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Simple Steps to Minimize Personal Risk | By: R.F."RICH" DUSEK

Simple Steps to Minimize Personal Risk

While Showing Properties

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Written Specifically For

Real Estate Agents & Professionals

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 by

R. F. “RICH” DUSEK

© - Dusek Enterprises, Inc. - 2013

Foreword:

Real Estate Agents and other Real Estate Professionals regularly meet strangers in empty houses and other buildings.  Criminal acts against agents, inspectors, landlords & other real estate professionals are on the rise - nationwide.  We believe that education and awareness will help you hardworking re pros avoid becoming a victim of one of those crimes.

Several years ago I wrote the ebook “Personal Protection, Safety & Security” to provide a basic educational awareness for the population in general, describing and explaining how through awareness a person can be better-prepared for avoiding violent crime in their homes, apartments, cars, malls and other facets of their daily lives.  (Request your free copy:  www.deisecure.com)  Through our involvement in real estate investing I am hearing more and more reports every week specifically about criminal acts targeting real estate agents and other professionals.  Just the other day I was on a call with a prominent ‘guru’, and he described how an agent was doing a final walk-through with their buyer in Maryland the morning of a closing when a perpetrator entered the home and robbed and mugged them.  Even though they escaped without serious injury, they were placed at serious risk and, needless to say, the deal fell through as well.

So, what can you do to make it more likely that you will return safely to your office, home and family after each showing, and every day?  I urge all of you to go to our website www.deisecure.com and get your free copy of “PPS&S” for general education.  In this white paper I will provide additional tips regarding specific behaviors and tips for Real Estate Professionals.

We urge you to follow up this preliminary awareness and continue to monitor us at www.DEISecure.com  .

Introduction:

Typical Real Estate Agent Scenario:   A call comes in from a client asking to see the house at 123 Main Street.  You happily set up the appointment for 2 pm tomorrow.  Arriving, you are met by a man, woman or couple who identify themselves as “the Jones’s” as expected.  Beyond that, you know nothing at all about them.

You then go up to the door, enter the combination on the lock-box and unlock the door, open it and step into the house.  At that point you have placed yourself in a very vulnerable position.  You have created several potential scenarios:

  • First, you have your back to a complete stranger, and they can easily grab you from behind, push you into the empty foyer or living room, and kick the door closed behind them. 
  • Or, the young lady who called you and set up the appointment and then met you in front of the house alone could already have her partner waiting on the other side of the door for you. 

What could you have done differently so far to reduce your risk?

Several things:  Could it be a policy of your brokerage that when a client called and set up an appointment, that they were required to provide a copy of their driver’s license or some other identification to your assistant?  Disclaimer:  This must be a general policy, and carefully implemented with the necessary procedures and disclaimers to avoid accusations of some sort of ‘profiling’, of course.  Consult with your legal counsel.

And-or, when you first arrive, text the license plate number, make and model of the client’s vehicle to your office or another person.  If the client arrives after you and you are by the door, make an excuse to go back to your car to gather this info, and send it.  And if you are uncomfortable from the get-go when you arrive and first see them, just use the ‘fact’ that you cannot get the combination to work as your reason to get back in your car and drive away.  Live to show the house another day – and do NOT let your car get trapped in the driveway in front of theirs!

When you put the combination into the lock-box and remove the key, you could fidget with lock then step back and ask the client if they can get the door unlocked.  At that point, at a minimum, you can watch them from behind as they enter the house.  A key element in this scenario (and throughout the showing) is to be very conscious of the location of your point of escape (the door) and always try to stay between your client and that point of escape.  Secondarily, always maintain as much distance as possible and comfortable between yourself and the client(s).  In any confrontational situation even a few feet more will provide you with more time to react to their actions.

Let’s pause for a few moments and reflect.  Am I saying that you should be paranoid and go through your daily life in constant fear?  No - but I have been very educated in the fact that a number of studies exist where convicted criminals have been shown videos of typical shoppers in malls; and that they; as a class of experienced professional criminals; consistently categorize and judge the people they observe by how ‘good a victim’ they would be.  These studies show that perpetrators choose the same potential victims - those who are carelessly going about their actions unaware of their surroundings, presenting themselves to the ‘night crawlers and bottom feeders’ as ideal victims.

