plenty of opportunity to find out just whom you might be dealing with. Even a general search on Google or Bing can be revealing, but why not subscribe to a couple of different services? County clerk and state corrections department websites can also be helpful, but such records are often limited to crimes committed only in the specific county or state. Bear in mind that not all criminal behavior real estate agents are subjected to involves assault. Fraudulent loans and identification theft are other pitfalls of the industry.

Working in sales involves focusing on at least two vital elements, finding what the customer wants or needs in terms of product description, and then providing the motivation for them to take action and make the purchase. Meeting your needs (to make the commission) and meeting the desires of the customer are tied together by available inventory and the salesperson’s skill of presentation. Taking into account the customer’s needs and your own needs is not exactly like being of two minds. But whenever you are among strangers you should operate in two minds of split objectivity, which is when you consciously and continuously view two sides of every situation. Actually, it is not really possible to objectively view the negative and positive possibilities at the same time. Think of it as a tennis match with skepticism on one side of the net and optimism on the other. There will be times when doubt and faith will go back and forth and other times one side or the other will hold serve. The most dangerous time for the real estate agent is when they forget to play the game.

While internally refereeing and keeping score of your doubts versus positives, you should always be in a yellow mental condition. What does this mean? Many years ago, Colonel Jeff Cooper devised a color-coded system to illustrate relative levels of threat. Red is the highest level during which action is not only called for but the threat is fully active and defense should be underway. Orange is the highest level of readiness without taking action. You could say the high diver is on the board and ready to jump. Yellow is a relaxed state of readiness, with the individual remaining vigilant and judgmental of his or her surroundings. In the white state of mind, awareness is inactive or turned inward focused on one’s desires or fantasies, totally ignorant of the surroundings.

A sales agent in the white state of mind is probably more focused on imagining what they will do with the commission than any one pitfall that might ruin the sale or pose a threat to their safety. The lure of smooth talk about a cash sale uncomplicated by bank loans and approvals is just what every real estate agent wants to hear. One pitfall that can lure an agent to operate in the white is when accepting a referral from another agent or a past customer. Remember our tennis game. That’s great; the referral has a sale off to a great start. But what if there is not a clear reason as to why the referral is being passed on? When the situation is volleyed to the skeptic’s side of the net you should hear, “If the customer was such a great opportunity why wouldn’t the agent supplying the referral work it his or herself?” It is possible that the past customer may not really know the person being referred. Hopefully the skeptic in you will be there to slow down the action and not skip any of the steps in the sales process that safeguard via preemptive behavioral response.

Working as a listing agent may be inherently safer than working with customers off the street, but there are conditions that can erode the layers of security ordinarily available to the listing agent. The first shield of defense for the listing agent should be knowledge of whom they are doing business with and where they live. Therefore, any crime they commit is less likely to be assisted by anonymity or by being difficult to locate after the fact. But this does not guarantee your safety, especially if you are a new or inexperienced agent and desperately in need of a commission. The following is a tragic example pulled from interviews of several female real estate agents:

“I personally had a seller of a multimillion-dollar property that I had listed. This seller was a friend of a very close friend so I never thought twice about my safety. He was a single man and asked for me to meet him at his home to review the details of the property, electronics system being sold with the home, etc. All of which is common practice. I was a new agent and wanted to do everything myself. I met him at dinnertime and he had ordered in dinner, which he had told me in advance he would because I was coming from a full day of other appointments. This was our “getting to know you” meeting and because he was such a high dollar client, I believed he required some “wooing” to develop rapport. He served wine. I should have declined, but didn’t ever think a glass or two would be an issue over a couple of hours. I don’t know what was in the wine. There are hours after that point that I don’t remember. When I woke up I was in a very compromised position. I thought it was all my fault. That I had asked for this somehow. I won’t go into details but this by far was the worst event of my lifetime to date. I was humiliated and so scared. I never reported anything. My family needed the money at the time so badly that I decided I had to see the sale through. I did go to the doctor and thankfully there were no health ramifications. I never went to his home alone and I never met him from that point going forward that we were not in a public place. Hindsight is always 20/20.”

