‘Walk in’ robberies on the rise
MAIN IMAGE: These two men were caught on security camera while robbing an estate agency in Kempton Park.
The increased risk of armed robberies by criminals posing as clients poses a serious problem to estate agencies as they all depend on ‘walk ins’ for new business.
One of the first things that all intern estate agents are taught is that one of the basic keys to success is to view every ‘walk in’ as a potential commission. This is why agencies take great care to open their offices in a bustling business area where the potential for new clients is high.
For many years now most estate agents are women, so most offices will have mostly or even just female personnel on the premises. Unfortunately, this also leaves an office more vulnerable to opportunistic criminals that seem to view estate agencies as easy targets.
Robbers target estate agencies in Gauteng
In this past month at least three* estate agencies in Gauteng have been robbed by two armed men who posed as rental clients first. (*According to the comments on social media on the robbery in Kempton Park it seems likely that there could have been more estate agencies hit by the same men but this has not been confirmed by Gauteng police spokesperson Capt. Kay Makhubele. Ed.)
Last Thursday eight women were held hostage in an estate agency in Kempton Park while being robbed of laptops, cell phones and jewellery.
“One of the men casually strolled into the office and told us to cooperate or he will fetch his AK47,” says one of the agents. She says they spoke English with a South African accent. The other man waited in the front while the man inside stole the loot. Both then fled in a dark blue Hyundai Accent.
Security camera footage of the Hyundai used by the robbers as their getaway car.
No-one was injured and the women are receiving trauma counselling, but the agent says coming back to the office after such an ordeal is hard. “One finds oneself staring out the window at nothing.”
They are looking at options for greater security at the entrance, but without it being too intrusive as they rely on walk in clients.
Norkem Park police spokesperson, Sgt Johanna Madiga, told the local press that the same men are believed to have robbed another estate agency in Springs. She asked that Col André Potgieter be contacted on 011 391 1814 by anyone with information regarding the incident in Kempton Park.
In response to a social media post about the incident several estate agents commented that they had suffered similar robberies. One of them, Owen Dreyer, co-owner of Dreyer Engelbrecht Properties, is convinced that it is the same two men that hit one of their agencies in Vereeniging the previous week on Valentine’s Day Friday 14 February.
Two men armed with handguns robbed their agency after one first posed as a client interested in renting a property. They told the two women in the office to lie down in a room towards the back while they stole laptops, a cell phone and a ring before leaving a car that had been idling at the front door. Dreyer says the car’s description matches that of the one mentioned in the robbery in Kempton Park.
Security measures a must
Estate agencies find it hard to know what the right choices are to make to safeguard their offices without discouraging possible clients from entering their premises. “The problem is you can’t eliminate face to face conversations,” explains Dreyer.
He has his doubts that one security guard at the entrance will be effective against armed robbers and explains he is also concerned that adding a magnetic security gate could place his agents at risk if this prevents a desperate and armed criminal from leaving.
Dreyer says they eventually opted for security cameras as well as installing silent panic buttons on every desk. However, he remains concerned about the continued potential risk as there remains times when only a few women are in the office.
Real estate trainer and author, Paul Davies, placed an alert about the Kempton Park robbery on social media. He says he knows a lot of estate agencies rely on walk ins for business, but says he believes they must follow the same route as banks to beef up their entrance security.
The fact is that crime is an unfortunate and unavoidable part of our South African reality, says Paul Stevens, CEO Just Property. Their agency recently launched an agent safety course on their eLearning platform that teaches agents about situational awareness. He explains that situational awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.
There are also other security measures that businesses have to implement today. “We need to take every precaution to protect ourselves against opportunists and that means not making yourself a soft target. Businesses without CCTV, controlled access and other security measures like burglar guards and armed response are always going to be more vulnerable than business who have these measures in place and highly visible,” ends Stevens.