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Safety tips for Realtors: forget the taser and spike heels, always follow, never lead a client

ST. PETERSBURG — Chips Wells, crime prevention specialist for the St. Petersburg Department, has daughter who’s a Realtor. Among the advice he gave her: Forget the spike heels when showing a house to a stranger.

"I want you to wear shoes you can run in," he told her. "If you have to run, you don’t have to kick them off."

Wells shared that and other safety tips Wednesday in a free "Save Your Life" seminar for real estate agents sponsored by Compass Land & Title. Several dozen agents listened attentively as Wells stressed that no place is truly safe: He spoke the same day that a gunman killed 12 at a California country music bar filled with college students.

In general, federal statistics show that Realtors are twice as likely as the general public to be victims of violent crime. The reasons are obvious: They often work alone at odd hours meeting strangers in vacant properties.

"You really are in a high-risk business," Wells told his audience. "You are a target, make no mistake."

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Nationally, several Realtors have been killed in the past 15 years, all of them attacked by someone they met at an empty house. In the Tampa Bay area, a gunman pretending to be a prospective buyer robbed two agents in 2015.

Ideally, Wells said, an agent who doesn’t know the client should arrange to meet first at the real estate office and get a copy of the driver’s license. Agents should tell at least two people — a friend, a spouse, a colleague — where they are going and when they expect to arrive and depart.

Once at a house, "situational awareness is key," Wells said. Agents should take note of exits, unlocking gates to ensure a fast escape, and open windows so neighbors can hear screams for help. An agent should always follow, never lead. That way an attacker can’t come up from behind, shove the agent in a bedroom and slam the door shut.

Smart phones can be safety aids, Wells said, as long as the agent isn’t glued to the phone and oblivious to potential danger. If making an emergency 911 call, it’s important to immediately give the exact address — unlike with landlines, the location of a cell phone caller can only be approximated.

Realtors should keep their smart phones handy, not stashed in a purse that’s put in a closet.

Likewise, "if you’re carrying a gun it needs to be with you," Wells said. "I told my daughter, ‘If you are meeting someone, wear a pantsuit so you can put the gun in your waistband.’"

For thwarting an attack, Wells thinks tasers are essentially worthless unless used in skilled hands. Both pepper spray and wasp spray can be effective, although wasp spray is sometimes lethal.

"What it comes down to," Wells concluded, "is trust your gut." If something doesn’t seem right, get away.

A three-decade veteran of the police department, Wells conducts active shooter and other self-protection classes for many different types of workers including pet sitters, home health aides and city employees. They, like real estate agents, often go into empty houses.

Heather Hadley found Wells’ talk "a good refresher, a good reminder" for commercial Realtors like herself.

"I like to make to make sure other people know where I am,’’ the Tampa agent said. "We’re going into warehouses and industrial places that can be 30,000 square feet and there could be people in there that you don’t know are there.’’

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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