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Opinion Editorials

Minding Realtor safety may seem paranoid, but losing friends is worse

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First anniversary of two lives lost

As we approach September, we are being reminded that it will be Realtor Safety month from all different kinds of avenues. Sites like AGBeat are running stories, Governors will be declaring September Real Estate Safety Month, emails will be going out from NAR, and additional continuing education classes focusing on self-defense and being safe on the job are being offered across the country. While it’s awesome to have a month devoted to safety ideas being promoted by our industry, it’s vital that we remember to implement the practices, procedures, and precautions with us every single day. If we need a reminder as to why, we only have to look back to September a year ago, when two Ohio Realtors were murdered within a week of each other while showing properties.

Last September, within less than 24 hours of each other, Vivian Martin and Andy VonStein were both killed, in unrelated instances, while showing property.  Vivian was showing a rental property in Youngstown, OH when she was attacked. She was strangled, and the home was set on fire. The thugs, who murdered Vivian, were also wanted for robbery of another agent in the area, which occurred about a week before the killing. In Andy’s case, he was shot in the chest, and left in the basement of a vacant home in a crazy revenge trip from a perceived deal that had gone bad, years before. All the assailants were tracked quite swiftly, and detained.

Losing a coworker is life changing

For some, these murders may seem atypical occurrences, things that will never happen during the course of doing business. For the Realtors in my company, including myself, they are horrific crimes that hit way too close to home. Andy worked mostly out of my office, and I had known him for years, before I was even licensed. Vivian, a broker, and longtime Realtor, reminded me that we all can be extremely vulnerable in showing situations.

There is no way to prevent every single crime.  However, by taking precautions, being smart in our actions, and not becoming complacent, we can limit the exposure to potential violence.  We can utilize tools, such as the mobile app that AG partner Moby offers. If, as in this area, many court websites are updated instantly, we can do relatively quick checks on potential clients to see if they have been busted for anything. 

One preventative step: Google

With Google or other search engines, we can look up people, phone numbers, and even companies and find out scores of information. Prior to showing a home, at the initial meeting with a client, we can first greet them at our office, during business hours. Others will know who we are with, what they look like, and we can take this opportunity to copy driver’s licenses, and write down plate numbers. On every single showing, or when we are out on the road, we txt or call someone to let them know where we are and who will be with us. We can have a friend go with us to properties. There are a variety of self-defense and safety CE classes that are available, as well as carrying mace, pepper spray, or a weapon, if things do go bad on showings.

If it saves one life…

Some of these things may seem over-reactive, or paranoid-ish. If we have to be a little paranoid, if we have to take the time to research before rushing out and showing properties to people we don’t know, then so be it. Safety is no accident. Preventing even one violent crime is worth taking a few minutes to think about what we’re doing before acting. Having been on the receiving end of a phone call saying a friend and fellow Realtor has been murdered, is one of the most horrid things to go through. It would have been much worse for me, however, if I had been the victim.

Katie Cosner, occasionally known as Kathleen, or KT, is a Realtor® with Cutler Real Estate and is active in her local Board of Realtors® on the Equal Opportunity & Professional Development Committee. She has been floating around online for a number of years, and is on facebook as well as twitter. While Katie has a few hardcore beliefs, three in the Real Estate World to live and die by are; education, ethics, and the law - insert random quote from “A Few Good Men” here. Katie is also an avid Cleveland Indians fan, which really explains quite a bit of her… quirks.

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29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. "Tracey, the Safety Lady"

    September 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Katie, thank you for the important reminder! I am a former agent and now I teach agent safety. This is my passion. It is sad to read about crimes against agents. I agree with you, education is the key to helping prevent these types of crimes. I am often surprised that all companies/boards/associations don't value and schedule safety training. It should be mandatory!

    Agents have to change their way of thinking. Yes, it is inconvenient to take the extra step to have the client come into the office first. Yes, it is hard to find an agent to go with you to show a property when you feel uncomfortable. Yes, open houses are good for business, but dangerous… You can take the danger out of the job, with some education and hard work.

    • Kathleen Cosner

      September 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Tracey, here, usually twice a year our local BOR does offer a great safety class that includes some self-defense and education. More would be nice though, as (I think) people tend to become complacent when these issues aren't talked about, and some of the free education can be outdated.

      And I agree with you!!!

  2. "Tracey, the Safety Lady"

    September 1, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I applaud you and BOR! You are really the exception. Most don't have one program, let alone two! I know, I speak to them and they tell me they are not interested, they would rather schedule programs to increase sales. They tell me there is no budget for safety training… Really? Katie, you are insightful and hit the nail on the head, agents become complacent after the stories about these crimes fade away. I firmly belive in being proactive. Let's not wait for a crime to happen or only focus on safety during Safety Month. I host an agent safety group on Linked In. The numbers have increased since the murder in Iowa this past spring. I share stories about these crimes, I give tips and advice and I ask agents to share their stories and safety tips. Is it possible to share the link here?

