The recent documentary which aired on Channel 5 about Stephanie Slater, the estate agent who was kidnapped back in 1992 by a man posing as a ‘buyer’, is a reminder that while these incidents are thankfully very rare, it is important that agents maintain a Lone Working Policy and always remain vigilant.
This is according to Paul Offley, Compliance Officer at The Guild of Property Professionals, who adds that given the nature of the estate and lettings business, it is highly likely that an agent will be required to work on their own at times. “This could be in the office, on a new homes site, viewings, valuations, and property inspections to name but a few. Again, while incidents are extremely rare, safety is of the utmost importance and there should be a policy in place that ensures agents are safe when working on their own,” he says.
Offley notes that ideally the policy should deal with the various situations, such as working in the office alone or seeing a client at a property. Offering some guidance regarding what could be included in the sections of the policy, Offley says: “When working in the office alone, agents should always keep the door locked and only allow entry to expected visitors who have made an appointment. There should be a sign on the office door that clearly states, ‘by appointment only’. Also, make it appear as if you are not in the office alone by hanging a coat over a chair, turning on the PC at an adjoining desk or placing a drink on another desk to make it look as if it is occupied.”
According to Offley, when going to a property alone, agents should always know who they are going to meet and whether that person will be alone or occupied by others. “It is important to know the number of people you will be meeting, along with their names addresses and contact details. If possible, this information should be verified. Whether working in the office alone or going to see a client at a property, everyone should have a key contact that knows where you are going, how long you will be, and who you are meeting. This should happen every occasion,” says Offley.
He adds that other tips include never travelling to an appointment in someone else’s car and never taking anyone in your own vehicle to an appointment. “Ideally, arrive at the property early and in a position that allows for an efficient exit if an incident occurs. If you are at an empty property, try to see a neighbour so that they can see you arrive; go into the property, open another exit door if possible so that you have a route out by two exits and if appropriate turn on all lights. It is important to familiarise yourself with the property and its layout. Ensure that your mobile phone is fully charged and has emergency numbers pre-programmed such as office, key contact and other important contacts,” Offley advises. “Other aspects to think about include carrying a personal alarm and never being the first into a room. Also, while it is good to build rapport with people, don’t be drawn into giving too much away about yourself personally. When you have finished that appointment, message your key contact and let them know.”
Offley says that it is important for agents to listen to their gut and never attend any appointment that makes them feel uneasy. “If there is something that doesn’t feel right about the situation, rather reschedule, and attend at a later date with a colleague. Don’t push yourself into a situation that you are not comfortable with, rather make an alternative arrangement,” he adds.
“Considering the vast number of appointments completed each day, each week, each month and each year, such incidents are rare, but it is important that all members of the team remain vigilant and look out for each other. Working together we can help keep these incidents from happening,” Offley concludes.