It’s very easy to see what made this situation dangerous. You don’t really know who you are dealing with. The seller was “a friend of a very close friend,” thus breaking the listing agent’s first layer of defense. Next, consider the seller and the agent. Given the seller owned a multimillion-dollar property, it is reasonable to believe that he is highly skilled and experienced in business matters, including negotiation and spotting personal weaknesses. The agent was likely a neophyte by comparison. Whether or not the agent’s drink was actually doctored, this tactic is nevertheless all too common. Simply make it a rule not to drink with clients. “I don’t drink,” can be the lie that saves your life.

Another lie you can tell yourself is “I don’t need this sale.” Of course you do, but practice saying it aloud in front of a mirror. The most difficult thing to do is to change your habits and demeanor. Sometimes, according to behavioral therapists, the only way to change your behavior is to make believe you are the way you wish to be. Copy the actions of your ideal even if it feels strange and uncomfortable. Sooner or later you will find that you do indeed fit the description of the person you want to be. In this case, confident and successful.

Crimes against real estate agents are primarily carried out by “separation from the herd,” a predatory practice commonly found in nature. If we were speaking of animals in nature, separation from the herd would be referred to as acceptable behavior because the predator’s place in the food chain is meaningful, sustaining itself while removing weaker, slower, or sick animals from the gene pool. In human society, separation is a tactic of cruelty and evil. Unfortunately, going one on one with customers at a remote location or inside a structure that provides concealment, even if it happens to be situated along a busy street, is inevitable. Yet there are still some safe guards available to the agent within the sales procedure if you choose to use them.

The time, date, and property address of each showing should be recorded with the office you work for. Aside from security, this is a necessity strictly from the business side for multiple reasons. First, so the agent can follow up with the prospective buyer. Also, the agent should let the property owner know how well the property is showing and perhaps offer advice to make the property more sellable. An office with several agents will probably have a rotation, meaning if you’re out on a call with one customer, then new calls would require the next agent up. And if one of your other customers calls in during your showing, whoever answers the call should know where to reach you. If you work with only one other agent, let them know where and with whom you are going. If no one in the agency is available, a family member or neighbor should have this information.

Whether you have left word with office personnel, family, or a neighbor, set up a time to check in. They should have a reminder alert for the check-in set on their cell phone (setting a cheap alarm clock works, too). Set the same alarm time on your cell phone as well so you can call in on time. This lets people around you know that you are not completely alone. Follow this same protocol (preemptive behavioral response) even when working in pairs with another agent or companion.

Another option to keep in touch is the locator app on a smartphone. However, this app offers only where the phone is with no clue as to the condition of the owner or if the owner is in control of the phone at the time. It could be helpful to investigators in catching a perpetrator after the fact but offers little in the way of prevention. Bear in mind that operating a touch screen cell phone does take time and a fair amount of dexterity so keep the phone unlocked with tracking and rescue icons readily visible.

Services like the MyForce app from myforce.com go a step further by not only offering location monitoring but also providing a live operator in effect acting as a private 911 service. The MyForce app can reportedly monitor hands free so it does have some possibilities as an effective device. Look for more innovations in the communications industry to make the cell phone a more valuable security tool in the future.

Sales agents that work in pairs are much safer than those that work alone, and not just in terms of preventing violent crime. For example, when showing a home to a couple, the presence of multiple agents makes it more difficult for one of the customers to be left alone in one room or another where they could possibly commit a simple theft, such as opening a drawer and taking jewelry. If there are children in the customer party, two agents have a better chance of monitoring their behavior. This could prevent a child from innocently breaking something, such as knocking over a vase.

The personal property of agents can also be at risk. Whenever the agent is distracted problems can occur, especially when working with more than one customer at a time. While showing the backyard to one member of the customer party, another customer can be rifling the agent’s briefcase, jacket, or purse.

