A culture of safety starts at the top. As real estate leaders, you need to demonstrate and model safety best practices for agents. You can do so by establishing regular safety training and an office safety plan, and by supporting and enforcing safety policies and procedures.
As a safety expert, I’ll show you why you need a safety plan, how to protect your brokerage with one—and more importantly, how to keep your team safe.
1. Start by Establishing a Culture of Safety
The U.S. Department of Labor considers real estate sales and leasing a high-risk occupation, making a brokerage safety plan imperative. You need to create a safety plan, implement and maintain it, train your agents and office staff, and document each step to stay in compliance. A solid plan will also help you reduce liability and increase recruitment and retention.
Lori Namazi founded Namazi Real Estate Resources, a boutique brokerage consultancy practice in Margarita, California. She explains the potential risks and reasons why brokerages need a comprehensive safety plan in place.
“The number 1 role of a Broker, according to real estate commissions across the nation, is to supervise. Failing to supervise can open you up to disciplinary action, an audit, Code of Ethics violations, Fair Housing complaints, and lawsuits.”
— Lori Namazi, Founder, Namazi Real Estate Resources
Christian Barnes leads an office of 450 agents. She says safety training is crucial in the real estate industry. She is determined to keep safety top of mind for her agents. “We keep safety relevant through our education and training. Not only during our annual risk management seminars, but we weave safety reminders throughout as many training sessions as we can.”
“Safety training isn’t optional. It is critical in our industry and a must-have.”
— Christian Barnes, President and CEO, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Kansas City Homes
2. Create a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan
Workplace shootings are on the rise. In March 2021, six mass shootings took place at businesses in the U.S., including a shooter who killed four people at a real estate office in Orange County, California. One victim was a 9-year-old boy. In April, a former agent shot and killed two colleagues at their New York real estate office before turning his gun on himself.
Overall, 43.7% of active shooter incidents in the U.S. took place in commercial properties over the past eight years, according to the FBI. These numbers support the need for business owners, and especially real estate brokerages, to be prepared and implement an expert-led plan.
Here’s why. Only 3.6% of those incidents took place in malls, while 26.7% took place in places of business that were open to pedestrian traffic. The remaining 13.4% of active shooter incidents took place in businesses closed to pedestrian traffic. Depending on how your office is set up, this could put you and your team at risk.
The ABCs of Surviving an Active Shooter Incident
In Maryland, Gale McFadden, Administrative Director at Thrive Professional Solutions, encourages brokerages to learn their ABCs in case of an active shooter. McFadden’s company’s “Active Survivor” training empowers business owners to establish step-by-step training for surviving an active shooter situation.
— Gale McFadden, Administrative Director at Thrive Professional Solutions
Having your office staff and members perform safety drills will prepare them to take cover effectively in case of an active shooting incident. Practice drills will also help your team identify useful items to barricade the doors, designate a “safe room,” and develop an emergency contact system to check in with all staff and agents.
Another fundamental premise of McFadden’s Thrive training is setting up your office space to make it more difficult for a shooter or unauthorized people to enter your business easily. Thrive created the checklist for brokerages, below, that includes several Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles.
10 Action Items to Protect Your Brokerage & Agents
- Training for management and employees is CRUCIAL and should include:
- Workplace violence
- Attention management
- Body language
- Critical thinking
- Crisis management
- Install interior and exterior cameras / doorbell
- Upgrade locks and install smart locks
- Hire security personnel
- Install panic buttons
- Ask local police to add the business to their routine patrol
- Ensure B/M/Os and other personnel are visible when in the office. Park in a visible location.
- Community engagement: Attend HMOs, fairs, and so on to get acquainted with the neighbors.
- Secure cash and valuables in the office, consider a “no cash policy,” and place signage throughout advising that fact.
- Create an escape plan at the office. Be familiar with your landscape. Know your neighbors and which businesses are open, etc.
3. Establish a Safety Committee
Every real estate brokerage needs a Safety Committee to lead safety education, initiatives, and events. Led by a chairperson, your committee’s role is to keep safety top of mind.
Allow your committee to present five-minute safety reports on specific safety or security topics during every team or sales meeting. Your committee should share curated safety content in company communications, either in writing or video format. Task your committee with posting safety and security signage throughout your office space.
Working with your company’s leadership, your safety committee should coordinate expert-led, quarterly safety training, culminating in an annual, more comprehensive program. Ideally, this would take place during September’s Real Estate Safety Month.
4. Reduce Your Physical AND Financial Risk
The office shooting in Orange County that we mentioned earlier is 20 minutes from Lori Namazi’s brokerage office. She’s concerned about the risk to brokerages if they fail to implement a safety program.
“Brokerages can be liable. We are not immune to civil lawsuits if someone is killed on our watch. So often, [brokerage] owners don’t know what they don’t know. I work with them to implement procedures in their businesses, including assessing pros and cons to minimize risks.”
She also conducts risk management assessments to inform brokers about risks they may not know exist and more commonly known business risks and needed documentation.
“Brokers must be prepared to show proof of their supervision by providing a policy and procedure manual and evidence of continuous communication and training of their agents. If you don’t have either of these in place, this should become a priority to protect your business.”
— Lori Namazi, Founder, Namazi Real Estate Resources
5. Size Doesn’t Matter–Start Today
Even small companies should implement safety training and a safety plan. There are no barriers to entry. Robin Dayton has six agents and has been a broker since 2017. She has been a member of the real estate industry for 27 years. She makes it a point to provide expert-led safety training for her agents and makes it mandatory for all agents to attend the training.
