Safety on the agenda after agent held at gunpoint

The personal safety of real estate agents attending open house inspections has been brought to the fore after a Queensland agent was held at gunpoint and had his car stolen.

The incident occurred at 11am on Saturday morning in Surfers Paradise. George Bell, a property consultant at First National, was hosting an open house inspection when a woman confronted him inside the unit.

The women, posing as a would-be buyer, pointed what police have said was a sawn-off handgun at Mr Bell and demanded his keys and phone, before departing the property.

Following the incident, Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) acting CEO Antonia Mercorella told Real Estate Business it's essential all agencies employ risk management strategies to ensure the safety of their staff.

Ms Mercorella said that while incidents like this are rare, agents often work on their own and outside regular business hours, and it’s important to take basic safety precautions at any open house or property inspection, such as arriving early and taking the time to inspect the property to ensure it is safe.

“Always get contact details from visitors where possible and keep your office fully informed of your whereabouts and when they can expect your return,” she said, adding it's important to make sure at least two staff members are present for all inspections and the agent has parked their vehicle in such a way that your exit from the property cannot be blocked.

“And above all, leave an inspection immediately if you experience aggressive behaviour or feel uncomfortable," she said. 

Clark Brackenridge, principal at Raine&Horne Surfers Paradise, told Real Estate Business that in 30 years in the business he’s never heard of anything like the incident and it should be taken in isolation. Meanwhile, his counterpart in Charmhaven, Andrew Sorensen, said the nature of the real estate business means an agent can end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"There is an inherent risk there,” he said. “We leave the office and go to a complete stranger's house ... a lot of the time we’ve never met them before, so you don’t know always know what you’re walking into. Something that makes a great agent is someone who has a good gut instinct about these things.”

Mr Sorensen, who said he’s never been physically threatened, said he did have one incident where he felt unsafe while at an open house inspection. 

“I had a gut instinct and it didn’t feel right, so I became much more aware of where I was positioned in the house during that time,” he said.  You just never know, and when the hair goes up on back of your neck, you have to listen to that, and make sure of your personal safety."

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