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Has SA become too unsafe for 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 or open days 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.

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