My Life-Changing Open House Moment

Door


Open houses and showing homes are simply a part of a real estate broker’s everyday business. In fact, most of us don’t think much of the very vulnerable position we put ourselves in almost every day. 

The recent report about the Snohomish County broker who was brutally attacked and assaulted at an open house is a reminder that we should step up our game when it comes to our personal safety. 

This story hit home for me because I too was assaulted at an open house. This is a difficult story for me to share, but if I can help just one of you avoid a situation like mine by bringing more awareness to the issue, then I am happy to do so. Frankly, this story still makes me anxious and I don’t often tell it. 

A little over 20 years ago, I was holding an open house for a builder who had built nine homes. The home being held open was at the end of a private cul-de-sac in a lovely serene setting. For resale, the homes were perfectly situated. For security, however, the conditions were less-than-favorable. The other homes had not yet sold and were empty. So imagine me, alone, in an unlocked house at the end of a cul-de-sac, with not another soul around with an open house sign that indicated, “Come on in!” 

As luck would have it, on this day I was only alone for a little while (although I had held this home open in solitary before). Another broker, Dianne, had planned to meet me there later that day to discuss marketing ideas for a development she was involved with.  

I had parked my car in the garage because I wanted to make room for guest parking. Dianne parked right in front of the home. Anyone driving down the street would assume that one car meant there was only one person at the house. 

Dianne and I were meeting in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Usually I heard cars pulling up to the house because it was otherwise very quiet so I did think it odd that I hadn’t heard a car. However, I chalked it up to possibly a distant neighbor stopping in for a visit so I opened the door. 

As soon as the door opened, a man burst in, lunged at me, grabbed me by both shoulders and threw me to the ground. I had zero time to react and the wind was knocked out of me. I was stunned, frightened, and very worried about both myself and Dianne. 

The man yelled at me and demanded my car keys. I was frozen silent with fear for what seemed like a very long time, but in fact was probably only a few seconds. Dianne heard the commotion, came around the corner, and screamed. The man was clearly not expecting a second person and he turned and ran. That single screamed may have saved both of our lives. 

After we called the police, we learned that the man had been released from a prison nearby and they suspected he was trying to steal a car. Although the unusual circumstances should have made me feel a little better, it really didn’t. However, I learned some valuable lessons which helped me be safer from that experience. The brokers I worked with also worked harder to be safe and later, when I was a managing broker, safety was a priority in my office. 

Here are some key things you can do to protect yourself when showing houses or hosting open houses:

Go Through Safety Training and Review Guidelines Often

I know it isn’t flashy and fun, but safety training will help by giving you tools to work with when your space is threatened. This can be in the context of your real estate office, local association, or Washington REALTORS®. The National Association of REALTORS® has a number of resources available for individual brokers, brokerages, and associations: https://www.nar.realtor/safety. Did you know that NAR has 56 safety tips? You can review them here: https://www.nar.realtor/safety/56-safety-tips-for-realtors   

Self-defense Training

Take a local class and pick up some skills in the event you need to use them.    

Consider Having An “Open House Buddy”

If the home is in a secluded area, you don’t know the area well, there are no neighbors close by and/or you are not expecting healthy traffic, get someone to come and work the open house with you. However, don’t assume that secluded homes are the only target!  

Know Your Way Out

A fire isn’t the only excuse to have an alternative exit strategy. Make sure you have a second way out that you have identified in advance and that it is unlocked. In addition, don’t park in the driveway. Park on the street so you can make a hasty escape and avoid having your car blocked in. 

Check In and Out

Does someone else know where you are, who you are with and when you are expected back? If you don’t report back in, is there a process in place for making sure you are okay? Furthermore, you should have one or two people on your speed dial who know that if they receive a call from you during the open house or showing, whether it is a butt-dial, a call for help, or a keyword, will summon help from the police.   

Get a Safety App

There are a number of apps available for real estate brokers including apps that count down and summon emergency responders when you don’t check in during a showing and apps that broadcast your audio to responders with a push of the button. You can easily find a safety app that is a good fit for you. Visit www.nar.realtor/safety/resources-for-members and scroll down to the Safety Applications for Smartphones section.

Listen to Your Gut

Your gut is the best defense mechanism you have but we often talk ourselves out of taking action in favor of gathering more information. A self-defense class will help get you more comfortable with taking the action you need. If someone comes to the open house and you feel threatened, lock the door and don’t let them in. Leave the house if you have to and get in your car. Find your voice and yell if you need. When your gut is telling you something, listen!  

Always put your safety before any sale. Let what happened to the broker in Snohomish County as well as my story serve as motivation to get prepared.

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