The pledge is a simple first step to open a much-needed dialogue within the real estate community about the practices that real estate agents accept in the daily flow of conducting business. Our hope is to facilitate an open conversation about the implementation of serious reform to our standard operating procedures. The pledge resulted from the vast number of comments, responses and questions that arose from an open letter posted to the real estate community in October of 2014 on the heels of yet another tragic murder in the real estate community.
Know Before You Show
About the Real Estate Safety Pledge
Ashley was just 27 years old when she was shot and murdered while hosting an open house in West Des Moines, Iowa in April of 2011. No motive or explanation for Ashley’s senseless murder has ever been found, and the killer remains unknown and at large.
Beverly, an Arkansas real estate agent, went missing after showing a home to a prospective buyer. Her body was later found in a shallow grave. Her alleged murderer, Arron Lewis, when asked why he chose her said it was “because she was just a woman who worked alone—a rich broker”.
An Open Letter to the Real Estate Community
To my fellow Brokers, Managers, and Colleagues...
In the wake of the recent abduction and subsequent murder of yet another member of our real estate community (this time in Arkansas), I feel it is incumbent upon us as leaders in our local marketplace to take action on behalf of the many agents in our respective teams who could very well be the next victim of another heinous and tragic crime.
Some of you know that Ashley Okland (whose life was also tragically taken) was initially hired and trained by me when she first entered the real estate industry. Ashley was also a personal friend, who held my firstborn baby, babysat my kids, and attended bible study in my home. As I look back on the time that we spent with Ashley, I recognize that there is a degree of culpability that I personally (and the industry as a whole) bears, in that we willingly tolerate and allow our agents (by way of our policies and industry standards) to place themselves in what can only be described as unnecessary and blatantly dangerous positions as we allow them to show vacant homes to perfect strangers, and sit for hours in empty and unlocked open houses.
In the months after Ashley’s death, a lot of discussion ensued about safety policies and open house practices, and there was even some discussion about working to end open houses in the marketplace. Unfortunately, for all of this well intentioned discussion, it would appear that nothing fundamental has changed in our marketplace (or anywhere else for that matter) to change our industry practices to better protect our agents. Because we all feel the need to compete in an open market for the limited pool of leads that exist, we tolerate reckless lead incubation and showing practices that we would never encourage our daughters and wives to practice. Our agents place themselves in precarious positions only because they know that if they don’t that someone else will.
I would like to suggest that we work to make specific, collaborative, and comprehensive changes to our local industry practices regarding home showings and open houses. Our firm represents a small portion of the market share, and implementing practices of this nature within our walls alone will not create the change that we need to re-train our agents and the consumer as to acceptable practices and expectations. It simply is not sufficient to teach our agents how to be safe while conducting showings and hosting opens, as these strategies act only as band-aids to a much larger and foundational issue. What must change is the fact that we accept as normative the idea that any agent should even entertain the idea of meeting a client at a property without first meeting at the brokerage office or facilitating some sort of initial screening. We do this, and allow this, only because it is normal in the industry. But as all of our mothers once told us...“if everyone else is jumping off a cliff, does that mean you should?”
I am asking you as my fellow brokers and managers to consider joining together to discuss implementing changes to how we all handle the following:
- Client Showings I would like to suggest that we collectively commit to implement stringent showing practices in our marketplace which include the expectation that all prospective clients first meet our agents at one of our offices (when possible)—or at a local coffee shop or public place (when not). It should be nothing short of commonplace to expect prospective buyers to fill out some sort of info sheet accompanied by a copy of their license or ID. It would also be very easy in this day and age to develop an app sign-in tool which requests a snapshot of photo ID for all clients prior to initiating showings. This practice will only gain traction if it is embraced on a wide scale, because anything short of that will simply mean that the consumer will gravitate to whomever will be the most flexible. We all have some level of safety protocol of this nature in place within our offices, but we also all know how loosely this is adhered to. Perhaps it is time to collectively agree to amend our practices in addition to our “suggested” protocols.
- Open Houses Despite the fact that it is difficult to imagine a marketplace without the traditional open house as common practice, it is a simple and obvious reality that open houses leave our agents vulnerable and exposed. We facilitate open houses because...well, because others do, and because it has become an expectation of our sellers. It is time to reconsider this practice, and look into smarter and more responsible marketing strategies both for our sellers and for the agents that host them.
- Public Awareness In order to effectively implement change in the industry, the consumer needs to be informed and educated as to the need for change in our practices. It is imperative that we develop a unified message to re-train the consumer to embrace more realistic and safe expectations of our agents. I would hope that we would all be willing to co-fund a market-wide consumer facing campaign to help our clients understand the need to meet at our office first. In our experience, the vast majority of home buyers are respectful and mindful of our need to remain safe, and if informed would be more than happy to comply with a revised industry standard.
- The Elephant in the Room I suggest that it also appropriate that we acknowledge the fact that changes to safety protocol in any format other than market-wide showing practice reform inevitably places female agents at a distinct disadvantage to their male counterparts. If female REALTORS® are expected to have clients meet them at the office in order to ensure their safety, but male REALTORS® do not embrace the same practices, not only do male REALTORS® retain a strategic advantage in their business, but it is likely that clients will be inclined to retain their expectations of immediate access to listed properties, furthering this issue.
I am well aware of the impracticality of some of these suggestions. And I don’t have all the answers to how this kind of change can be implemented. But I do know that this kind of change is only possible with the collective efforts of many, who reach a critical point and agree, that although it may be difficult, and although it may cost us sales, and money...that enough is enough!
I don’t have a daughter. But if I did, I would never want her to meet a stranger in an empty home for the commission value of any sale. If we, as leaders of this industry, do not recognize that we are allowing someone else’s daughters to step into these dangerous situations by the practices and standards that we propagate, and don’t work actively to make changes to this reality, then I believe we are complicit in the inevitable and costly result.
Let’s make a change!
The Real Estate Safety Pledge was born from the collective efforts of the broker/owners of CENTURY 21 Signature Real Estate (Dylan de Bruin and Joe Schafbuch) in Central Iowa, and Flying Hippo Web Technologies in Urbandale, Iowa.