Monday, 1 December 2008

Personal safety for Letting Agent and Estate Agents

People within the industry and outside will know the stories of Suzy Lamplugh and Stephanie Slater two Estate Agents in the UK who showed the "wrong applicant around" a property.

Unforunately people who who have only joined the lettings and sales industry in the UK over the last few years are not fully aware of the risks of "meeting strangers"

Suzy Lamplugh In 1986 estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, a 25 year old estate agent disappeared after she went to meet an unknown client. So far her body has not been found. However, she has been presumed murdered and legally declared dead. Her parents, Paul and Diana Lamplugh, believed that Suzy, like most people at that time - and even now - was simply unaware of the possible dangers that individuals can face in society.

Paul and Diana founded the Trust to highlight the risks people face and to offer advice, action and support to minimise those risks. I was privilidged to hear her mother Diana speak at a meeting of ARLA The Association of Residential Letting Agents at Pall Mall. London.It was a very moving talk and memorable.

Stephanie Slater On 22nd January 1992 whilst working as an estate agent in the Great Barr area of Birmingham, UK Stephanie Slater was showing a 'prospective buyer' around a house in Turnberry Road. Unknown to her, this simple part of her day to day work would now horrifically change the rest of her life forever. Her 'client', it transpired, wasn't interested in buying the property at all; he was a murderer, kidnapper and extortionist who held her for 8 days in a coffin sealed inside a wheelie bin whilst he negotiated a ransom of £175,000 from her employers. She survived to tell her story.

After being in the business for over 25 years I know that people cut corners. They need the let or sale. They might be on commission or have targets to meet and it is all to easy to immediately go off with an applicant who has just walked into your office.It does not matter whether you are Female or Male....the same rules must apply.

Listed below are some basic ground rules

  • Arranging an appointment for an applicant to view a property - (Either accompanied viewing by agency staff or by the property owner or tenant) - Record the applicants name and address in a proper viewing record book. Take his/her contact telephone number (usually these days they will offer a mobile, but try and get a home number and work number as well). If the applicant refuses to give an address, politely explain that this is your agency's security policy and they will probably find the same situation at other agents. You are not allowed to set up an appointment without that information.
  • You should phone the applicant back to confirm the appointment.
  • Although some agents will offer to take an applicant to the property, this can be unwise. If the situation is diplomatically put - Your car is not covered by insurance for this is usually a good reason. If the applicant has come into your office, say you will go in separate cars. Take a note of the applicant's car registration number. Consider always locking your car doors when you are driving. People have often had handbags snatched at traffic lights for example.
  • If it is a member of your agency's staff that is meeting an applicant (and the applicant's telephone number) always write details in the office diary or if you run your own independent office diary (either in a physical diary book or on computer). Although details will have been recorded in a proper viewing record book they must be recorded in diary so that other members of staff are aware of the appointment.
  • Tell another colleague where you are going. If you don't return, they can at least inform the right people.
  • Think very carefully before giving out your personal mobile phone number or your home phone number.
  • If you are showing more than one applicant a property, every applicant's details must be recorded together with the time of the appointment.
  • If you are showing the same applicant more than one property all those details must be recorded in proper viewing record book and diary.
  • At the property - Put yourself in an alert frame of mind and if you have a personal alarm (a wise investment that does not cost a lot) keep it at hand in a pocket. Always let the applicant go into each room first ahead of you and where possible keep yourself between the door and the applicant (this applies at the entrance door to the property as well). Always keep your line of escape open. If you feel the applicant's behaviour appears suspicious leave the property immediately, telephone your office and if necessary the police. If you are delayed (traffic problems - applicant turning up late etc) phone into your office. Always keep car keys to hand so you can make a fast escape.
  • Because of the business you are in often involves "out of hours" appointments, it could be that there will be no one at the office. In that case try and let a colleague know the appointment is over (practically everyone now has a mobile phone) and if you can't do that let a friend, relative, partner know. Take extra care when there is no daylight and if the lighting does not work at a property do not attempt to show anyone around. Explain to the applicant if he/she says they have a torch that it is breaking Health and Safety regulations.
  • Arranging a sales or rental valuation - Ensure that all details have been recorded. You should check to see if the Owner (Vendor - Landlord) actually lives at the property. Details should be recorded in a diary. You should then follow the same guidelines as in section above.

The property world is very competitive these days, a lot more than in the 1980's and 1990's, however those working in it must always be vigilant on their account and others they working with or working for be it an employer or client. Many people in the sales side of estate agents have lost their jobs or are about to, however you should not take risks and remember the rules of personal safety. Philip Suter

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