Last year, agents in the real estate community initially scrambled to stay in business and later, to stay productive without having any contact with their clients in an otherwise people-oriented business. As agents, you had to figure out how to work virtually and see clients remotely.
New and unique realtor safety practices emerged with both buyers and sellers alike, and many continue today. We’ve provided a shortlist of pandemic safety habits we think you should keep practicing because they offer benefits beyond virus protection.
5 Pandemic Safety Practices You Need to Keep Doing – According to Real Estate Pros
Before March 2020, you would have never imagined incorporating some safety practices into your regular work detail, nor would you have dreamed of asking the consumer to follow them. The pandemic forced all real estate professionals and their clients to change their habits.
As the world opens back up, some safety requirements remain in place. While some will be minimal, others will go away (we promise!). But we’d argue that you should embrace some of the safety lessons learned and continue using best practices you adopted last year. I encourage you to continue while the habits are still ingrained and accepted by agents and consumers alike.
1. Incorporate Virtual Showings as a Regular Safety Practice
Virtual home tours or “self showings” work for real estate agent and property manager Bess McCreary Wozniak, of Marietta, Georgia. According to Wozniak, who has earned the Property Management Safety Certification, her office plans to continue to practice this safety measure long after the pandemic is over.
“Our office strictly does self-showing for all of our available listings. This procedure prevents the need to meet people at any of our vacant properties.”
— Bess McCreary Wozniak, CPM®, MPM®,Vice President, Associate Broker of McCreary Realty Management, Inc., AMO® in Marietta, GA
Apart from showings, sometimes a need arises to visit a property or a listing for other reasons. Here’s how Wozniak describes her team’s safety procedures in such circumstances.
“Any time we need to go to a property, occupied or otherwise, for inspections or marketing photos, we notify the entire staff via our messaging system, and it is also put on the calendar, so everyone knows where we are. If we are meeting a prospective client to view their property, we list their name and contact info along with the address on the calendar event.”
CAUTION: Virtual Home Showings May Pose Unique Risks
Virtual or self-showings reduce the risk that comes with meeting strangers at properties. However, it’s important to note that they can lead to other types of crimes.
Burglary – Criminals can obtain the lock code by pretending to be a prospective tenant or buyer and then steal items from the property. They may do so upon touring or leave a window or door unlocked and return later.
Financial fraud – Con artists and fraudsters can con unsuspecting tenants or buyers out of deposits, advance rent, and application fees. Once they obtain a property’s access code, they can take the Craigslist scam to a new level. They may advertise the property for rent to unsuspecting potential tenants, and provide the code to tour the property. Then they extract a deposit from the unsuspecting tenant, who would be more likely to pay after having access to the property, believing it to be a legitimate situation.
Identity theft – The scam noted above can also facilitate identity theft. The scammer may ask potential tenants or buyers to complete a credit application, divulging their social security numbers, employment information, birthdates, and more.
One way to protect yourself from the unique risks that arise from virtual showings is to properly screen your potential clients and know with whom you are working. Some background screening apps only detect if a person has been convicted of a crime and has a record. There are serial criminals out there who have not yet been caught.
Employ a comprehensive screening app/service like Real Safe Agent’s Hoosfon that can give you a more complete picture of who you are dealing with, flagging items like high-risk or prepaid phones. The app will help determine whether you’re dealing with someone’s business or personal account, the account owner’s name, location, and more.
2. Continue Using Virtual Tools to Stay Safe in the Field
Missouri-based tech expert Burton Kelso says, “Most agents worked remotely during the pandemic and also embraced newer forms of technology such as video conferencing and cloud-based solutions. These changes are good as it allows agents to be able to conduct business from anywhere in the world.”
“I have been in my company’s office only once since last year,” shared Stacey Johnson-Cosby, a real estate agent who has been able to stay productive by investing in upgrades to her technology. Johnson-Cosby plans to remain working virtually for as long as possible. The fact that she can be more productive working from home is a bonus.
Stacey Johnson-Cosby is a housing provider and landlord in Kansas City. She’s also a local and national spokesperson for her housing organizations, The Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance and the National Housing Provider Coalition. She was recently traveling when she got the call to be interviewed on a national news channel.
“I need to be able to go on live television for interviews, host virtual meetings and events from home, and meet with clients.”
— Stacey Johnson-Cosby, Senior Sales Executive, ReeceNichols, Kansas City, MO
She’s on the front lines of a tense national issue between housing providers and tenants. As the end of the federally mandated eviction moratorium becomes imminent, she worries about new dangers sweeping the nation.
“Fellow housing providers have been attacked, a local judge with an eviction docket had tenant movement protesters show up 100 strong in his yard and on his front porch with his family home,” she shared.
Her husband Dewayne Cosby usually collects rent from tenants at their properties. These days, he uses Cash App instead. During the pandemic, the app helped him avoid close contact with tenants, but it has also proven efficient, and he plans to continue using it as a secure form of payment.
“Cash App limits the amount of cash that I have to carry while out.”
— Dewayne Cosby, Housing Provider and Co-Owner, S and D Properties, LLC
3. Keep Holding Virtual Meetings to be Both Efficient and Safe
As agents, you may have struggled with having new clients come to your office for first meetings. In-person first meetings have always been recommended for safety reasons. Those with criminal intent would be reluctant to be publicly identified and so would avoid meeting you in the flesh.