Working in pairs may not always be possible, but there are times when it is, in my opinion, absolutely imperative. An open house is a sales strategy in which a home for sale is open to the public on a walk-in basis.

Anyone may walk into the house during the open house time period. Other than when a lone sales agent leaves the office to meet on site with an unqualified total stranger or group of strangers, the open house is potentially the least secure strategy. An open house can be dangerous not only for the sales agents but for customers in attendance as well.

Why then do agencies continue to host open house events? I interviewed Lance Loken, CEO of the Houston-based Loken Group, to get some answers. “Our job is to get exposure for our listings and have as many people walk through the property as possible,” said Loken. “We do a Grand Opening open house the first weekend after the home is on the market.” The Loken Group was formed when Lance decided to join his wife Karina in selling real estate after the corporation he was working for downsized its executive staff. Karina began as an individual agent with Keller Williams, and today the Loken Group is one of their most successful teams. But how effective are open house events in selling the property anyway? Probably less than 10 percent of buyers actually purchase the subject property after an open house, according to Loken. “But a lot of the sellers ask for the open houses and we accommodate. It’s also a way to provide us with buyer leads.” Typically hosted by the listing agent, multiple agents on scene not only increase security but also create additional opportunities for sales and for signing up new buyers.

The Loken Group trains agents to plan their open house events carefully, including adequate lead time, offering plenty of opportunity to plan for security. “Get there early so you aren’t in a rush and distracted when people start coming through the door,” offers Karina Loken. Other tips include using doorstop alarms for secondary exterior doors in order to monitor how many people are present and where they are situated, as well as to afford warning of an attack.


According to Lance Loken, CEO of the Houston, Texas-based Loken Group, many sellers request their homes be featured by holding an open house. This is a good way to get new buyers even if the subject home is not sold as a result. But Loken instructs his agents to get there early so they can greet customers with less distraction and to work in pairs for greater security.


An electric sign-in pad offers security options not available to a paper and pen. Connected to Wi-Fi, the same pad can be used to quickly access background-check search engines while on site.

You should also make sure that the seller has stored and secured all valuables. Jewelry is what typically comes to mind, but additional items not usually thought of as valuables include prescription drugs and personal mail, which can lead to identity theft. And don’t be afraid to ask the homeowner to lock up weapons and firearms.

If the attending agents are licensed to carry a concealed firearm, encourage them to keep them at hand and under their control; the firearm should be holstered on their person or inside a day planner designed for concealed carry. The Hidden Agenda from Galco Gunleather also functions as a day planner that can be used for taking notes on the comments of prospective buyers as they tour the house.

Even more handy is Galco’s iDEFENSE. The iDefense folio carries not only a defensive handgun, but also accommodates a tablet computer.

Holstered carry is superior to alternate methods of carrying a firearm because there is far less chance of leaving the gun where it can be discovered, lost, or stolen. It’s not a secret that real estate agents take pride in their appearance and whether the gun is carried concealed or openly, the variety of upscale and exotic holster and belt combinations currently available are more expensive but not difficult to find.


The doorstop alarm is a simple and inexpensive device that sounds an alarm as the door opens and hits the pressure plate. Not only is this a good travel companion for hotel room doors, but it can also offer added security during an open house by limiting access to only the front and rear doors.



It’s difficult to argue with the versatility of a writing pad complete with calendar, especially when it zips up in a leather case with lanyard so you won’t easily forget to take it with you. It’s even better when it offers the facility to carry a handgun with spare magazine. The Galco Hidden Agenda fills multiple roles, shown here with a 9mm Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. The initials M&P stands for Military and Police but the Shield has nevertheless become one of the most popular civilian handguns of all time.


A key part of setting up an open house is to create a station where potential buyers sign up and take one of your business cards. But once your setup is complete, be sure to stow your briefcase, bag, or personal items out of sight. Distracted by working with multiple customers with no way of knowing if they’ve signed in with an alias or if they’ve signed in at all, this realtor’s bag is at risk.


