A National Association of Realtors survey on members' safety released in August found many reported feeling fear while hosting open houses or otherwise showing vacant or model homes.
In the 2017 Realtors report, 25 percent of men and 44 percent of women said they had experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety or the safety of their personal information. About half (52 percent of men, 57 percent of women) said they carry weapons; the most common were pepper spray, carried by 19 percent of agents, followed by guns, which 16 percent carried. Others toted pocket knives and stun guns.
Real estate broker Sonia Figueroa takes a shooting test at the Eagle Sports Range in Oak Forest. She wants a concealed carry license after some scary incidents on the job. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
"The list just keeps getting longer of what tools people are using," said Jessica Lautz, managing director of survey research for the Realtors group.
Women were more likely to have experienced a scary situation, and are more likely to use a safety app or follow notification procedures with friends or family. Forty-eight percent of women follow these safety strategies, compared with 34 percent of men.
Many said growing a business in a competitive industry like real estate often creates the temptation to be the first -- to respond, to host an open house -- even if something feels off.
"It's really easy to get caught in the emotion of that opportunity and wanting to help people quickly," said Sotheby's International Realty broker Stephanie LoVerde.
Real estate organizations offer guidance; just this September, the Chicago Association of Realtors hosted a crime-prevention seminar and self-defense class. The group issues primers on hosting safe open houses that urge agents to use tactics such as securing valuables, walking behind visitors instead of in front of them and knowing cellphone signal strength in a home's various rooms. The Chicago Realtor group also suggests that realty agents keep their phones in hand and find an out -- like calling one's office -- if a situation seems problematic.
During an open house, a sign-in sheet for visitors tracks who's inside. And when closing up, it might behoove an agent to say something like, "Mike, go check the other bedroom," even if there's no Mike. Before leaving, it's best to work back to front, checking rooms from the home's rear first then working forward and leaving through the front door.