One agent assaulted and another hijacked
MAIN IMAGE: The urgency to take safety precautions are highlighted by more incidents where agents fell victim to crime.
Recent events again show estate agents in South Africa have to be aware that certain situations put them at risk of falling victim to opportunistic criminals – whether showing a property to potential buyers or even just taking down their boards after a show day.
“No ID. No viewing. Non-negotiable,” says Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, after another incident where criminals posing as ‘home buyers’ tied up a RE/MAX franchise owner and the home-owners during a home viewing before making off with their loot. This happened in the same week that another agent’s car got hijacked in Johannesburg.
The robbery happened on Monday 10 June in Klerksdorp, a quiet Northwestern town and comes barely a month after an estate agent suffered a similar trauma in Rustenburg, a city just 170km away.
Louise Snyders, broker/qwner of RE/MAX Exclusive in Klerksdorp, was attacked by buyers who had feigned interest in one of her listed properties and had arranged to view the home in person.
According to a statement by RE/MAX Snyders normally does a check on a buyer’s cell phone number through Search Works to ensure that there are no obvious warning signs counting against this person. In this particular instance, Snyders was with the owners on Friday when the ‘buyer’ came past and asked to view. The ‘buyer’ informed her that her husband was away at present but would be back on Monday. Snyders then made a follow-up appointment to meet at the house on Monday and this is when the incident occurred.
While showing the ‘buyers’ around the home, one asked questions about the garage while the other wanted to see the kitchen. Soon, the fake buyers had everyone distracted and lured to different rooms within the house where they were individually assaulted and tied up. Luckily, the homeowner had remained on the property and was able to hit the panic button before anyone was more seriously wounded. The attackers fled the scene with cellphones, wallets, laptops and other valuable items lying in open view around the home. Snyders was badly injured and traumatised by the experience but is otherwise okay.
A colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, says they had heard of estate agents that were assaulted or robbed while hosting a show house or bringing ‘would be home buyers’ to view a property but thought these incidents only took place in cities. “We’ve always thought we were safe here in Klerksdorp being on the ‘platteland’, but not anymore,” she says.
“Louise is understandably shaken by the incident and has asked that any messages of support or encouragement from the RE/MAX network rather go through her business development consultant, Vanessa Sofianos. That being said, on behalf of all us at RE/MAX, we wish Louise a fast recovery and offer her our ongoing support as she works through this trauma,” says Goslett.
Goslett goes on to emphasise that he is thoroughly appalled by this incident and encourages the RE/MAX network to prioritize their safety when going about their day-to-day business.
“I strongly urge all real estate professionals to screen their buyers before going on any appointments. No ID, no viewing, non-negotiable! I also recommend that agents bring somebody with them to their appointments and carry a panic button on their person during viewings and other meet-ups. Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our agents and their clients and I encourage all our agents to keep their own personal safety as well as the safety of their homeowners and clients top of mind going forward,” Goslett concludes.
Agents need to be aware
This same week Solly Zaslansky, financial director of Firzt Realty Company, alerted industry leaders in an email that an agent’s car was hijacked on Sunday evening while he was picking up boards after his show day in Blairgowrie, a suburb of Johannesburg where there has been a number of hijackings of late. The five men who stole the agent’s car, allegedly also tried to push him into his car but the agent managed to get away. The incident has been reported to the police.
Zaslansky says agents are exceptionally vulnerable and must be made aware of incidents like this. He proposed a whatsapp group for all business owners to share alerts about such incidents so they can inform their teams.
“Facing and experiencing crime as a South African is something almost everyone will deal with at least once in their lifetime. Although unpleasant to hear about incidents like these, crime remains at an all-time high and our estate agents are most vulnerable due to the nature of their work. We can’t live in fear, but we can certainly be well prepared when confronted with a criminal act,” comments Tony Clarke, managing director for the Rawson Property Group.
Crime affects estate agents everywhere. Heather van der Spuy, co-principal/owner of Steer International Properties in Cape Town, says in her 30 years that she’s been a real estate agent she’s had two robberies at show houses and on both occasions she was distracted by one “purchaser” while two others proceeded to collect valuables, including her car keys. In both instances, other homes were also “hit” on and all the personal details provided by the false buyers were fictitious.
Heather van der Spuy
Do a background check – Van der Spuy says she always checks email addresses and contact numbers and makes sure that there is a paper trail before meeting with clients. Craig Mott, Cape Town regional sales manager for the Rawson Property Group, says asking some additional questions prior to a viewing may go a long way towards deterring criminals. Ask for their full name, ID number, email address, property proximity to their work etc. … “if there is any hesitation in answering these simple questions it may be a sign to show caution,” he says.
Keep your team informed – Let someone at the office know that you are out on an appointment and give the location and time of the appointment. Clarke recommends a shared electronic calender which lists the client’s full details, identity number as well as the exact location of the meeting. Teams could also have code words such as ‘check the electricity box on 12 Harold Street’ that agents can use to alert their office of their location and that they are in danger or need help. If you are hesitant, rather take a colleague with you.
Download a safety app – Clarke recommends Namola, MySOS South Africa, bSafe
Host group viewings – Safety in numbers. Clarke says rather to try to host group viewings and to avoid setting them up late.
Be alert and aware – Mott recommends that you don’t let anyone into a show house without first taking a look and if you don’t feel comfortable letting someone in, trust your instincts and don’t. “If a homeowner has a contract with a security company make sure you have the contact details at hand and that the homeowner has notified the security company, the homeowner will appreciate the concern for your own as well as their safety,” says Mott.
Mark Notelovitz, director at security solutions provider Cortac, shared this advice with Adrienne Hersch Properties for both the homeowner and the agent ahead of and on show days.
- Stow away valuables and family photographs.
- Make sure the home is insured.
- Inform their security company of the days and times that the house will be on show and ask that they patrol and keep tabs on the home every hour.
- Inform the neighbours that the home will be on show and ask them to keep an eye over on the comings and goings.
- Walk through the home after the show house and ensure nothing is missing.
- Ensure the home has a working alarm system that is linked to a security service provider.
- Arrange to have a panic remote handy from the homeowner during show days.
- Do not leave gates open and treat as if in your own home.
- When potential clients arrive make sure they ring the intercom.
- If the home has security cameras, identify potential clients before letting them come in.
- Make sure you close the gate behind the potential client.
- Capture the information of the potential clients including vehicle registration.
- Keep your mobile phone on you at all times and ensure you NEVER leave it unattended.
- Limit the number of visitors to ensure they are personally escorted as they tour the property.
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