Back to the house showing - when the client unlocks the door for you, he steps back and holds the storm door open, politely indication that you enter first.  Again, this simple chivalrous act places you in the more vulnerable position.  Declining, you again ask them to go ahead inside and you follow - a few steps behind.  With very little practice, you can ingrain the habit of fiddling with the lockbox or checking the mailbox in order to disguise your strategic safety tactics so that your clients never realize that you are doing them, or why.

Once inside, you should let your client(s) do the exploring.  If you take the lead and enter the hallway, bedroom or bathroom first, you have essentially trapped yourself.

Another pause - please realize that in these regular daily house showing scenarios relying on your phone, and calling for the police, are not viable options.  Even if you had your phone in your hand with your finger on the panic button, the time it would take for the police to arrive is too great to help you.  As several of my Law Enforcement Professional acquaintances say; “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away”.

One way you could leverage your phone is that, if you find yourself in a situation that seems to be getting risky, call your receptionist or another person and stay on the phone with them.  Even faking this for long enough to get outside the house to "get a better phone signal" could provide you with the escape opportunity that could save you.  It could also help to mention the name (and maybe even the vehicle information) of the client to the person you are calling in a manner that the client hears you, so they are aware that they are no longer anonymous.

If trouble starts and there is no other option available or that feels comfortable to you, many vehicles have key fobs that are equipped with a “Panic Button” that will remotely trigger your car horn to start honking.  In many neighborhoods it can be common for these to go off, but it could give the criminal who has grabbed you reason to think twice before sticking around for too long.  Be sure to test the actuation distance of this feature (assuming that your vehicle is so equipped) to confirm that it is a viable option for you when you are some distance from the vehicle.

There are less passive options available as well.  Some people choose to equip themselves with other methods of protecting themselves.  These can include learning some martial arts type skills, carrying some type of pepper-spray type device, or where legal obtaining a concealed carry weapons permit and carrying a firearm.

Martial Arts and other hand-to-hand combat methods:  I personally consider these to be ‘last resorts’ in most situations.  Beyond physical strength limitations, multiple attackers will most likely be able to over-power most people.  I do recommend knowing some of these skills as a backup for when a situation has degraded to those options.  I personally found that learning a martial art and being placed in the mental situation of facing an opponent (as in sparring during classes) was a very educational process; and one that helps prepare a person mentally for these kinds of situations.

I also personally carry a pepper spray device in the event that the use of potentially deadly force can be avoided.  There are several things to think about if the use of one of these devices is your main plan, however.  First, you do not want to be struggling to get to it in your pocket or purse while you are being attacked.  This means that as you walk into and through the house you need to have your finger on the button in your purse or pocket in the event that you need to react quickly to a threatening situation.

The use of pepper spray and similar products has plusses and minuses.  While there are products that will dispense the materials at distances of over 15 feet, most likely the situations a real estate agent would find themselves in would be at mush closer distances.  The person deploying the spray should expect and be prepared for several things.  First, it is very likely that you will also become contaminated with some of the pepper spray.   Based on this premise, I strongly recommend that for those of you who consider this to be your main form of defense (and others as well) that you need to experience the effects by testing it on yourself first in some non-threatening training environment.  It will be unpleasant, but it will also be great preparedness training.

While this may sound strange, a big part of the use of these materials is the surprise and momentary confusion that the materials cause.  You will have a brief advantage over many attackers when you spray them and get some spray in your own eyes; and you know what to expect and they don’t.  Even if you are in the grasp of an attacker, if they briefly let go to put their hands to their eyes, that could be your only opportunity to escape.  The second disadvantage of deploying these materials is that in the event that you are unable to escape you will most likely have really infuriated your attacker, which could make a bad situation become worse.

This brings us back to the basic premise that mental preparedness and planning is the real key to avoiding threatening situations as much as possible, along with minimizing the ultimate results that occur.

The Use of Deadly Force:

Disclaimer - The potential use of firearms in instances of personal protection is an extremely legal, emotional and personal decision.  There are various laws in the many states and municipalities that make general statements somewhat meaningless.  Please consult with local Law Enforcement and weapons training professionals to determine exactly what the legal implications could be.