    • Kathleen Cosner

      September 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      That's sad that BOR's don't want to be involved. There should always be $$ for CE. From what I understand the one here gets a good turnout.

  3. Liz Benitez

    September 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    A little over a year ago maybe a few month, I had decided I was going to be more careful. I stopped meeting first time clients at homes, even if they were just down the street or on my way home. I make them meet me at the office, I sit down get their contact information (even if they already gave it to me on the phone), and make a copy of their license. I actually had another realtor give me a hard time because I would not show her property to a call in that refused to meet me at the office. She said I was being paranoid. Then we heard about the Ohio murders and I was very glad I held out.

    • Kathleen Cosner

      September 2, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      Liz, you are so correct in doing what you're doing, and awesome for holding your ground with the other agent!

  4. Devin O'Branagan

    September 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Katie, so thrilled you wrote this post!

    I am a real estate agent and a novelist. One of my bestselling novels, RED HOT PROPERTY, is a seriocomic tale about a group of rookie Realtors. It explores the highs, lows, and dangers of the profession.

    Tragically, in an unexpected plot twist, one of the rookies in RED HOT PROPERTY is murdered while showing property. The National Association of Realtors was so taken by the safety message of the book that they featured it and an interview with me during Safety Week the year the book was released (2008). Rick DeLuca endorsed the book. I've been asked to appear at real estate conventions to promote it, and I've been invited to speak at many real estate office sales meetings. Real estate schools throughout the country recommend it to their students. Owner/Brokers buy the book to give to their agents. I hope some of your readers will check it out as well.

    Here is a link to a page on my website that I devote to Realtors and their reactions to this book. It also has a link to the NAR interview with me that REALTOR Magazine ran:
    devinwrites.com/theredhotnovels/forrealtors.html

    Because the book is a novel, and on the surface a very funny novel, the tragedy it reveals is powerful. It has an emotional impact that a dry list of safety tips lack.

    If you would like a copy of it for review, please contact me.

    Please help me spread the word.I believe this is a book all real estate professionals should read. Thanks so much!

  5. James Shaw

    September 18, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I'll be contacting your Editor directly too, but I wanted to say here that it is my company's new mission to give a free pepper spray to every woman in America.. I started with students at local colleges in Austin and now I want to approach local Realtors. Hopefully very shortly I can be handing out free pepper sprays here and quickly expand the giveaways elsewhere.

    You can read more about our mission on our website. Thanks for a great article Katie!

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Business Finance

How to survive a recession in the modern economy

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Advice about surviving a recession is common these days, but its intended audience can leave a large gap in application.

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recession squeeze

There’s no question of whether or not we’re in a recession right now, and while some may debate the severity of this recession in comparison to the last major one, there are undoubtedly some parallels–something Next Avenue’s Elizabeth White highlights in her advice on planning for the next few months (or years).

Among White’s musings are actionable strategies that involve forecasting for future layoffs, anticipating age discrimination, and swallowing one’s ego in regards to labor worth and government benefits like unemployment.

White isn’t wrong. It’s exceptionally important to plan for the future as much as possible–even when that plan undergoes major paradigm shifts a few times a week, at best–and if you can reduce your spending at all, that’s a pretty major part of your planning that doesn’t necessarily have to be subjected to those weekly changes.

However, White also approaches the issue of a recession from an angle that assumes a few things about the audience–that they’re middle-aged, relatively established in their occupation, and about to be unemployed for years at a time. These are, of course, completely reasonable assumptions to make…but they don’t apply to a pretty large subset of the current workforce.

We’d like to look at a different angle, one from which everything is a gig, unemployment benefits aren’t guaranteed, and long-term savings are a laughable concept at best.

White’s advice vis-a-vis spending is spot-on–cancelling literally everything you can to avoid recurring charges, pausing all non-essential memberships (yes, that includes Netflix), and downgrading your phone plan–it’s something that transcends generational boundaries.

In fact, it’s even more important for this generation than White’s because of how frail our savings accounts really are. This means that some of White’s advice–i.e., plan for being unemployed for years–isn’t really feasible for a lot of us.

It means that taking literally any job, benefit, handout, or circumstantial support that we can find is mandatory, regardless of setbacks. It means that White’s point of “getting off the throne” isn’t extreme enough–the throne needs to be abolished entirely, and survival mode needs to be implemented immediately.

We’re not a generation that’s flying all over the place for work, investing in real estate because it’s there, and taking an appropriate amount of paid time off because we can; we’re a generation of scrappy, gig economy-based, paycheck-to-paycheck-living, student debt-encumbered individuals who were, are, and will continue to be woefully unprepared for the parameters of a post-COVID world.

If you’re preparing to be unemployed, you’re recently unemployed, or you even think you might undergo unemployment at some point in your life, start scrapping your expenses and adopt as many healthy habits as possible. Anything goes.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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