11 July 2018,

Protecting your personal safety


An auction professional’s personal safety shouldn’t be taken for granted when out in the field. Law enforcement officers share tips on staying safe while working.

By Nancy Hull Rigdon, contributor

When asked about the most important issues facing the auctioneering industry, personal safety may not always be top-of-mind for professionals – yet it is critically important.

A major reason for this importance is that, unfortunately, some scenarios common to the job of an auctioneer serve as windows of opportunity for something to go wrong. As an example: In preparing for an estate sale, the auctioneer meets her client for the first time at the client’s property, which is an unfamiliar location to her. No one else is there aside from the auctioneer and the client.

So what can auctioneers do to best prepare for the worst case scenario here, as well as in other situations?

Personal safety experts at the Texas Department of Public Safety, including Rich Standifer and State Trooper Jean Dark, offer the following advice to NAA members.

Personal Safety: On-location

Standifer and Dark point to tragic news stories throughout the nation where real estate agents were killed while showing homes by shooters posing as homebuyers.

“I was surprised to learn how often this has happened to realtors, and I know that as auctioneers, you are often in very similar situations. To stay safe, it’s important that you’re prepared in advance,” Standifer said.

Standifer and Dark offer these tips for staying safe on location:

  • Walk behind customers – You’re safest when you have the most visibility.
  • Inspect the exterior first – A quick walk around the property can help avoid potentially dangerous surprises later.
  • Use the buddy system – “This is incredibly important. You want a link established between you and the customer and then back to somebody else so that others are aware of where you are going, who you’ll be with, and how long you’re expected to be there,” Dark said.
  • Visit during daylight hours
  • Avoid going into confined spaces – “Unproductive people will try get you to somewhere where you are going to be shielded from help,” Standifer said.
  • Do not confront occupants of a property known as “squatters”
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbors – “This goes back to making sure other ppl are aware of your presence at a location,” Dark said.
  • Leave expensive clothing, cars and other items at home – Valuables can make you a target
  • Do a quick background check on the customer – At least search their name online and use common sense.
  • Ask for identification from a customer before you meet – They’ll know you have record of who they are, which can deter them from trying to harm you.
  • Introduce the customer to someone else you work with, either by phone or email, before you meet – This lets them know that others are aware of where you are going and who you’ll be with. They’ll know that they could be identified quickly if something bad happens, which makes you less likely to be victimized.
Personal Safety: Everywhere

No matter where you are, Standifer and Dark emphasize a few rules for auctioneers’ personal safety:

  • Know your surroundings – Ask yourself: Where are the exits? How would I get out? Also, scan the areas you’re in and the people there. Scan people’s waistlines to see if they have weapons.
  • Trust your instincts – For instance: If an elevator door opens and the look someone inside gives you makes you uncomfortable, wait for the next elevator.
  • Plan for what-ifs – “Ask yourself, if this person attacks me, what am I going to do? And have a few back-up plans. You have to be prepared for the worst. If you aren’t prepared, then if something happens and you’re caught off guard and panicked, you won’t be able to do the right thing fast enough,” Dark says. Standifer adds: “It’s a mental game – everything starts in your mind.”
Personal Safety: Irate Customers

Here’s another situation to consider: A customer corners you after an auction. He’s very upset about the price of an item, and you feel the situation may escalate to where you’re in danger. What do you do? According to Standifer and Dark, you should:

  • Be professional
  • Be courteous
  • Don’t lower yourself, physically, to their level – Always stand taller than the other person.
  • Listen to the customer before answering – Interrupting can trigger people.
  • Tactfully advise the customer of any issues
  • Exhaust all options to solve the problem – Don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Thank them as they leave – This can go a long way.
Personal Safety: Defending Yourself

Standifer and Dark offer the following additional advice on how auctioneers can keep themselves safe:

  • Take a self-defense class
  • If you’re going to carry a firearm, stay up-to-date in terms of laws and necessary training – It’s not like riding a bike; it’s a perishable skill.
  • The same goes for carrying pepper spray – make sure you know how to use it ahead of time.

Something else to keep in mind: During the adrenaline rush of an emergency, motor skills start to deteriorate. Standifer and Dark said this means that when people call 911 on a cell phone, they sometimes forget to hit the “send button” to make the call.

Personal Safety: Key Takeaways

In summary, Standifer and Dark emphasize these details:

  1. Be aware of your surroundings
  2. Assess every situation
  3. There is safety in numbers
  4. Always have a plan

“Ultimately, you are responsible for your own safety – and you can never be too prepared,” Dark says.

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2015 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips regarding this topic? NAA members can access the full audio of this presentation and many others in the NAA Knowledge Center.