If a client on scene needs more information or would like to see additional properties, the portability of an iPad, shown here in a Galco iDefense planner, means you won’t have to go back to the office to look on a computer. This also offers the ability to perform background checks on the go.


The Galco iDefense planner not only protects your computer but can also help you protect yourself and others. The iDefense provides a secure holster for carrying small to medium handguns and a pouch for a spare magazine or speed loader. The Smith & Wesson model 340 PD is capable of firing .38 Special or .357 Magnum ammunition so it's plenty rugged. Weighing in at only about 11 ounces, you’ll hardly notice the additional weight.

The primary vulnerability inherent to the selling agent is that they must leave the office to show multiple properties. In doing so, not only are they leaving the relative safety of the office and the presence of additional personnel, they will also be driving in their personal car. Since an automobile is a likely necessity for the real estate agent, the cost of the car is at least partially tax-deductible. Most agents find it necessary to have a nice car whether they actually transport customers or not, making them a target for auto theft.

The problem of auto theft for real estate agents exists on two levels. On one level, vulnerability to auto theft is no greater than for anyone else. Cars can be secured with ignition shutoff features, auto tracking devices, and, of course, audible alarms. Where the car is parked can make it less vulnerable, and making sure it is locked without any valuables visible from the outside also contributes to security. Stopping by the curb and exiting for a moment just to make sure the “For Sale” sign is properly in the ground while leaving the engine running or the driver’s side door open could invite a crime of opportunity. When parked and locked, cars can take care of themselves to one degree or another, but you’ve got to have that inner voice nagging you not to get careless.

If you are familiar with my Shooter’s Bible Guide to Home Defense, then you’ve learned that home invasion robberies require the homeowner to be present, otherwise hidden valuables take too long to find. Safecracking is a lost art mostly because it’s much easier to convince the homeowner to simply give up the hiding places or provide the combination to a safe. The same goes for carjacking versus common auto theft. Carjacking, like the home invasion, requires the driver to be in the car. The advantage to the thief is that the car is less likely to be damaged—no broken windows or damaged ignition lock.


The dress code for selling real estate is typically higher than in other fields, but concealed carry can be classy, too. The exotics line from Galco Gunleather includes a matching ensemble of alligator skin that is just as durable and efficient as any other type of tactical gear.

Would a car thief go through the process of meeting formally, including registration with a real estate agent, just to steal their car? Probably not, and it seems just as unlikely that two people would team up for such a robbery, one as the client to put you off guard and the other as the thief. But it wouldn’t be difficult to stake out an agency and pull off a carjacking just as the agent was getting into their car or arriving at the office. The bigger problem is that there is a moment in almost every carjacking when the decision is made to either abduct the driver and passengers or just take the automobile.

If you have been abducted and your telephone rings with your buddy expecting a status report, you may or may not have the chance to explain to the abductor that if you don’t answer, the caller will track your car and/or your phone. Or if your reminder alarm on your phone goes off you may be able to convince them that you have to call in. In either case, any time you are allowed to communicate during your abduction, hopefully it will be with someone that has been prepared to understand sub-messaging or a prearranged code. Everyone in your family as well as the people you work with should be familiar and listening for distress codes. There may not be time or opportunity to interject a color code reference (red for extreme danger) or a sentence that hides an acronym that spells H-E-L-P, but referring to the person on the other end of the phone by the wrong name should set off alarms. And indeed, every car should be set up with a tracking feature.

What Case Studies Tell Us

If there is any doubt about the vulnerability of real estate agents and how ignoring standard operating procedures increase the likelihood of being a victim, the discussion of the following should put them to rest. Neither I nor anyone else should ever say that any plan to avoid harm is foolproof nor is it a guarantee, but consistent use of preemptive behavioral response is the best insulation against crime.

