Has SA become too unsafe for open show houses?

Has SA become too unsafe for open show houses?

MAIN IMAGE: From left, Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa; Romy Tarboton, director of Signature Real Estate; Gerhard van der Linde, Seeff’s managing director in Pretoria East; Carol Reynolds, area principal for Pam Golding Properties Durban Coastal.

Hosting a show house open to the public has for decades been a most effective marketing technique for estate agents, but of late security concerns for both the safety of the estate agent and the seller’s property have led numerous agents to ask whether the marketing benefits are worth the risk?

When a group of well-dressed and well-spoken people asked if they may view a listed home in Rustenburg at noon on a recent Thursday, Maria and her colleague agreed to let them in – a decision that led to them being threatened at gunpoint, bound and the house robbed of it’s safe.

If you missed it, read here about what happened.

Following the report of this traumatic experience, more agents have shared that they have suffered similar fates after agreeing to meet a client or during a viewing or while having a show house open to the public. Numerous agents said, considering the safety risks posed to them and the property of the seller, they think hosting the latter should become something of the past.

With technology available that enable interested buyers to take a virtual tour of a property they are interested in, some agents say there is no more need for show houses which could place both the agent and the property of the seller at risk.

“While opening the home to the general public allows real estate agents the opportunity to expand their client base, show houses also hold the potential to put both the agent and the home at risk to criminal activity. Real estate agents will need to assess whether this is the best way of expanding their database, or if other marketing efforts (for example, interacting with the public at sponsored events) would be more effective to achieve this end,” says Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, Adrian Goslett.

Some of the smaller estate agencies even have a ‘no show house policy’. Romy Tarboton, director of Cape Town-based Signature Real Estate says they have had this policy since inception. “Our philosophy is that show days are a great tool for an agent (they get to meet prospective buyers), but they seldom work for sellers. Bar the obvious security risk (which includes the safety of the agent as well as the security of the property), there is no way to vet a particular purchaser if anyone is simply allowed in,” she says.

Tarboton says they have also found that buyers of luxury real estate prefer exclusivity and viewings by appointment. Should one of their agents feel uneasy about an appointment with a client they are permitted to request that a colleague accompany them. Their agents also have an App on their mobile phones which is basically a telephonic panic button that uses the phone’s GPS to locate them and when pressed, will alert the necessary officials.

However, since show houses are good for sales, they are probably here to stay for a while longer. Pam Golding Properties (PGP) says there are a number of reasons why show days will never go out of fashion, including the fact that there’s nothing like enabling buyers to actually see a property and visualise themselves living in the home.

Most importantly, show houses boost sales figures. Carol Reynolds, area principal for PGP Durban Coastal says up to 50% of their sales in the uMhlanga and Durban North areas are a direct result of show days. “On average, in Durban North, for example, we get five new buyers from every show day, many of whom are on our existing database and who prefer to ‘shop’ in this manner.”

Goslett adds that another benefit is that from a logistical point of view inviting buyers to a show day can be far easier than arranging separate viewings with each potential buyer during the week. He suggests though that instead of making the show day open to the public, real estate agents could coordinate a single show day for interested buyers.

Peta-Ann Dumbleton of Urban Spaces in Sunninghill, Sandton says that is exactly what they do. Their show days are organised for a certain time during the week and they make sure they have all the details of the potential buyers before the viewing.

There are also safety measures to take when an open show house is held. Goslett recommends in these cases that real estate professionals work in pairs or teams so that one person can keep an eye on the front door while the other shows the buyers around the property. “I would also recommend that safety concerns not be overlooked. Instead of leaving the front door and front gates open, put up a sign to let buyers know to knock or ring the doorbell to enter,” Goslett advises.

Gerhard van der Linde, Seeff’s managing director in Pretoria East, says with regard to safety measures at show days they always inform sellers to lock away any valuables and should the property be too big for one agent to attend alone, they’ll usually have a second agent or assistant at the show house.

“Agents are encouraged to keep gates closed at show days and buzz visitors in. Some agents even employ security guards to assist on show days. Agents are also encouraged to spread the word when suspicious characters try to gain access to their show days. If an agent is uncomfortable showing a house to a potential buyer, they should take a colleague with them to the appointment,” recommends Van der Linde.

In conclusion, meeting new clients is part of the job of being an estate agent, but due to the country’s high crime rate agents can’t afford to act as trusting as they would have been in the past. South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world and armed robbery is considered to be one the most prevalent violent crimes in the country – consequently, responsible estate agencies and agents must have safety measures in place whether hosting a show house or arranging to meet a client for a viewing.

Share your comments and thoughts on email to editor@propertyprofessional.co.za.

