[REN #388] Forewarn Helps Protect Real Estate Listing Agents

photo of phone for Real Estate News for Investors Podcast Episode #388

A new cell phone app is designed to give real estate agents “piece of mind” when it comes to their personal safety. Licensed agents can use the “Forewarn” app to do a background check on potential buyers and to help determine if it would be safe to meet with them alone on a home tour. According to one media source, the app will help identify opioid addicts who may be looking for prescription drugs inside for-sale homes.

The opioid crisis has reached a point that real estate agents need to worry about addicts in search of a fix. As CNBC reports, they are signing up for home tours so for the sole purpose of raiding the homeowner’s medicine cabinet (1).

As you may know, opioids are used for pain management but are highly addictive. The White House has recently declared opioid addiction as a public health crisis, and is calling on doctors to issue prescriptions more selectively. But the problem already exists.

The crisis is worse in more rural areas, mostly because there are fewer treatment programs to help those who’ve gotten hooked. That’s led to some creative methods for getting these pain meds, including “theft” from people trying to sell their homes. And of course, when it comes to drugs, you don’t want to be a real estate agent who’s getting in the way of a fix.
 

Agents Get a “Heads Up” with Forewarn

The new Forewarn app was just introduced a few weeks ago by Cogint. As CNBC reports, the company already provides a similar service for law enforcement officers, government officials, and insurance carriers. Licensed real estate agents will now be added to that list, and according to the Forewarn website, they will be able to plug in a person’s phone number and check on a person’s background in seconds.

The company says it can positively identify 80% of prospective real estate buyers. Agents will be able to see if a person has a criminal history, whether they currently own property, what kind of vehicles they drive, and whether they have any bankruptcies or liens on their record. They will also be able to verify additional phone numbers and a full address history. Even though the app does provide some financial data, the website warns that it should not be used to establish a person’s eligibility for credit, insurance, or employment.
 

Realtors at Risk

The company estimates that between 40% and 50% of the people touring homes are individuals who have not been prescreened by a real estate agent. That’s mostly due to the rise of multiple-listing websites like Redfin and Zillow that allow people to search for listings without any professional help. That’s great for the homebuyers convenience but it also means that agents are getting more and more calls from people they’ve never met. Sara Wiskerchen of the National Association of Realtors said in a NY Post article, that: “An unfortunate aspect of the profession requires members to meet strangers.”

The Post article reports that agents often feel like “sitting ducks.” They are usually well dressed, driving nice cars, and possibly wearing expensive jewelry — and then they hold open houses and are often “alone” in those homes. In recent years, we’ve heard about several real estate agents who’ve been sexually assaulted, robbed, or murdered (2).
 

Pro-Active Safety Among Agents

The National Association of Realtors conducted a “safety” survey recently, and found that a high percentage of agents do “not” feel safe about 40% of the time. Many are also doing something about their safety. The survey found that 16% carry a gun, 19% carry pepper spray, and 5% have Tasers (3).

There are also other safety apps for Realtors. One is called TrustStamp. It verifies a person’s identity by analyzing a person’s profile photo biometrically. Others may use GuardLlama which can put in a call to police. And, many use location apps that can send alerts to friends or colleagues. Some of those useful “after” a problem has arisen, however, and that may be too late.

CNBC writes about an incident in San Antonio about 7 years ago. A real estate agent was showing a home worth three-quarters of a million dollars, and was attacked by someone who wanted money. She was 64 years old when it happened. She was hit on the head and held hostage, but managed to talk her way out of the situation.

She told the man that she didn’t have any money, but she was closing on a home a few days later, and could give him $4,000 when the deal closed. She apparently negotiated further and told the man she’d write a note saying that she hadn’t been held hostage. When he went to get a piece of paper from the car, she escaped. The man is now serving decades in prison for aggravated robbery. Coincidentally, he also admitted that he was high on drugs at the time.

That brings us back around to one of the problems at hand — that opioid addicts are signing up for home tours. If you are a real estate agent, you may want to check into this new app. You have to be licensed, and there’s also a subscription fee for the service.
 
Links:

(1) CNBC Article

(2) NY Post Article

(3) National Association of Realtors Survey

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