I’m certainly no stranger to visiting shady buildings. I have been going into vacant houses all over the area for years. Mostly by myself. I understand the risk and accept it. But that doesn’t mean that property owners and their real estate agents don’t have some level of responsiblity in making sure the property is safe.
Case in point: lockbox codes. As a general rule, access codes to enter properties should only given out to real estate agents or in some other controlled capacity. Not that agents are not capabable of commiting a crime or doing something stupid, but I always feel somewhat comfortable in the thought that access isn’t simply given out on demand. At least, that’s the way it should work.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how many times I will call a listing agent’s office to get a lockbox code only to be given the code, no questions asked. Not even a “Who are you?” or “What agency are you with?” They just give out the code. Makes me feel real safe. Not that someone couldn’t lie about that info, but its at least something. Don’t even get me started on the fact that banks are stupid enough to reuse the same 5 lockbox codes all over town. And we wonder why copper gets stolen out every vacant building in the area.
The fact is that the real estate industry needs to come up with some sort of system to verify a persons identity to maximize our own safety, the safety of our clients and the properties we list. Only then should you even consider letting your guard down. Until that day comes (probably never), the reality of the situation is that one must never assume a property is secure when they visit it. Never let your guard down. Here are a few ideas on how you can protect yourself:
- If you are visiting a property, try to go with another person or at least let someone else know where you are going.
- Unlock the front door, knock and announce your arrival when you reach a property. Then do your exterior viewing of the house to give any squatters time to leave. Much like a bear, they are usually more scared of you than you are of them. I used to do this a lot at unsecured buildings when I did BPO’s and I saw guys sneak out quite a few times. It works.
- Avoid visiting properties after dark.
- Carry an oversize Maglite flashlight in properties. Not only does it take care of your illumination needs, it also acts as a great weapon in self-defense.
- Carry a can of mace with you. If you really want to protect yourself, a large can of “riot mace” or even the newer “pistol-like” varieties are a good choice. I’m thinking of getting a mace gun myself.
- Carry a gun. Obviously you’ll need to make sure you follow the law on this one, but a lot of investors have concealed-carry permits for this purpose. Just be careful on this one. Bumping into a squatter is not cause to shoot them, so the element of surprise might lead to an unfortunate accident.
Following these basic steps, and having at least one method of self-defense will help you limit your risk. In the perfect world, this wouldn’t be necessary, but I’d rather be cautious than get stabbed with a butter-knife by a hobo. Whether your viewing vacant houses, occupied duplexes or rehabbed 4-families, watch yourselves out there.