Proper and accurate identification of the customer is probably the biggest weapon in the arsenal for anyone dealing with strangers. According to a January 12, 2015, report on the Housing Wire website, an Elk Grove, California, real estate agent was lured to a model home for sale in a new development on a simple show request that came in by telephone. Had the agent properly identified the customer, she would have found out that the caller was David Burnhardt, who authorities later confirmed was a registered sex offender.

When Burnhardt arrived at the model home, he threatened the female agent with a gun and held her against her will. The woman, whose name was not released, was taken to the bedroom and handcuffed. It was reported that he later moved her to a second location inside the residence, continuing to threaten her repeatedly. In a seemingly hopeless situation, luck appeared in the form of precautions taken by the management of the development. Security officers hired to protect the properties from vandalism and other forms of mayhem came into view outside the property. Fearing discovery, Burnhardt removed the handcuffs, told the victim to not draw the attention of the security guards, and ordered her to walk with him to the front door. Perhaps he thought he could drive off with her to another location. In a stroke of either good luck or sound tactics, the woman was able to position herself so that the perpetrator went out the door first. As soon he stepped outside, the woman closed the door and locked it. Unable to get back into the home, Burnhardt chose to escape in his pickup truck parked outside.

After Burnhardt had left, the agent went outside and flagged down a security officer. It was reported that “the security officer, fearing for his safety and the safety of the victim, drove to a nearby shopping area and contacted local police.”2

Given what happened, it is reasonable to believe that the security officers themselves were not armed, but they did act effectively to the best of their abilities. Aside from the abduction and related criminal behavior, Burnardt stole personal property from the vehicle of the agent, including two cell phones. From further information it is reasonable to believe that tracing of calls made on one or both cell phones were key to his arrest some time later in Modesto, California. At the time of his arrest Burnhardt was found to be in possession of the weapon used in the attack. This was a crime made possible by the lack of pre-identification and meeting alone on scene resulting in what could be viewed as the supply of a victim upon demand.

But not all the risk is in the hands of the selling agent waiting for a call. Agents that buy and sell property sometimes end up with property that will not sell. In order to cut losses, one common avenue to recoup funds is to offer the property for lease rather than let it sit unoccupied, vulnerable to criminal trespass, arson, or vandalism. Liability regarding the likelihood of vacant property being damaged through criminal acts depends largely on location. Some neighborhoods are more dangerous than others and where the agent chooses to deal in property is their choice. But so is how you deal with the administration of each property.

In October of 2008, it was reported that an argument between a real estate agent and her tenant resulted in murder. The slaying occurred during a discussion between thirty-nine-year-old Ricky Powell and seventy-year-old Herta Bailey because Powell had failed to pay his rent. Bailey was choked to death and placed in the trunk of her car. Powell subsequently stole Bailey’s credit cards and used them to pay utility bills.3 We have no way of knowing how Powell came to be Miss Bailey’s tenant or how much she knew about his past history.

Whenever a customer buys property for the purpose of leasing, it is common practice for the agent to advise the new landlord to hire a management company. Providing the name of a management company that has been thoroughly vetted is an extra service adding to the value of your practice. In addition, any real estate agent thinking of entering into the field of leasing themselves should also heed this advice. The management company not only services the needs of the tenant regarding repairs, but also collects the rent. As such, the management company works through protocol designed to reduce problems such as evictions and non-payment of rent. The local sheriff or constabulary may also be tasked with security for eviction procedures. In short, it is usually best to enlist an intermediary to handle tenancy.

Let’s continue with a study of one of the most widely publicized murder cases of the twenty-first century. On September 26, 2014, forty-nine-year-old Beverly Carter, a sales agent in Little Rock, Arkansas, disappeared after arranging to meet a customer for a series of three showings of homes for sale in nearby Scott, Arkansas. Her body was found days later in a shallow grave on the grounds of a concrete company in Pulaski County. How could this have happened?

