Realtor Mari Houck was once so unnerved by someone she was showing a house to that she ditched the scene.
"I said I'll go outside and wait for them to finish looking at the house, because I didn't want to be alone with them," she said. "I had my keys and purse, and I got into my car and left."
Houck isn't the only Twin Cities Realtor who's been concerned for her safety on the job. According to the latest National Association of Realtors Member Safety Report, 16% of females and 9% of males have experienced what they considered dangerous situations.
Jason Miller, president of the Minnesota Realtors association, said news reports of crimes committed against agents — including high-profile kidnapping and murder cases in recent years — have rattled the industry.
"I've been in the business for 17 years and I think that hearing about [these events] is something that really catapulted and brought Realtor safety to the forefront," Miller said. "We get lead prospect calls almost daily from people we've never met. It's a real scenario that can happen in this business."
The Minnesota organization follows recommendations drafted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which has long offered safety training on "situational awareness" and has urged real estate companies and individual agents to establish safety protocols.
"We recommend meeting at an office location first and gathering information such as verifying a person's identification such as a driver's license and leaving that contact information behind," Miller said.
Miller's office goes a step further. "Every time someone from my team is meeting someone, we know each other's calendars," he said. "We've even buddied up on showings, especially if it's a more vacant setting."
He's also known of agents who regularly share their location via phone tracking.
"We have the tools and technology for people to know where you're at, such as by having your phone tracked and sharing it with someone you trust," he said.
The heightened concern couldn't come at a better time, said Tim Ferrara, a colleague of Houck's at Edina Realty.
"I've known five to 10 agents that have left over the years, expressing safety concerns," he said. "Someone has something to say every month or two that they were uncomfortable and didn't feel safe in a situation."
Empowered and prepared
Some local real estate offices are taking it upon themselves to offer self-defense classes for employees.
"We certainly encourage others to adopt their own safety plans," said Susan Dioury, Minnesota Realtors association senior vice president of risk management. "We certainly have encouraged self-defense."
Paula Meyers has seen an increase in real estate agencies enlisting in her safety classes in recent years.
In 2022, the founder of Edina-based Krav Maga 101 is slated to train agents in more than a dozen real estate offices, twice the number as last year.
After hearing about safety concerns from colleagues, managing broker Jesse Godzala brought in Meyers to teach a two-part series at Edina Realty's Plymouth office this year.
"We've had a number of situations where people were put in uncomfortable positions," he said. "We're just trying to get ahead of the changing market when it comes to Realtor safety."
Meyers' classes focus on how to de-escalate situations and impede potential attacks, by constantly scanning a room, creating physical separation between yourself and a potential attacker and using authoritative verbal cues.
While it is a martial art, Meyers said Krav Maga "is geared toward avoidance, geared toward short confrontations to disengage from distress and get to safety," she said. "Whereas typical martial arts is about force — battering an opponent and staying in the fight — we don't want to stay in the fight, we want to [prevent] or end it as quickly as possible."
Betty Cole, who has been a real estate agent for 48 years, has had safety training in the past. But taking Meyers' class helped her reinforce things she practices, such as not entering a room or going down the basement stairs ahead of a client.
The training also provided a space for her and her colleagues to talk candidly about their experiences — and to know they were not alone.
"I think it's smart that associations encourage real estate companies to offer this to their agents," Cole said. "We really put ourselves out there."