I’ve advocated for virtual first meetings for years, and this past year,
agents across the country were forced to heed my advice. Clients offered no pushback because it was safer for all parties. Plus, health guidelines inspired by the pandemic made virtual meetings mandatory in most places.
Virtual meetings are a practice that you should continue throughout 2021 while they’re still considered the norm. Consumers are accustomed to virtual viewings and meetings. You can easily preview potential properties and eliminate properties that may not be a fit.
Not only do virtual meetings help you secure financial information, identification and preview properties at an early stage in the client relationship, they also allow you to be more productive with your time and save on travel costs.
CAUTION: Some Potential Pitfalls of Virtual Meetings
As agents, you’re obligated to protect the seller’s property. Since more eyes will view their home and its contents online, be careful not to showcase their valuables in property photos, virtual tours, videos and virtual open house events. Be mindful of showcasing expensive artwork, gun collections, electronics, and other items of value.
Joe Rosner, a safety expert based in the Chicago area, warns of tech-savvy criminals gaining remote access to your computer devices while connected during virtual meetings. “While you are meeting and showing virtually, they could be using remote access terminals. They may send you requested information via a PDF, with suspicious links that may infect your device with a virus or malware.”
Conducting regular technology assessments will ensure that your business remains uninterrupted and that you are working efficiently. Meticulously keeping your devices, software and computer’s security up-to-date will go a long way to keeping your data safe. Read on for details from an expert in the field.
“Real estate is a highly targeted industry as far as cybercrime because of the money involved in real estate transactions. Educate yourself on the latest cyber threats. Partner with a technology professional to assess and check all of your devices regularly to ensure that they are safe from cybercrime.”
4. Keep Your Technology and IT Security Up-To-Date
Burton Kelso likes the idea of agents working virtually, but he warns that they need to keep an eye out for cyber threats. Kelso notes that staying up-to-date on technology will help you protect client information, your technology devices, and keep yourself safe.
“Technology changes so quickly, and there is no way any real estate agent can keep up with all of the changes and make sure that their buyers and sellers are happy,” says Kelso. He and his company offer virtual technology services to real estate brokerages across the country. “You don’t have to leave your office to make sure everything is secure.”
Burton Kelso’s Top 3 Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Tech Check-Up Tips:
- Make sure your back-ups are continuously running
- Make sure that your devices are protected from the latest cyber threat
- Make sure that you are educated about the latest cyber threats and trained to spot one when it appears on the devices you use for your real estate business
5. Keep Practicing (Some) Pandemic Protocols
Many people are happy to get rid of their masks once vaccinated, not to mention eliminate the communication issues that sometimes accompanied them. Since the CDC advises that masks are not needed once you are fully vaccinated, it is now acceptable and safe to work without them.
However, you need to adhere to your local COVID-19 safety guidelines, which usually follow the CDC’s guidelines. Keep in mind the consumer may not be convinced yet, or ready to drop some safe practices brought about by the pandemic.
Therefore, you must be prepared to wear a mask and practice social distancing at their request. Since there is no way to know who is vaccinated, you need to consider your safety and that of your clients and community.
Sellers understand that COVID-19 is still a very real threat. Having strangers walk through their homes is a justified health concern. Remind buyers to continue to observe minimal surface contact when viewing a home.
Bryan Castro of RE/MAX ONE says that while he’s not an anti-masker, he continues to follow current guidelines but looks forward to when they are over. He points out that conveying delicate information around real estate transactions has posed a challenge through the pandemic, but he may keep some of the practices he’s picked up this past year.
“Not touching things at showings, sanitizing after showings, and signing additional forms [at] every showing isn’t viable long-term. The only thing I might keep (after the pandemic) is the hand sanitizer and the reluctance to shake hands.”
— Bryan Castro, Realtor, RE/MAX ONE in Thousand Oaks, CA
When it comes to ongoing hygiene, Burton Kelso recommends keeping your devices germ-free as an ongoing practice, even after the pandemic. Keep your electronic components from being damaged by improper cleaning products.
Kelso recommends using a homemade solution of 50% alcohol and 50% water applied sparingly with a soft cloth followed by a quick wipe down with a dry cloth. Or you can try Phone Soap, a device that uses UV-C rays to sanitize your phone and devices in just 10 minutes. Simply place your device inside Phone Soap and it removes 99.9% of household germs.
Post-Pandemic Realtor Safety
“We all felt bulletproof before last year. The pandemic showed that we aren’t immortal.”
— Joe Rosner, National Safety Expert, Best Defense USA
In so many ways, the pandemic was a wake-up call. According to Rosner, “Whether it is a crime, violence, fraud or disease, we know we are at risk. However, we can improve our odds of being safer. There is no need to feel helpless.”
Having a robust safety plan for your practice and for your brokerage is an excellent place to start. No matter which safety practices you plan to carry forward, your role in leading with safety is to reinforce current safety guidelines and remind all parties of the procedures. Be the agent who always looks out for your clients’ safety, now and in a post-pandemic world.
What’s Your Best Safety Practice for Real Estate Agents?
Which of these pandemic lessons and safety practices will you continue to implement in your real estate business when restrictions end?