In every crime there is motive and opportunity. In a case where the victim and the perpetrator had no prior relationship or dealings, there is no reasonable way in which Mrs. Carter could have contributed to motive such as revenge. Even if she had contributed to motive, the key would have been to limit opportunity or eliminate it completely.

Arron Lewis, age thirty-three, was charged with the crime. Although he pled not guilty, there seemed to be an admission of guilt when Lewis spoke into the microphone of a television reporter in video later supplied to YouTube.com by the Global Sun Times. “Why Beverly? Why Beverly?” asks the newswoman as Lewis is being led to transport in a Pulaski County Sheriff patrol car. Lewis, with a subdued look on his face, answers, “She was a rich broker.” This would indicate the motivation was money. Indeed, Lewis’s estranged wife, Crystal Lowery, was also arrested. It was reported that the two had argued often when they lived together and that the estranged husband was not able to pay child support. Lowery and Lewis were charged with kidnapping for ransom. But it was Lewis’s second response during the broadcast as news cameras and microphones followed him into the patrol car that speaks directly to opportunity. Hounded by the reporter for more answers as to motivation, he spoke again just as the car door was closing. The reporter asked again, “Why Beverly?” Lewis answers almost matter-of-factly, “Because she was a woman who worked alone.”4

As for Mrs. Carter being “a rich broker,” Lewis was wrong about her income. Nor was she a broker at all. Real estate agents are often looked upon as being wealthy simply because they dress nicely and deal with big ticket items, but only a small percentage of real estate agents make a king’s ransom. Perhaps the aforementioned trend of some agents presenting themselves like stars adds to the rich “Hollywood” image. But just like many actors and recording artists have learned, fame is not to be confused with fortune.

Lewis was also wrong about her being “a woman who worked alone.” She was not alone at the office when the call came in. For insight into how Beverly was “separated from the herd,” here are portions of a transcript of an interview aired on the Fox News Channel with her employer and friend Brenda Rhoads, managing broker of Crye-Leike Real Estate in Little Rock, Arkansas. The title of the interview segment was “Raising Red Flags, Realtors Taking Extra Precautions.” The host is Steve Doocy.

According to Rhoads, Beverly Carter had the intention of showing three homes to Arron Lewis and then going home for the evening. Miss Rhoads reports this “wasn’t anything abnormal.”

Doocy: How often do you get calls, “Hey I’m in front of this house at … could you come meet me? I’d like to take a look at it.” Total stranger, it’s going to be an empty house, you’re completely vulnerable.

Rhoads: We get those calls I would say on an average of five to ten a day.

Doocy: Because you work largely on commission, it’s one of those things if you don’t go you don’t make money.

Rhoads: We work only on commission. That’s the only way we make our money.5

On the “Find Beverly Carter” Facebook page, respondents posted advice such as “do NOT go to an appointment alone or even unarmed.” Bear in mind this is an assumption that weaponry alone makes you safer or invulnerable.

Aside from recommendations such as safety apps or even firearms, Doocy suggests upon first contact, “If it’s a first time meeting, ‘Hey meet me over at the headquarters of the real estate office.’ What else?” he asks Rhoads.

Rhoads: “That’s the most important. They’ve got to come to the office. We have to see them face-to-face. And the public has to realize that’s what’s going to happen. It’s not going to be that they can just call us and [we] run over at the drop of a hat. They have to realize the safety issues for them as well as us in a vacant house.”6

So much is revealed by the interview above. When the call for a showing came in, it was as good as anonymous. Based on the perpetrator’s own statement of opportunity, he might as well have been ordering a pizza as requesting the presence of “a woman working alone.” That the caller was not required to come to the office first was ideal for his purposes. Had Arron Lewis visited the office, he may not have been judged undesirable based on his looks, the way he dressed, or even his demeanor. But when properly identified, a quick search of the criminal database would have revealed no less than four previous convictions on felony charges and he was currently on parole.

