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Op/Ed

Realtor Safety Month kicks off today; how we must change safety protocols

Realtor Safety Month begins today, begging the question: What are we doing as an industry to secure agent safety, and what more can we do?

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September is Realtor Safety Month and one year since the Beverly Carter tragedy. It is time to reflect, to see how our industry has fared in instigating changes to safety protocols.

We do seem to have made some progress in our attitude to safety. I’ve noticed on various Facebook groups that agents are now much more likely to agree we should NOT meet strange prospects at homes. Most now suggest CITO – “come into the office” and request ID before showing.

A conversation on what to do next got heated

A recent poster to a Facebook group elicited over 90 comments and replies after suggesting a National Safety Policy for meeting with internet leads or strangers. The suggestion was that a prospect could not move on to the next agent if they felt disinclined to submit their photo ID; an enforceable policy industry-wide.

It was a spirited discussion with some very interesting and varied responses (this time only one suggesting all agents should be armed!) with, at one point, Seattle Broker, Sam DeBord insightfully breaking down the different dynamics affecting change in our industry:

“Brokers don’t want NAR telling them what to do. Agents don’t want their brokers telling them how to do business. State licensing agencies don’t want brokers telling their agents to do too much. Committees want to vet everyone’s opinion.”

On reviewing all the comments about who should be responsible for implementing a policy (or not), these were the tallies:

NAR 6
Associations 0
Broker 8
Agent 16
Nobody 3

Interesting that no one suggested Associations, because a couple of them have been responsible for instigated the most meaningful changes in our industry in the past year, with the Des Moines Area Association of Realtors announcing its new safety protocol and The Arkansas Realtors Association implemented some new safety protocols, including the Beverly Carter Certified Safety Office Program.

How change is actually instigated

Change is often instigated by traumatic events and/or by those inspired to make a difference. Both these factors played a part in making important changes in Arkansas and in Des Moines in particular:

  1. Ashley Okland, a 27-year-old Iowa Realty agent, was shot twice and killed April 8, 2011 while working inside a West Des Moines model townhouse. Despite a reward that has reached $150,000, West Des Moines police have said they have no suspects.
  2. In October 2014, shortly after Beverly Carter’s murder, Justin DeBruin, previous employer and personal friend of Ashley and Joe Schafbuch, the broker-owners of Century 21 Signature Real Estate in central Iowa created the “Realtor Safety Pledge”. Over 1260 Agents and Brokers have so far promised to limit certain behaviors that could potentially put them in harm’s way.

“Ashley was our ‘one too many,’ and we don’t want another one,” said Robin Polder, president of the Des Moines Area Association of Realtors, who announced its new safety protocol last July.

The protocol is a three-pronged plan to protect real estate agents, as they often find themselves alone in empty houses, with prospective buyers they have never met.

  • A safety pledge for real estate companies and brokers. Most of the city’s largest real estate firms have already signed.
  • A commitment for agents not to show a stranger a home, unless they have met the prospective buyer in a public place and asked them to submit identification.
  • An optional contract for the seller’s which declares that no real estate agent is allowed to show the home to anyone the agent has not previously met and identified.

“We are not in any way trying to hinder a buyer’s capacity to get in a house,” said DeBruin, who helped create the seller contract, “but we do have to take some steps to retrain the public to understand some safety protocols.”

Putting policies into action

California can get everybody to reduce water consumption instantaneously, yet our whole industry can’t seem to work together to keep our agents safe, by implementing a policy of screening and verifying prospects photo IDs?

Changing the consumer’s expectations and our industries standards can happen – the apartment rental for instance, is a perfect example of one that made it so:

Vicky Chrisner, a Realtor from Virginia reported “I was a leasing consultant at an apartment community and I remember when we first implemented the photo ID checking policy, before we would show a home. It was weird, I felt weird, and yes some people got offended. Once I became comfortable, it’s funny how easily the consumer did.”

From Vicky’s observations, what it actually takes to implement change in an industry is a common consensus and the confidence to put policy into practice.

Ask questions, start a dialogue

If you are concerned about safety in our industry, please use Realtor Safety Month as an opportunity to ask questions, open up a dialog at your local and State Association level, because looking at the Arkansas and Des Moines initiatives, it seems like that might be the place to make things happen.

But I solemnly hope that it is not your own local “one too many” that spurs change in your town or state.

(Disclosure – Peter Toner if founder and developer of the safety app Verify Photo ID)

#RealtorSafety

Peter Toner is a third generation real estate agent who has been practicing for nearly two decades. He is the Founder of Verify Photo ID - a safety app that verifies the identity of strange prospects before you meet - in three simple steps; it includes a Safety Monitor with panic alerts.

Op/Ed

Make better decisions in 2018 by quitting (wait, hear me out)

(EDITORIAL) 2018 doesn’t have to be the year that you start something. Embody the phrase “less is more” by quitting and letting go.

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Around this time every year, people everywhere gear up to attack New Year’s resolutions with short-lived vigor, while people like me get ready to ridicule some of the more over-the-top examples of the “New year, new me!” crowd. This year, perhaps we should consider the adage “less is more” by cutting old habits rather than implementing new ones.

