Real Estate · Uncategorized

#metoo real estate agents….

In recent weeks we have all read the stories about Harvey Weinstein, since then we have heard from people in the movie, music and entertainment industries who have told stories of their own personal experiences.

It made me think about #metoo and how it resonated with me, not because I have been harassed as an employee etc but as a real estate agent I have experienced harassment and inappropriate advances from people who I have interacted with during my career. These experiences have made me a very cautious woman.

I have to admit that I have had a few scary experiences myself however as an agent in London, I was made very aware of the “Mr Kipper” story. Wikipedia reports that  Suzy Lamplugh was an estate agent reported missing on 28th July 1986 after going to an appointment with someone calling himself “Mr Kipper”, to show him a house in Fulham. Her office diary recorded the essential details of the appointment: “12.45 Mr. Kipper – 37 Shorrolds Road O/S”, with the “O/S” annotation meaning outside the property. Witnesses reported seeing Lamplugh arguing with a man in Shorrolds Road and then getting into a car.

Her white Ford Fiest (registration: B396 GAN) was found that night outside a property for sale in Stevenage Road, Fulham, about a mile and a half away. The ignition key was missing and Lamplugh’s purse was found in a door storage pocket.

Police suggested that a black, left hand drive BMW vehicle might have been involved, because of an eyewitness account of a car at the same location as Lamplugh’s in Stevenage Road. It was thought for some time after her disappearance that “Kipper” was her pronunciation of the Dutch name “Kuiper” but despite police investigations, nobody of this name was found to be connected to Lamplugh.

As a young agent in London I found this story to be truly shocking and a warning to all real estate agents in the industry. This story in particular made me very wary of who Iw as dealing with.

During my career, at one time or another, I have armed staff with personal alarms, come up with coded phone messages, developed safety strategies & precautions in order to protect my staff whilst they have been out meeting strangers in empty properties.

To be honest when you think about it, it goes against everything that you have been taught doesn’t it? Meet a stranger you say? No thanks…. Meet a stranger in an empty property you say? No way! You just would not do it and I am sure you would not encourage your children to do it, however we as agents do it every single day. When I write this down, it seems ridiculous!

There have been similar cases to Suzy Lamplugh’s i.e. in June 2006, there was a similar case involving a 48-year-old female estate agent in Wiltshire, UK who met a client called Mr. Herring. She was attacked with a sharp object, causing cuts to her arm, and was pushed to the ground, but managed to free herself. The assailant ran away. Police have said there is no connection between this case and the disappearance of Lamplugh.

In January 1992, Michael Sams kidnapped Stephanie Slater. She was an estate agent working in Birmingham, UK. Slater’s employers paid a ransom and she was released. He was later found guilty of her kidnap, and of murdering 18-year-old Leeds prostitute Julie Dart. Sentenced to life imprisonment, was still imprisoned as of 2015.

There have been numerous times where I have felt intimidated in a property. Let’s get this out in the open now, I talk a big talk,  I am feisty and I do not back down. However, I am also less than 158cm (5ft 2in in the old money) so I have managed to be lucky enough to manoeuvre myself out of worrying situations.

In order to avoid confrontation and bad situations, I always do the following:

  1. Make sure my appointment is in my calendar
  2. Make sure that the appointment has a link to an email invitation (I email the other party to confirm the appointment, location etc)
  3. Make sure I enter the name and the mobile phone number of the person I am meeting.

If I am visiting a property to do a periodic inspection I will always do the following:

  1. Knock on the door loudly
  2. Announce that “Hello Tracie from Harrintgons’ is here”, several times over and over
  3. Inspect the property quickly to check if anyone else is in the home (always leaving the front door open in case I need a quick exit)
  4. Once I am sure that no-one else is in the home, I lock the front door behind me, I do my inspection and then I leave.

If I am visiting a property to do a private inspection, I will always do the following:

  1. Open up the rear door and other doors in the property in preparation,
  2. Stand out at the front of the property and meet the person there,
  3. I will assess them and see how I feel about them and what my gut says, and
  4. If I feel safe enough then I will take them through the house,
  5. I will always try to put myself between the nearest exit and the person I am meeting.

If I am hosting an open home and I expect a few people to come through, I will always  have another staff member at the front of the property obtaining ID details of people wanting to enter the property – however many people feel that it is unjust to provide ID before you enter a property.

If there is one thing that I want prospective tenants and buyers to know is that we do this for the safety of our staff and the property more than for marketing.

Eventually I am sure that the process of viewing a property will become safer for real estate agents but until that day we will have to continue to adopt our strategies to the particular environment and situation that we are in.