In the wake of Carter’s death, hundreds of real estate professionals signed a pledge to change how they operate in an effort to ensure their safety. It reads:

I pledge to …

Under no circumstances show a home to a stranger without first meeting them at the office or asking them to submit identification.

Educate my clients that open houses are a safety concern both for the homeowner and myself.

Limit open houses as a marketing strategy and/or make prudent and safe decisions about my open house marketing efforts.

Follow my intuition, and not step into situations that I feel uneasy about.

Use the buddy system whenever I am unsure or uneasy about a showing or meeting.

Make myself available to my fellow agents as a “showing-buddy” should they ever feel the need to take someone along or feel unsafe.

Seriously consider the nature of my personal marketing, and its potential impact on my safety.7

The pledge was a good start, but with real estate sales being much more complicated than any other type of service, let’s see if we can create a more detailed step-by-step procedure that would offer a stronger preemptive behavioral response.

The best place for first customer contact is always at the office. If someone calls in on a specific property, ask if they are already working with an agent. If so, then tell them to have their agent call in to arrange a showing. If not, then have them come in to the office and ask them to sign on with your agency. This presents the lowest risk not just to your personal safety but it greatly increases the opportunity for you to make a sale.

Informal introductions should be followed by formal identification. Be familiar with the proper appearance and construction of state’s driver’s licenses. The customer’s description of what they are looking for and/or why they are moving should make sense. Serious buyers will already be pre-qualified for a loan or agree to the pre-qualification process. Cash buyers should also be required to offer documentation. Keep in mind the option of referencing the criminal database.

Professional or practiced liars can be difficult to spot, so it wouldn’t hurt to be aware of what are considered to be common physical signs someone is lying. Eyes widening, looking away while answering, adding too much detail, or speaking endlessly to wear down the listener are on the list of what to look out for. Gut feeling on your part should never be ignored.

Once the agreement is made to show property, ride in your car so it can be traced.

Better yet, ride in separate cars. If your cell phone requires a code to access the keypad/touch screen, expand the amount of time it takes for it to default to locking out or turn off the lock completely and keep the screen active for immediate access to the telephone. Check for cellular service at each location you visit. Emergency 911 should be on speed dial and entered as AAAAA911 into your personal contacts list so it will appear at the top of page one.

When pulling up to the property, slow down and inspect visually from inside your car before parking. Ask yourself, is someone home? Are any doors ajar, windows damaged, gates open, or is the garage door open? Is anyone waiting nearby in a parked car (especially with the motor running) or standing around in the general vicinity for no visible reason? Do not park in the driveway as your escape is then easily blocked.

After unlocking the front door of the property, tell the customer that you’re going in first to make sure no one is home. This gives you the opportunity to lock the door behind you if you feel threatened. Naturally, you could ask the customers to walk past you and enter first but you will probably have your back to them as you unlock the door, giving them the advantage of being able to push you inside. Another tactic is to suggest they walk the exterior of the property to keep them away from you as you unlock the door.

Once inside, positioning becomes all the more important. If at all possible, don’t let the customers get between you and the door leading out. Utilize the principle of tethering. A tether is a lead wire cable or rope that connects a moving object to a stationary point. Think of yourself as the stake in the ground. Let the customer move outward via an imaginary tether. Avoid going into attics and basements. Walk behind the customer. Do not enter a room from which there is no escape. As the customers fan out to inspect the room hover by the door or at the top of the stairs. Remember, at any time you can make up an excuse to leave.

You might be wondering if you should even be showing property if you are so concened about your safety. Certainly anyone you deem suspect should have been vetted using the criminal database during the identification process. The purpose of the information above is twofold. One reason is to keep the skeptic—you—in the game. But primarily you will need to develop particular habits of direction and choreography. The customers should be directed or distracted so that they are not directly behind you as you open the door, and once inside they should never be between you and an exit.