That said, I will discuss the topic accordingly.  Many states provide the means to obtain a ‘concealed weapons permit’ that allows an individual to carry a handgun on their person – be it holstered, pocketed, in a purse, etc.  I will not be discussing what is referred to as ‘open carry’ which means that the weapon is obviously visible to an observer, as this (while legal in many areas) is relatively uncommon. 

If a person takes the required training and is legally granted a permit to carry a concealed weapon, there are a number of choices and responsibilities that come with that right.  These can be very personal, as well as very pragmatic; and very legally complicated.  In every jurisdiction that I am familiar with, it is not legal for a non-law enforcement officer to use deadly force to protect personal property.  This means that if you see someone stealing your TV from your house, or they have grabbed your wallet or purse and are running away, you are not allowed to fire a weapon at them.  Normally and ultimately, deadly force can only be legally used by non-law enforcement officers when the individual feels that their life or the life of a loved, one is in danger.    This is a major reason you will hear the words “I feared for my life” from people who have been placed in that unfortunate circumstance. 

Additionally, the laws vary by state regarding your individual legal duty to avoid the situation.  Some states are governed by what is commonly referred to as “Castle Doctrine” which means that you have the right to defend yourself in your own home, and that the right is extended to other locations (like malls, in your car, etc.).

Other jurisdictions have a caveat that is referred to as “Duty to Flee” which means that even if you are in your own home you have the legal responsibility to try to get away; and that only if that option is unavailable can you resort to deadly force.  Some states take this so far as to require ‘equal force’, meaning that if your attacker has a knife you can defend yourself with a knife, but not with a gun (yes, seriously).

Based on the complexity and lack of universal requirements, I recommend that you read my comprehensive ebook “Personal Protection, Safety & Security” which gets into the topic in greater detail.  Additionally I strongly recommend that you talk to law enforcement professionals and a lawyer who specializes in this area in your state and locality to confirm exactly what the rights and restrictions might be for you.  After that, I recommend being specifically trained by experienced professionals in the use of firearms and how they apply in specific circumstances.

Other firearms-related topics include the personal choice of a handgun (size, weight, caliber, etc.) as well as the tactics one would employ when showing a house while maintaining tactical preparedness to use a firearm.  I also strongly recommend additional training beyond the minimum requirements to obtain a permit.  One really needs to achieve a great deal of familiarity and ‘personal comfort’ with a weapon that they carry loaded in public, for their own personal and legal safety and that of others around them.  There is also the need to be mentally aware of the full implications of the use of deadly force in self defense, as some may be unwilling to protect themselves in that manner.  The wrong time to learn that you are unable to pull the trigger is after you have introduced the weapon into the fight for your life, as that will have just resulted in supplying a deadly weapon to your attacker under very emotionally charged circumstances.

Summary:  This is not intended to be an all-inclusive comprehensive document.  I will be adding to and modifying it, as well as providing additional white papers on this important topic.  As stated at the beginning, I am sharing my training and experience with you and others in order to help as many hard-working real estate professionals as possible.  I simply want you to do what you do safely, and come back to your offices, homes and families as safely as possible from every appointment every day.

Please feel free to provide me with your comments and additional tips at rich@deisecure.com

Bonus Tip # 1:  

If you are ever in a situation where you need to meet someone (to pick up a check, sign papers, etc.) and need a relatively ‘safe’ place to meet them, consider this tip I received from a state-level law enforcement professional:  Meet them in a bank lobby during business hours.  The lobby of a bank is a non-threatening environment that is protected by surveillance, and should present no annoyance to anyone.

I have been in one particular instance where I had a person refuse to meet me in a bank lobby, and later learned that most likely they and their friends had ill intentions in suggesting the meeting.

Bonus Tip # 2: 

If you ever ARE in a situation where you have time to call 9-1-1 for assistance (say, you have locked yourself in a bathroom and have a few seconds) tell the Operator that you need both Police and EMS.  Tell them you fell and are injured, or anything.  My advisors tell me that very often EMS will arrive minutes before the Police; and a criminal really does not care to check out whether that approaching siren or flashing lights belong to a police car or an ambulance.

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