One of the hottest, and most important, topics of discussion among real estate professionals is agent safety. In an occupation where you’re often alone with sellers or potential buyers who may be complete strangers, there are many potential hazards. The broad topic of agent safety has been frequently written about recently; so in light of that, let’s explore what happens when disputes arise, not between the agent and a third party, but between two parties that are close with one another.
When multiple family members inherit a property, there is always the possibility that the process of selling that property will create tensions. As was the case in the highly-publicized August 7th incident, in Anaheim, California, where a home inspector was shot and killed amid an alleged dispute between siblings and their home’s sale. This tragedy illustrates how these sales can also turn unexpectedly violent.
Although agents can’t likely prevent all conflicts in that may arise during a transaction, they can deescalate them with effective communication.
We recently discussed this with Carl Carter, Jr., Founder and Executive Director of the Beverly Carter Foundation; and Tracey "The Safety Lady'' Hawkins, a former agent and a 26-year national safety expert/educator, about this very important issue.
The conversation allowed us to lay out how you, as an agent, can take precautionary measures in the event of a heated transaction involving family members, as well as what to do if you get caught up in a common dispute between neighbors.
Family Member Disputes
Emotions can understandably run high when there are disagreements between family members. Although you’re not intimately involved in an argument that arises between siblings or cousins, just being present can be dangerous. For this reason, communication tactics can act as a line of defense.
“Constant, timely communication should include as much accurate information as possible, even if the information is tough to deliver,” says Carter. “Agents should continually remind all parties in the transaction that they have a place to go with concerns and questions.”
Clients want to know they are being heard, and things may become more tense if they begin seeking information elsewhere.
“If there is tension between these two parties, agents should request meetings be at the office or that the two parties meet at the house at separate times,” says Hawkins.
Property Line Disputes
You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family...or your neighbors. Disputes between family members isn’t the only thing you need to look out for between two parties that are close with one another. Even if neighbors aren’t emotionally close with one another, they may be physically close and this is where issues may present themselves: property line disputes.
“Although it serves its purpose, contract language ‘relinquishing sellers and associated real estate firms of liability related to any survey discrepancies that may exist or be discovered later,’ does little to mitigate tense situations,” says Carter. “I’ve experienced this issue with my personal residences over fence placement and landscaping, and even those weren’t pleasant or inexpensive to resolve.”
With the chaos of the housing market over the past year, there’s growing concern that property line disputes may become more of an issue in the near term.
“There aren't a lot of property border disputes in the news headlines, but they do happen,” says Hawkins. “Agents need to be careful if a neighbor is confrontational about he or she being on their property.”
When it becomes clear a dispute is escalating, agents should carefully consider next steps. Agents should always keep their cool and recognize a negative or angry attitude will only further escalate the situation.
“Above everything else, the agent’s safety is paramount,” says Carter. “If they know they’re going into a heated conversation, agents should consider a meeting location comfortable to all parties. Other strategies can include asking your broker to attend as a ‘buddy’ and advisor or having a discreet wearable device that can trigger a silent distress signal.”
Although interpersonal disputes such as these may not be the most pressing safety concern that agents have, the threat is there and all real estate professionals should be privy to steps they can take in order to protect themselves.
For more information about how you can get involved with keeping yourself and other agents safe, please visit beverlycarterfoundation.org.