Showing 11 comments
  • nanette roberts
    Reply

    Sensible show houses with two agents on duty and a panic button in pocket for when possible problematic-type viewers arrive, means safe show days. Just remember that well dressed, expensive cars and confidence doesn’t mean buyer material – and these scam artists can just as easily come on an appointment – just as the Sunday tat clothed viewer doesn’t mean they can’t afford to buy!

    Every agent should have a full time “panic button” – the market appraisal appointment can also turn into a nightmare!

  • Ingrid Sternberg
    Reply

    I do not have a partner and as such, I insist that either a family member or the domestic be available, at an appointment. It has happened more that once, that there is more than one person to view a house and they each go their on way into different rooms. This way, I know that the owner’s property is safe.

  • Kim
    Reply

    Show houses are history. Today’s property portals are very explanatory. People need to try get copies of an ID if possible prior to viewing. Never be on your own. Never take a client in your car either. Safety in numbers. Meet your buyer if possible in an area that is safe. I use police station to start from. One can never be safe enough. Always tell your colleagues where you going so if you are longer than normal they can call… what a sad world we live in.

  • Monica Coetzee
    Reply

    The event in Rustenburg proves that even working in a team doesn’t make a difference (the agent took a colleague with her) – all that does is increase the number of victims. Any type of appointment – whether it is an open show house or viewing by appointment – is risky business. Agents have to come out of the bubble of “it won’t happen to me”, become more vigilant, put systems in place (like a panic button and a tracking app on their cell phone, eg. Life360) to let somebody know when they are in trouble, and proper self-defence training (eg. Krav Maga) is extremely important.

    At the end of the day, there is nothing like a physical viewing of a property by a potential buyer, which “feeling” I don’t think any virtual tour will ever be able to achieve.

  • James Otter
    Reply

    It is an occupational risk. Although instances can be life-threatening or even fatal, the risk is low in relation to the total show days held. I would suggest that the risk is greater in the case of a one-on-one appointment. It would also seem that this kind of risk is not peculiar to South Africa.

  • Chris van der Walt
    Reply

    The case mentioned was not a show house but an appointment.

  • ROBIN WILLMOT
    Reply

    Being an agent who has been more involved in selling land I do not have this problem.
    I once had a seller of land in an estate who refused to let me go on show.
    I notified certain selected clients (about six of them ) that I would be on show at a certain time, no ” ON SHOW ” boards etc,………..I had an excellent turn out and sold one property………it really works !
    These days to have six genuine buyers at a show is a fair response. !
    The buyers also arrive with a feeling of importance knowing they have been “selected ” ROBIN WILLMOT, PRINCIPAL, WILLMOT PROPERTIES

  • Janet Graham
    Reply

    All well and good, but what does one do about well dressed, well spoken “buyers” who turn out to be criminals? No amount of screening, locked doors and guards at gates will keep them out if they look presentable and respectable. It is a good idea to have IDs and proof that they are who they say they are before taking people out viewing, but this is cumbersome and not always practical to implement. Especially not at an open house show day.

  • Jeanette Hall
    Reply

    I have felt strongly about this subject for years!!
    I believe a set appointment with viewers during the week gives the buyers every opportunity to view the property in a shorter space of time.
    In fact this creates exactly the auction type excitement show days are supposed to do.
    I used this method effectively in Gauteng and Durban.
    Genuine buyers will attend.
    It’s way past due date to hold Sunday Showdays.
    In SA it’s not sensible any more
    What is everyone waiting for? A tragedy?
    This has already happened to agents in SA.
    And to have Two agents going to meet a client is not going to stop a robbery, it just means two agents are going to be vulnerable.
    Show days can also be held at an open office and agents can go from the office to the property (on a Sunday if this remains popular) with the clients
    With other agents/buyers around it’s less likely people, like the sellers, the agents or even buyers will be vulnerable and lessen the chances for opportunists.
    It’s time to change current methods and consider everyone in the equation.
    Sellers, Buyers and the Agents who are so vulnerable.
    It’s about CARING for everyone concerned.

    .

  • Estelle Piek
    Reply

    Show Houses are unsafe both to agent and the selller. It is time to do a virtual tour if properties at the office, or a restaurant, after a formal qualification of affordability of the purchaser.
    Principals need to modernize their marketing methods. Real modern buyers prefer this time saving method. Once this pre-approval of both buyer and property took place, a formal viewing can be arranged.

  • Robert slabbert
    Reply

    I live in east London and when we put our house on the market and it was show house our problems started in a short period of time had 6 breaking and that was with 4 big dogs in the yard after I put beams on the outside it stopped so crime is really on the increase also in complexes which we now live in one show houses also bring criminal elements

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