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How real estate agents can protect themselves at work | REM

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Another real estate agent has died, thanks to the vulnerability of working alone in an empty house.

The 33-year-old Annapolis agent was alone in an empty model home when he met a violent end. Someone came in, murdered him right there in his workplace, and left. No one has been charged.

I know what you’re thinking. “That’s Annapolis, not here, so it’s not really my problem.”




I don’t blame you. It’s hard to take something seriously when terrible things happen everywhere all the time. We naturally want to think bad things happen “over there” and “to them” and not to us.

But where I live in Winnipeg these things happen too. The unsolved murder of Irene Pearson for one, then there was this 2008 attempted assault where the agent escaped, and this 2007 sexual assault where the agent didn’t get away. Then there are the countless close-call stories that don’t make it into the news.

Like my friend who got a call from a guy who said he was moving to the city because of his business, needed a fast possession and wanted to see vacant homes in the Tuxedo area. She said she’d look up a list of homes and call him back at his hotel. She got his name, number and the name of his hotel, and promised to call him back at 4 p.m. After hanging up with him, she called the hotel to confirm such a person was even there. They had no one there by that name. Big red flag. She was smart to check.

And these are just stories from Winnipeg. You start looking up news stories from across Canada and your day gets a whole lot darker. Agents get attacked, robbed and murdered at work.

It happens.

A lot.

And it’s scary.

It’s also completely unnecessary.

I’m a passionate advocate for excellent customer service and going above and beyond the call of duty to serve my clients, but I’m also passionate about client property security and my own personal protection.

The fact is, real estate agents are at risk when hosting open houses. Thankfully, there is something we can do.

Limit access – even at open houses 

Years ago, near the beginning of my career, I walked up the sidewalk to a house with my clients in order to show them the house they were considering. We walked in and started looking around. Moments later, a guy – could be a neighbour, could be a thief, I didn’t know – opened the door, walked in and asked if he could look around too.

Umm… no? I explained it wasn’t an open house, but that I was showing my clients; this was a prearranged appointment. If he wanted a peek, he’d have to wait for the open house or make an appointment.

I was stunned that a complete stranger would just walk into another person’s home, feeling quite free to do so, and expect to be allowed to wander around unfettered. Really? I wondered how many others felt this way, and imagined more people casually wandering in while I was showing my clients another floor and completely unaware anyone else had come in. The guy left, and I locked the door. I’ve been locking the door ever since. I do this at open houses too, by the way.

I post a sign that says, “Welcome, I’m showing the home right now, please wait here.” This allows me to connect with the people looking and do what I can to show the property in the best possible light while protecting myself and my sellers from random people with who knows what motives and agendas from coming in and doing whatever they want.

One word: Vetting 

Prequalify potential buyers. We are not obligated to show a home every Tom, Dick and Harriet who “wants to see”. On the contrary, that’s a sure way to aggravate your sellers and put everyone at risk. Instead, we should identify buyers.

Luckily, the federal FINTRAC laws are on our side, requiring us to identify the buyers when there’s an attempted transaction. Use that. The minute someone steps into your car or onto your property, get some I.D.  Getting their driver’s license is a good start. If they don’t proceed, shred it. But if you have their information, at least if something happens to you, the property or the buyer’s possessions, you have a bit of recourse.

Wave bye-bye to lookie loos

Listen. Agent to agent, I know people sometimes get squirrelly about giving the smallest amount of information about why they’re calling. They don’t want agents asking whether they’re pre-approved, or other questions about their needs. So, asking for I.D could get people feeling downright antagonistic. Especially if they “just want to look”. Who wants that hassle? I get it.

Here’s the thing. People like that most likely aren’t serious buyers. More and more, those who are serious, actual buyers are understanding the need to be pre-approved, well-informed and even represented before they even begin house hunting. This is becoming the norm. The random lookie-loos who want to nose around strangers’ houses unencumbered on a Sunday afternoon are not worth the risk to your sellers or to you.

Here’s my suggestion. When someone calls wanting to look at a house, get their info. Then confirm the info. Meet them first at your office (or coffee shop) with the “how can I help you” attitude and if they don’t want to do that, recommend to them that their best course of action is to attend an open house when it’s offered.

Then don’t worry about whether there is an open house on that property or not. Just politely wave bye-bye and move on. Our seller clients will appreciate your professional approach. Mine most certainly do as they know when I ask for them to leave for a showing, I have confirmed the prospective buyer’s ability to buy. We are real estate professionals, not TV reality show personalities.

Don’t go alone 

The vulnerability of working an empty house is the solitude of it. Protect yourself by breaking that solitude. There a few ways to do that. Bring a friend or another agent with you. You could also pre-arrange a buddy check-in system where you check in with someone before, during and after your time there. If you miss a call, someone calls you or comes by in person. Introduce yourself to the neighbours and let them know you’re there. Have a sign-in sheet for every person who comes in to the open house. There are even personal safety apps.

There are options. Real estate agents don’t have to be completely vulnerable, even if we do choose to host open houses (or inspect houses or do whatever else we do that leaves us in buildings alone for hours).

Have you ever felt at risk?

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Real Estate

CMHC: Toronto and Vancouver Real Estate Delinquencies Rise, While The Rest of Canada Falls

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Canadian real estate markets are seeing mortgage delinquencies fall… just not in Toronto or Vancouver. Equifax data crunched by the CMHC shows the national rate of delinquencies fell in Q1 2020. Breaking down the numbers, this trend is stronger in some real estate markets than others. Montreal for instance, is seeing their delinquency rates drop to multi-year lows. Toronto and Vancouver are on the flip side of the stat, and are actually seeing delinquencies rise.