Dayton supplies her agents with safety tools, including pepper spray and flashlights. According to the National Association of REALTORS® 2020 Member Safety Report, 19% of those surveyed stated that they carry pepper spray, the leading non-lethal weapon choice every year.
“Small companies are the start of a big company! Never discount small beginnings.”
— Robin Dayton, Broker and CEO, Dayton Dynasty Realty, LLC
6. Protect Your Workplace
Greg Saville is the co-founder of the International Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Association (CPTED), based in Colorado. He offers CPTED training certification, a concept that focuses on design and environmental techniques to make physical structures less inviting to criminals.
Saville explains that CPTED has two levels: the first generation removes the physical crime triggers on a property, but the second generation matters more for property managers.
“The second generation lasts and it works: getting people organized and educated about CPTED; setting up teams to work on safety; getting people to know one another, and showing them how much help they already have in their own community. That is the real advantage of CPTED.”
Saville offers specific training for brokerage owners and suggests that they check with their insurance company to see if these crime prevention measures qualify them for a premium discount.
“Properly applied CPTED, based on a thorough diagnosis by a qualified practitioner, is among the most resilient and effective crime prevention strategies for the real estate world. Over the decades, it has proven its worth. Unlike other security responses, CPTED offers a true proactive tool for the toolbox of realtors, property managers, brokerage firms, and community residents.”
– Gregory Saville, Director at AlterNation Consulting and Co-founder, International Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Association (CPTED)
3 Ways to Prevent Crime Using Environmental Design
Saville and his company have several areas of focus in preventing crime using environmental design.
Territoriality: Create a sense of turf by using physical design features. It should be apparent where the property owner’s boundaries begin and end, discouraging the desire for criminals to encroach.
Natural surveillance: This step includes improving visibility and sightlines. The point is to avoid providing a hiding place for criminals who target your office. Keep landscaping cut back and clear. Make sure your building or office is highly visible to neighbors and passersby. The placement and use of cameras are also essential steps.
Natural access controls: Physically guide people coming and going from a space by the specific placement of entrances, fences, landscaping, and lighting. It creates a perception of risk to a perpetrator.
Image and maintenance: A well-maintained area shows that the property is cared for, and people will notice if something is amiss.
7. Take Inventory
In case of a burglary, fire, or natural disaster, your police department and insurer will need proof of loss for their police report and insurance claim. Check to see if your local police department participates in the Operation Identification program.
The program encourages you to permanently mark items with an identifying number or your business name to assist in reuniting you with the items if they are stolen and recovered. You can choose to engrave the equipment and valuables or mark them with an invisible ink pen or permanent marker.
Even if the program isn’t available through your local police department, it is still beneficial to take these steps. Record serial numbers and document your office items along with a photo or video. Store this record in the cloud and maintain a physical copy onsite for quick retrieval.
8. Train Your Office Gatekeepers
Often, real estate safety training focuses narrowly on agent safe work practices. In most real estate offices, the gatekeeper sits at the front desk and can be the most critical part of the safety committee or team. Their jobs are on the front line.
Their role should be to enforce identification requirement policies, control who has access to entering the office, and support any established safety policies.
You should require your administrative and support staff to participate in all safety training. Ensure they’re taught to recognize potentially dangerous situations and trained in document storage and destruction.
[Related Article: 10 Leading-Edge Realtor Safety Tips That Could Save Your Life]
9. Have a Safety Policy & Procedures Handbook
Your office should have a safety handbook with provisions requiring all agents to sign off that they have read and understood the company’s safe work practices. If something happens to that agent, leadership can prove that they’ve implemented policies and make training available to their team.
I have created the country’s only Broker, Manager, and Owner real estate safety training certification and workshop, including a Real Estate Office Safe Practice and Policies Office Handbook. Brokers, owners, and managers must complete continuing education (CE) training to receive a copy for use in their office.
10. Disaster-proof Your Business
Disaster training is often overlooked. Coni Meyers was a FEMA inspector and trainer. She told us that human-made disasters cost $33 billion a year and are on the rise. But natural disasters cost an average of $152 billion per year in each of 2015 and 2016.
Coni Meyers runs a Crisis Knowledge Management program that trains brokerages in office preparedness, planning, and community outreach. Agents trained in her program can educate community members about how to prepare for emergencies, thus raising their visibility while also making key connections with potential leads.
Meyer’s goal is to train 30 million people within five years in disaster and emergency preparedness. Her company offers Crisis Knowledge Management Advisor training to brokerages and their agents to add value to the company and agent relationships with consumers.
“You need to ask yourself: What do I need to run my business if the office doesn’t exist anymore? What if it was burned to the ground or is destroyed by fire or floods? What do you need to stay in business? According to FEMA, 75% of all businesses will be out of business in two years if they are affected by a disaster without an emergency plan. You do not want to be that statistic.”
— Coni Meyers, Disaster Preparedness Expert & Founder, CKM Solutions Group
Safety Shouldn’t Be a Once-a-Year Event
September is National Real Estate Safety Month.
“A reminder that once a year simply isn’t enough. In addition to the reminders, we have both company and office safety policies in place, and we ensure those are followed throughout the year.”
— Christian Barnes, President and CEO, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Kansas City Homes
Expert-led safety training is in short supply. With the priority of ensuring that brokerages and real estate companies of all sizes will have an opportunity to get proper training, I created the Real Estate Safety Education Alliance (RESETA).
RESETA is a collaboration of the above-listed safety and security experts from across the country. Brokerages like yours can request an assessment meeting and evaluation. We’ll provide a safety plan and instructions for implementing the advised steps. For more information about RESETA and how it can help your brokerage, please email me today!
Share Your Plan
Does your company or brokerage office have an innovative or dynamic safety plan in place? Tell us about it in the comments!