Sheriff’s Office brass to Realtors: Be careful out there

Photo by Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post

Photo by Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post

Here’s a recipe for danger: Realtors are mostly women who spend their days showing empty houses to strangers.

Most times, nothing goes wrong — Wellington broker Nancy Jennings says she has held hundreds of open houses in Palm Beach County without incident. Indeed, violent crime rates have fallen in half over the past 20 years, according to the FBI.

Sometimes, though, Realtors become victims. The 2014 murder of an Arkansas real estate agent spurred Realtors to examine their security practices. On Friday, Michael Gauger, chief deputy at the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, told Jennings’ Keller Williams agents in Wellington how to stay safe.

His tips:

  • Check ID. Always meet new clients at the office, not at a vacant home. Make a copy of new clients’ drivers licenses. To be sure a Florida license is legit, hold it at an angle and look for the circles hidden on the surface. Also make note of the client’s vehicle and tag number.
  • Use security cameras. “Cameras are so cheap now,” Gauger says, “and the pictures are unbelievable.” Brokers can install cameras at the office for a few hundred bucks. For agents on the move, Gauger suggests using GoPro cameras to capture video during open houses and showings. The footage can help cops catch the bad guy.
  • Get a buddy. Don’t hold open houses alone. And agents should tell someone at the office before meeting a client at a property. They also should have a code phrase — such as, “It’s in the red file” — that serve as a distress signal.
  • Ditch the high heels. Female agents should wear shoes that let them run away from bad guys.
  • If you have a gun, know how to use it. A gun in the possession of an untrained owner can be a disaster waiting to happen. A bad guy can snatch it, or the owner might accidentally shoot herself. For agents not experienced with firearms, Gauger recommends pepper spray.
  • Lose the jewelry, keep the smartphone. Don’t wear fancy jewels and lug big purses, Gauger says. But set up your phone so you can easily dial 911 if things go wrong
  • Be wary. When you get to an empty property, walk around the perimeter before going in. If the lockbox has been tampered with or there are signs of a break-in, call 911 before entering the house. “Awareness has kept me alive for 45 years,” Gauger says.

Of course, Gauger had a more dangerous job than agents. Realtors die on the job from violent crime about once a year, safety experts say, and there have been a handful of news reports about murdered Realtors in recent years. An Ohio agent in 2010 was strangled by two men who told her they wanted to view a property. And in 2011, an Iowa agent was murdered during an open house.


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