Mortgage Delinquency Rates

The mortgage delinquency rate is the percent of mortgages overdue. Today’s Equifax numbers are mortgages that are more than 90 days overdue. Pretty straight-forward, but there’s two things to keep in mind – seasonality and level.

Mortgage delinquency rates, like other forms of credit delinquencies, tend to be seasonal. When looking at seasonally sensitive numbers, quarterly changes don’t tell us a lot. Unless there’s a sudden and abrupt change that’s not seasonally observed. Instead, it’s the year-over-year change of the quarter that’s more important.

The next note to keep in mind is there’s no universally high or low level for delinquencies. Some regions like Montreal, have always had higher levels of delinquencies. Cities like Toronto and Vancouver are always lower than the national level. With regional variances like this, it’s more important to focus on the velocity of change. If Vancouver had the same level of delinquencies as Montreal, but with Vancouver supersized mortgages – it would be catastrophic for the economy. It only needs to be up a few points for real estate markets to be in trouble, before it becomes an emergency.

Canadian Mortgage Delinquencies Fall

Canadian mortgage delinquencies were falling across the country in the first-quarter. The rate of mortgage delinquencies fell to 0.29% in Q1 2020, unchanged from the previous quarter. Compared to the same quarter last year, this was 3.3% lower. Since delinquencies are seasonal, the quarter over quarter change is less significant than the annual change. In this case, the delinquency rate was improving on the national level.

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Bank of Canada Pumping Billions Into Mortgage Liquidity To Prop Up Real Estate

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Canada’s central bank is desperately trying to prop up real estate markets with liquidity. Bank of Canada (BoC) has been injecting billions into Canada Mortgage Bonds (CMBs). The central bank began purchasing a few million worth of bonds during last year’s real estate slow down. As the pandemic hit, the BoC began buying hundreds of millions worth of CMBs per week. The flood of liquidity has a limited impact on preserving prices, but creates a massive withdrawal risk.

Canada Mortgage Bonds (CMBs)

Canada mortgage bonds (CMBs) are debt securities guaranteed by the Government of Canada. Basically, lenders originate mortgages, and then group them into a pool. The pool is then sold to the government as a mortgage backed security (MBS). In order to buy MBSs, the government sells CMBs to investors to generate the funds. The cash flow from the MBS is then used to make payments to investors holding CMBs. Long story short, the CMBs are a state secured vehicle for mortgage financing.

Since the government of Canada guarantees all CMBs, they pay very little interest. In a normal market, when demand rises for CMBs, interest paid falls even further. When demand drops, interest rates typically rise to attract more investment. Simple supply and demand, right? Not in a country that’s gone all-in on its housing bubble.

When real estate markets began looking a little tired last year, the BoC stepped in. They started buying CMBs to “improve liquidity,” which is bankster for suppressing rates. At first, they said it was going to be on a non-competitive basis – meaning they would support market rates and prevent increases. Starting on March 20 of this year though, they announced they would start buying on a competitive basis. They now actively play a role in driving mortgage rates down. This drives investors even further away from the asset class, meaning they have to buy even more. In other words, money printer goes brrr.

The BoC Is Injecting Hundreds of Millions Per Week

The BoC has purchased billions in CMBs since the beginning of the year. As of July 22, the BoC held $7.95 billion in CMBs, up $234 million from a week before. That works out to a balance increase of 1,450% from the same week last year. What started as just a few million worth of bonds, has turned into a few million per week.

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‘Hobbit house’ hits Alberta real estate market for the first time

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Thanks to a creative Calgary family who had a vision for their vacation home, J.R.R. Tolkien fans don’t need to journey to Middle-earth to visit the Shire.

They only need to know where to look in the Alberta foothills.

An earthen home built into the hillside near Millarville, Alta., by Calgarians Rodney and Ouida Touche in 1971 is on the market for the first time since its construction.

It was designed by Bill Milne, the architect behind the Calgary Tower and the city’s pathway system.

And if you ask many of the Millarville locals about a striking piece of real estate — the home with rounded walls and windows, hidden by its partially bermed construction — they will likely recognize the property they call the “Hobbit house.”

As a child who spent summers there with her parents and siblings, Karen Lightstone did not understand the nickname.

As an adult who decided with her family to sell the house, it finally clicked.

“I have a copy of The Hobbit, and I pulled it out when we were to put it on the market,” Lightstone said.

“And the whole opening paragraph of Chapter 1 talks about the round door opening to a long, tube-shaped hallway. The best rooms are on the left because that’s where all the windows were. And I was like, ‘Oh my Lord, this is exactly what they built.'”

Home hidden to keep from being ‘eyesore’ in landscape

The house was built by carving away half of a hill, Lightstone said, and pouring concrete between domes made of mesh and rebar.

Because the home is partially bermed, it’s hard to see — a conscious decision, made to keep the home from ruining the sweeping landscape.

“My parents were trying to figure out where a good spot would be. They really didn’t want it visible on the ridge. They didn’t want any of the neighbours to be able to just see this house, because to them, that would be a bit of an eyesore,” Lightstone said.

“I don’t know how they came to decide exactly how it was going to be. But I do know — from doing some trips with my dad and from conversations he had — they were always interested in something unique like that.”

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