Put simply, it isn’t feasible to jump into 20 different hobbies/routines/lifestyles every time a new year rolls around, yet we seem to convince ourselves otherwise every January 1st; if your heart isn’t in what you’re trying to do, you won’t stick with it, no matter how much you “want” to do it.

Take the gym crowd, for example: you may have an objective understanding that working out is good for you while actively hating the gym, making it difficult for you to stick to what ends up being a shaky resolution.

What IS feasible is taking stock of everything that you do that doesn’t fit into your paradigm of operation. Do you spend an unwanted extra hour or two on the computer each day? If so, perhaps it’s time to start drawing the line at 5:00 sharp rather than letting clients hold you over.

The same goes for personal preferences as well: you may feel as though you need to devote countless hours of your time to weeding or cleaning, but it may be better for you to focus on the things that actually matter to you.

Obviously, we all have responsibilities that demand our attention (we’re not suggesting that you start ditching your kids’ soccer practice in favor of Tequila Tuesdays) but it is possible to exaggerate those responsibilities’ importance.

What you do with the spare time from your lifestyle pruning is completely up to you; however, by focusing on your actual hobbies, interests, and passions, you’ll most likely find that your quality of life improves while your day-to-day stress level decreases exponentially.

2018 doesn’t have to be the year that you start something; instead, consider making it the year that you close some overdue chapters in your personal book to make a little more space for the things that you love.

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Op/Ed

Technologists still think they can supplant Realtors #eyeroll

(EDITORIAL) It’s an age-old tale, but a new Alexa app implies they’re going to put Realtors out of work. Sure thing, buddies.

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Gertrude Stein once wrote that, “everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”

No doubt about it – the more information one can get, especially in a critical business negotiation – the better. But, as with many things, the volume of information becomes so overwhelming that we lose focus of what bits of information are truly important, how to deploy what we’ve learned from them, and how to use them to our advantage.

In a bygone era, Realtors used to serve as the founts of knowledge about a home – its features, its relative worth in the market, and what the neighborhood, schools, and modes of living around the house were like. With the rise of the Internet era, as well as multiple companies that aggregate this information from other places, consumers now need no longer rely on their Realtors for all of that information, being able to find it, along with interior and exterior pictures of the home, online.

So, some reason, with the continued expansion and refinement of the capabilities of online shopping, there won’t be a raison d’etre for Realtors any longer, with the home buying experience being able to be distilled and handled virtually, perhaps as easily as ordering a new house through Alexa.

After all, car buying was a very different experience just a few years ago, and now, through the efforts of Carvana, among others, one can now research, buy, and have delivered a car without ever leaving one’s house.

We get pitches every day from companies that seek to disrupt real estate, the most recent an Alexa app that claims to sell you a home (subtly indicating it doesn’t take a Realtor). Eyeroll.

Technologists continue to fail to take into account the added value that Realtors bring to each transaction and interaction with both home buyer and home seller. While providing information on a home and neighborhood no longer may be at their core mission for every interaction (although they must be prepared to do so), the ability for the Realtor to navigate the process of sale and purchase, intercede in negotiations when necessary, and frankly, to keep everyone’s emotions, which are often frayed, in check to keep the sale moving forward is vital.

For most of us, purchasing a home is the largest and most significant financial investment that we will make. While the internet, and technology-based disruptors in the space are amazing at providing us with information to narrow our choices when selecting a potential property (or, in the author’s case, providing too many choices), it doesn’t give us access to an expert on the process, a coach in negotiating the finer points of the sale, nor a counselor when things get hectic or the process hits a snag.

Using the services of both allows the customer to get the best of both worlds—data and information combined with someone who knows how to distill it into action, and that’s what a Realtor does – gets consumers into the action, in the right place, at the right time, and fights for the best outcome possible.

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Op/Ed

How to get a meaningful head start on your resolutions without magic

(EDITORIAL) Most editorials about resolutions offer apps or tricks, but let’s take a more meaningful look at how to make this your year.

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If you’re like most people, you abandoned your 2017 New Year’s resolutions in February or March. With 2018 just around the corner, you may be wondering if it’s really worth setting goals for the new year. After all, you didn’t do too well this year. What’s the point?

I believe that we need goals, personally and professionally. We fail, not because we aren’t committed, but because we set lofty goals that aren’t measurable and realistic.

Get a head start on your New Year’s resolutions by doing things differently this year.

1. What is it that you really want to change?
Instead of thinking about what you should do differently, what would make you happy? Resolutions that matter to you personally are more likely to be seen through.

2. Focus on three things:

  • What is one thing you want to start doing?
  • What one thing would you want to stop doing?
  • What is it that you’re doing that you want to continue doing?

3. Set goals that are SMART, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

Instead of saying that you want to eat healthier, tell yourself that you are going to incorporate more color into your menu.

How? By choosing one unfamiliar piece of produce each week and learning to cook with it. Or by selecting a salad when you go out for fast food.

Think about small changes that you can make, instead of making broad, sweeping changes.

You don’t need to download productivity apps or buy a whole bunch of equipment to make lasting changes to your routine. But you do need to really think about your resolutions to have a good handle on what you really want to change. Go into 2018 with determination to be a better you.

Carefully consider your goals to really identify what you want and how you can make lasting changes.

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