Last week was the REO Expo 2012 – it was the third year I have attended. This year, I was selected to attend a panel entitled “Don’t Be a Victim: Safety Issues in REO”. We had a good group of panelists, but unfortunately we didn’t have a really great turn out in terms of an audience to listen to our pearls of wisdom.

Each panelist was given ahead of time several questions which they might be asked – so I researched the questions and prepared some remarks ahead of time. I am sharing the questions and my answers here in case they will be useful to anyone in the future.

You said that you have never felt in danger while doing your job. Why do you believe that is? Many believe female agents are specifically targeted, could your gender have something to do with your feeling of safety, or do you believe that your preparation is the cause?

I have never felt imminently, physically threatened by anyone, but I have of course been concerned for my safety on numerous occasions. I deal with a lot of rural properties, where if I run into trouble I may not be in cell range to call for help, so I want to make sure that I know as much about the property going in as I can.

I am sure I have a greater feeling of safety than many women will, because yes, many criminals do in fact target females specifically and that is of real and particular concern. If I were a woman, I don’t know that I’d be going out alone to many of these properties, unless I had some good self-defense training, the Moby safety app for smart phones, and maybe a tazer or some pepper spray.

In general I think my overall feeling of safety comes from being cautious and also from not having experienced any truly life-threatening situations.

Do you believe that the National Association of Realtors should do more to help Realtors protect themselves?

The NAR does have a section of its web site dedicated to agent safety. There is quite a lot of material there, including a series of archived webinars about agent safety. The site also provides links to other state associations that have their own additional information about agent safety. They also have a safety guide for Realtors in the NAR store you can buy for $20.

NAR also calls September the National Realtor Safety Month, when they put a focus on safety on their web site and other communications.

I really feel though that NAR is missing the boat on a key issue, such as having NAR vetted and approved safety training classes, self defense classes, and self defense products such as pepper spray, tazers, and the like – especially if NAR were able to secure these products and services at a discounted rate for members.

What do you personally do to prepare for potentially dangerous situations?

Before I go out to a property, I will google the address and the former owner of record to see if there’s anything I can find out before I visit a property where I have concerns. After I am at the property, I make sure to clearly identify as best as possible who is living at the property – I ask to see identification, and do a quick internet search when I return to the office to see what more information I can find. I feel that knowing who you are dealing with is a key way to prepare and avoid dangerous situations.

If I require a meeting with the occupants of a property, I try to schedule the meeting not at the property but in a public place, ideally my office, so there will be other people around.

If ever I am concerned when I leave to visit a property, I will make sure someone in my office is alerted to where I am going and will let them know when I should be back.

I also make sure that my cell phone is fully charged before I go out, and always make sure to bring it with me when I exit the car.

When I am parking my car, I position it such that I can leave quickly – this often means backing up a driveway, ideally parking somewhere that the way out can’t be easily blocked. I also make sure my car doors are locked after I exit the car.

I wear comfortable clothing and shoes that I can run in.

What unique safety situations do Realtors face when dealing with REO properties, and how can they prepare for them?

People who have gone through foreclosure can often be emotionally on edge – even when they might not normally be aggressive, the stress they’ve been under can make them act irrationally. I always try to strike a conciliatory tone with all occupants I find at a property, and seek to get their cooperation. I actually find that the offer of cash for keys or ‘relocation assistance’ is one of the best ways to calm people down and give them some hope for better days.

When doing an occupancy check, if possible, consider doing it early in the morning, as many occupants are likely to be sleeping and it may be possible to get feeling for the property while anyone inside might be sleeping and of less risk to you. Also they are less likely to be inebriated early in the morning.

Before you enter a property on a weekly inspection, check all the exterior of the home before you enter, looking for signs of forced entry. If you see any doors or windows have been forced open or broken, you should be especially concerned and may want to come back at a later time with someone else.

When going into a property that you think is vacant, take a quick tour of the property to make sure it is in fact vacant at the time, and then it’s a good idea to lock the door behind you so that nobody else can enter while you complete your work at the property.

Always bring a flashlight with you, and use it to shine ahead of you when there there is any darkness – there may be tripping hazards, of course, or there could be people in the shadows. I recommend a big 4 “D” Cell police type flashlight which in a pinch can be used for defensive purposes.

Even though you may carry pepper spray, a tazer, a heavy flashlight, etc., I suggest being assertive but non-confrontational as possible with everyone you come in contact with. No point in trying to be a hero – if anything is at all weird or sketchy, I recommend leaving immediately and returning with the police or at least someone else who’s got your back.