-Tracie

 

Real Estate

OMG is that us?

Driving to work one Summers’ day a few years ago, I was listening to the radio when I heard that there was a police incident in a street where I managed a property.

I listened intently as we had not been able to get hold of the tenants for a few days….. my spider senses were tingling….their rent was behind and we had been trying to get hold of them without any success.

When the radio announced that police were onsite investigate a “double death” my stomach lurched. I knew it that they were talking about our tenants and our property. Luckily I had a contact in the police and they were contacted, they confirmed that yes it was our property. Damn! OMG it was us!

The tenants were twenty somethings and we had never had any problems with them throughout the tenancy. Hence why it was so unusual that their rent was not in the account as usual. My heart immediately went to to the parents of the young boys, who were now experiencing the loss of their children. Those poor parents. I personally really hate it when a tenant dies, I have had to deal with 6 in my career so fortunately there was no emotional panic and I could be the professional property manager that the parents needed.

My job was to now support all parties involved (including my staff). I actually had an ex-staff member who once told me how he had found a tenant hanging in a property – my ex-colleague was approximately 23 years old and he was doing a periodic inspection. He called the office to tell them what had happened and unfortunately he was left there to deal with the situation all on his own. His boss did not arrive to assist! I was disgusted  by this. I would never do that. This is not something that a young professional should be dealing with, it will have lasting effects. If a tenant passes away at a property, the owner of the business should be out dealing with it, not the younger ones. (Rant over!)

Thoughts kept running through my head; how do I tell my client that this has happened? She will be devastated. Has anyone told the parents yet? Hopefully the police had already informed them. How did they pass away? What had happened? What did I need to clean up? I  know that the last question sounds very basic but at the end of the day someone has to take care of this and usually it is the property manager.

So I dashed over to the property, luckily the police were still there and they advised that the bodies had been removed (you could audibly hear my sigh of relief). I was told that it did not look suspicious and that they suspected that it was a drug overdose.

When I went to have a look I could see that the tenants had moved a mattress from the bedroom to the lounge room where they passed away. Unfortunately they had been undiscovered for a few days and it was now my job to arrange the forensic clean up.

So let me tell you what the practicalities of this entail:

Getting the preferred contact details of a forensic clean up team from the police, booking them in and getting them to sort out the problems left behind. I did this and was then informed that they had to remove some of the carpet because bodily fluids had saturated through the mattress and the carpet was unable to be salvaged.

So I had to arrange for a carpet supplier to quote to replace and/or patch the carpet. In the end we voted to replace the carpet entirely, (let’s face it you probably would not have wanted to just patch that carpet anyway).

In the meantime I had made contact with the tenants’ emergency contacts and I arranged to meet them onsite to allow them access to look over the property and the possessions of their loved ones. Be under no illusions, this is a very emotional time for these people (as well as whomever is hosting this inspection). It is not something for the fainthearted.

Once the initial inspection was carried out, we then had to field questions, when do they have to get all of their possessions from the property, what happens with the bond, were they paid up to date etc. It is my experience that the relatives of the deceased want to ensure that they do not inconvenience the landlords (and they are usually very apologetic for their loved ones passing away, and causing a problem). It is weird but in my opinion, it tends to follow the same pattern.

As you can imagine our client was very upset about the situation, her heart went out to the families that were affected. Her main aim was to ensure that she could do everything possible for the families.

We made arrangements for the tenants possessions to be removed and their family paid the rent that was outstanding. The bond was returned and they were then able to mourn their loved ones.

We had to now balance the sensitivities of the bereaved and getting the property back on the rental market to save our client from any further financial loss. This was a delicate process. The property itself was now what they call a “stigmatised property”, we had to let everyone who inspected it that 2 people had passed away in it. Which in turn meant that the pool of tenants was dramatically reduced. Not many tenants will secure a property where someone has recently passed away – let alone two people.

I remember going to carry out an inspection one evening and finding a “goodbye” letter at the back stairs (which I can only assume was from one of the tenant’s girlfriends). I have to admit that my heart was a broken after finding that.

So….. it took a while and we reduced the rent, a few weeks later we found a lady who felt that she could make it work and we arranged to move her in.

The silver lining of all of this is that my client was smart and she had insurance which covered the death of a tenant. Her policy covered her for 6 weeks’ worth of rent in this instance as well as the cost of the forensic clean up. If she did not have this insurance policy she would have been much more on edge and stressed about the situation. I expect that she would not have been able to afford to allow the bereaved time to make the appropriate arrangements. The insurance policy made things a lot easier for her, the parents and us to deal with.

What is the moral of the story? Please ensure that you have adequate landlord insurance.

-Tracie