When listing a property for sale, make sure that it is located in an area in which you would feel comfortable and safe showing. Think of yourself as the buyer and take a moment to share in the possible liabilities. If it is in need of renovation and the intention is to list it for the owner “as is,” make sure the structure is safe to enter and secure from squatters, arson, or vandalism. If you yourself are in fact looking to buy the property and intend to fix it and sell it, get at least three estimates from recommended contractors to make sure the combined cost of purchase and renovation will leave room for profit. You never want to be put in the position of desperation to make a sale tempting you to overlook standard precautions.


When showing a room with only one way out and one way in, always let your buyers enter the room first and watch them from the door as they inspect the interior space. As they fan out stay “tethered” to the entrance/exit. This agent could have shown the garage with the main door open. But walking in via a side door ahead of her clients means she is trapped. This first defensive position shows the agent accessing a weapon hidden inside her purse. Notice her body position. Turned sideways towards whomever she is confronting with elbow in front of her, she is prepared to meet oncoming force. Furthermore, access to the compartment in her purse is shielded in her favor.


The draw is completed with the purse being pulled from over the handgun to a guard position, almost as if it were a shield. The handgun has actually been moved very little to the rear. Keeping the gun close to the body makes it more difficult for an aggressor to grab for it. When fighting at close distances, the gun can actually be fired without being completely raised so long as the shooter’s opposite hand is not in front of the muzzle.


With the gun up, the arm and purse may still act as a shield to protect the gun. But it may also be helpful to move laterally. In this case, circling to her right would offer the most speed and stability. Even a small change in position can add distance to the path of anyone who might be advancing and afford additional time for you to respond, not to mention if they have a weapon, a moving target is more difficult to hit.

For all your wishes to help people make their dreams of owning a home come true, remember the game must also be balanced by your needs to make a profit and to do so in safe environment. Don’t worry about putting off customers with procedures in place to ensure your safety. Those with honest intent to buy or sell will always welcome the institution of proper methodology.

Preemptive Behavioral Response for the Real Estate Agent


When visiting a property for evaluation, look out for signs that exterior doors have been forced open. Broken trim or an excessive amount of locks may indicate it is located in a high crime neighborhood.

Vacated or abandoned property can be prone to squatters. Check exterior first for signs of break in or trespassing. Be wary of excessive littering inside the property.

Project a businesslike rather than glamorous profile in all forms of advertising.

Wear clothing that is professional but comfortable to provide ease of movement.

Never confuse attracting a customer with wooing a suitor.

All first points of first contact should be at the office. (In the event of an open house agents should be teamed rather than alone.)

Always positively identify the customer before showing property away from the office.

Always pre-qualify the customer’s ability to pay cash or obtain financing.

Be familiar with the proper appearance and format of in-state and out-of-state means of identification such as a driver’s license.

Don’t be afraid to access the state’s criminal database when identifying a customer.

Remain in a state of vigilance not just to cues regarding the sales process but also to your personal safety.

When showing, do not enter closets, basements, or dark rooms.

Do not let customers get between yourself and an exit. Tether yourself at the entrance/exit while customers walk inside.

Beware of referrals. Treat referral customers the same way you would any other stranger.

Do not drink alcohol or smoke marijuana with customers.

No matter how much you need the next commission, leaving yourself open to being taken advantage of will not you help make the sale. Remain professional and stick to the proper guidelines.

Always leave word of where you will be showing and with whom to a co-worker or family member. Schedule a time to check in and stick to it.

Maintain an “app” on your phone indicating location.

Install a locating device in your automobile.

Work in pairs whenever possible.

Learn to carry weapons appropriate to whatever laws are in effect in your municipality or state. Make sure you know how to conceal, deploy, and operate such weapons.

If you must approach a leasing customer about late payment, do not do so alone. This goes for male as well as female agents. Keep in mind that you may have the option to request an escort from local law enforcement.

Do not show property after dark.

Don’t be afraid to make up an excuse to leave or cancel an appointment.

Keep in mind the most important rule—if you think something is wrong, there is something wrong.