Estate agent murder highlights need for safety during home viewings

Estate agents can take a number of steps to keep themselves safe during home showings. Picture: RODNAE Productions/Pexels

Estate agents can take a number of steps to keep themselves safe during home showings. Picture: RODNAE Productions/Pexels

Published Jan 27, 2023


* A few weeks prior to the murder of a Springs estate agent, RE/MAX of Southern Africa issued two press statements offering advice on how property professionals can keep safe during home showings. We apologise if an impression was created that RE/MAX was reacting to the crime. At no time was any disrespect meant to the deceased or her family.

The murder of a Springs estate agent has once again drawn attention to the safety of property professionals showing homes to potential buyers.

Isabel Govender, 63, left work at 6pm on Friday 20 January for a property showing with prospective buyers, but was not seen again. The last call to her family was at 7pm.

Media reports say her body was found by a passer-by a few days later. Her Toyota Yaris had been stripped and her bank account was cleaned out.

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Eight suspects appeared in court this past Wednesday.

In recent press statements prior to the murder of Govender, RE/MAX of Southern Africa gave agents some valuable advice and tips to help them keep safe. Sadly, says regional director and chief executive Adrian Goslett, real estate professionals often end up the victim while playing the middleman between connecting buyers to sellers and tenants to landlords. That is why many implement some form of a vetting process before agreeing to meet with any new clients in person.

Agents should screen clients to protect themselves as well as their clients against theft, fraud, and other opportunistic crimes.

“Before agreeing to meet in person, an agent will usually request a copy of your ID and a copy of a pre-approval certificate if you are an aspiring buyer. This is to confirm that you are who you claim to be and that you can truly afford to purchase the properties in your given price bracket.”

As a rule of thumb, he recommends that agents meet new clients at the office or public place first.

“Use this as an opportunity to get to know their needs before showing them a home or pitching them for a sole mandate.”

When showing a home by appointment, Goslett advises agents to visit the area beforehand and be aware of any hazards.

“To protect against theft, sellers are advised to lock away valuables and any personal items, such as letters or bank statements. Never allow access to the property without the agent’s presence and after any showing, check the premises at the end to make sure no windows were jammed open or security features were tempered with,” he advises.

In addition to these precautions, RE/MAX of Southern Africa shares some best practices agents should implement in their day-to-day operations to ensure greater safety for both them and their clients:

  • Install a safety app with panic button
  • Try to schedule all appointments during daylight hours
  • Avoid working late hours alone at the office
  • Avoid using ‘vacant’ in property descriptions
  • Have a safety protocol in place with your clients
  • Establish an office code word for trouble
  • Share your daily schedule with family, friends, or office administrator so they know where to start looking in case of an emergency
  • Ahead of any suspicious appointments, share your live location with a friend/colleague
  • Always ensure your phone is fully charged & your vehicle has enough fuel to ensure a quick escape if needed
  • Take self-defence classes and carry self-defence tools such as pepper spray
  • Take a first aid course and carry a first aid kit in your car
  • Know where the nearest medical centre and police station are, especially when driving to new areas
  • Trust your instincts and always be vigilant.

“While we hope our agents and our clients never find themselves in a dangerous situation, it is always better to be prepared and aware of the potential threats that exist when selling or letting homes. Implementing safety measures will reduce the amount of risk involved in these transactions and will go a long way towards keeping everyone out of harm’s way,” Goslett says.

Hosting a show house is undoubtedly one of the best tools in an estate agent's arsenal, but he reiterates that it does come with a degree of security risk, and so both sellers and agents will need to be extra vigilant when hosting an open house.

To help keep everyone safe, the agency says agents can also:

  • Create a cloud-based attendance register

Keep detailed records of attendee names including their contact numbers, and emails as well as the location, date, and time of the show house. Share this info with the office admin in a cloud-based file, so somebody has a real-time record of who you were last seen with. Be sure to follow POPIA best practices when recording this information and get permission from the attendees before you use the provided information for further marketing purposes.

  • Close doors behind you

As inviting as an open door sounds, it could be a security risk. Rather lock the gate behind you and put up an inviting sign informing the buyers to knock or ring the doorbell to be let in one at a time. Only allow a buyer to enter the home once they have completed the attendance register in full.

Some sellers are also uncomfortable with the idea of letting anyone and everyone into their homes. Doing an invitation-only show house, with a smaller group, is the best compromise.

  • Switch on location sharing

When showing a home, switch on your phone’s location sharing and broadcast your ongoing location with an office admin, close friend or family member. You can always switch it off afterwards, but in the meantime, it could keep you safe by letting people know where you are.

  • Be vigilant during the showing

Instruct the homeowner to store valuables in a safe beforehand and to put away any personal items, such as letters or bank statements, to avoid any chances of identity theft. Make sure that you walk behind visitors when showing them the property. This not only will allow you to point out key features of the home without getting in the way, but it will also keep you safe because your back is never turned to the visitors and any suspicious activity will be seen immediately.

  • Self-defence tools and classes

Carrying self-defence tools, such as pepper spray and a taser, and taking self-defence classes would be a great addition towards your protection.