Safety First

by Vena Jones-Cox

landlord helpPart of the fun of being real estate entrepreneurs is that we get to meet a lot of different people from all walks of life.

Unfortunately, even a perfunctory glance at the daily paper – or, god forbid, the evening news – tells us that we also live in a violent and unpredictable world. As investors and housing providers, we need to take steps to protect ourselves from becoming victims of violent crime. With the entry of increasing numbers of women into our business, this is a timely and important topic.

Here are some ideas about how to be less vulnerable to the whims of criminals.

When Possible, Travel in Pairs

Whether you’re looking at houses or showing units, take a pal with you. When this isn’t practical, make it look like someone knows where you are and is expecting you. I carry a cell phone when showing vacant homes; the potential tenant sees me “talking” on it when they get there, and hears me telling my husband where I am and that I’ll be home in about half an hour. In reality, my phone is set to 911, ready to dial when I hit the “send” button.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

When showing units, make certain that you know where each applicant is. Know the layout, so that you cannot be trapped in a room with no egress. When looking at a vacant property, walk around it first to make sure that there aren’t any open doors or broken windows where someone might have entered. Check before entering that you’re not being observed by someone who might try to follow you in. Lock the door behind you, after calling out and listening carefully for any sounds inside the property. Vacant buildings are a favorite hangout for drug users and teenagers looking for a quiet place for romance.

Be Suspicious of Anyone Who Wants to See a Vacant Property

At least twice a year, a real estate agent in the United States is murdered by a “buyer” who schedules an appointment on a vacant property after dark or in a secluded location. Always get – and check – a phone number from a potential buyer or renter before setting up an appointment to show a property. If the buyer claims to be in from out of town or to not have a phone, meet them first at a public place (fast food joint or gas station) before taking them to the property. Make sure they know that a lot of people have seen you together.

Live at Your P.O. Box

If you have a home office, there’s no reason to let tenants or applicants know where it is. All closings and lease signings should be done at an attorneys office or at the property. All rents and other correspondence should be mailed to your P.O. Box. Request a phone book listing that has no address. If your tenant later becomes disgruntled with you, do you really want him to know where to find you? And don’t forget that many people that you deal with on a professional basis are under the impression that you’re quite wealthy – why make your home a target for potential thieves?

Keep Your Mouth Shut

Don’t brag to customers that you own multiple units. Don’t drive the Ferrari to show apartments. Dont tell tenants youre the owner of the property, tell them youre the manager. There are folks out there who are more than happy to relieve you of your assets via a nuisance lawsuit or worse, a mugging. Letting people know that youve got the bucks just paints a big target on your back. Plus, showing your wealth puts other members of your family at risk. Have you ever heard of anyone kidnapping the maintenance mans kid?

Trust Your Gut

When something feels “wrong” about a situation, get out quickly and don’t worry about how it looks. Fake an asthma attack and go to your car to get your inhaler. Push that send button and let the 911 operator hear what you’re saying. Do whatever you must to protect yourself. No deal is worth your life.

Vena Jones-Cox is a past president of the Real Estate Investors Association of Cincinnati, the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association, and the National Real Estate Investors Association. Vena has been featured in publications such as The Cincinnati Enquirer, Smart Money Magazine, Money Magazine and Readers Digest in articles about successful real estate entrepreneurs.

Vena Jones-Coxs real estate business focuses on finding great deals on 1-3 family homes, and then lease/optioning them to homeowners or wholesaling them to investors and renovators. All told, she buys and sells about 50 properties per year.

Vena is a frequent guest lecturer at real estate investment groups throughout the country, and particularly enjoys working with new investors. Vena frequently authors articles on real estate investment and the regulatory environment for various newsletters and publications, including her own monthly newsletter. She has been a guest speaker at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., lecturing on the effects of lead-based paint regulation on small investors. And in her spare time, Vena Jones-Cox hosts a popular weekly call-in radio program on public radio.

See The Value of Long-Term Rentals.

This post provided by REI Club for real estate investors.

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