CALGARY -- An association representing Alberta real-estate agents is providing its members with an emergency response app a month after an alleged sexual assault during an open house.
The Alberta Real Estate Association is including a subscription to the LifeLine Response app at no additional cost to its 10,500 members. The app allows users to alert their personal support network, summon police to their location using GPS and view threat notifications in their areas.
"Quite commonly we're working alone," said association chairwoman Jennifer Gilbert. "We're in unfamiliar locations with relative strangers."
Gilbert said the app had 600 new subscriptions as of Tuesday morning.
"It demonstrates the need."
Calgary police say a real-estate agent was working at an open house last month when a man came into the home. Police say the woman tried ending the conversation, but he kept talking to her. He then grabbed and touched her sexually without her consent. The man left the house and returned two more times.
Merideth Schutter also had a scary experience working as a real-estate agent in Vancouver six years ago.
Two men came into an open house she was holding, locked the door and shoved her into the kitchen cabinets. A young couple came in and the men ran off.
Schutter had a few bumps and bruises, but she knows the situation could have been a lot worse. The experience left her feeling alone and terrified and made her question whether to stay in a career she loved.
"These are crimes of opportunity. As Realtors, we're encouraged to put our faces on things -- the sides of buses, social media -- and tell people where we are at any given moment," she said.
"If one of my teenagers ever did that, I'd have something to say about it. Yet, here I was doing exactly that for a long time."
Schutter has since left the real-estate business. She is now CEO of PROtect, a safety app inspired by her frightening open house encounter. PROtect syncs with calendars and contacts, so that loved ones and colleagues can be alerted if the user doesn't "check out" at a certain time. There's also an emergency help button.
PROtect has partnered with ReMax, but nurses, young restaurant workers and others have also used it.
"Even somebody who sells insurance and mortgage brokers -- places where people are out meeting strangers alone or going into their homes," said Schutter.
Safety should be top of mind for everyone in the business -- not just women, said Gilbert.
She advises agents to do their homework before meeting a new client and to let loved ones or colleagues know when and where a meeting is happening.
It's a good idea to note the property's exit points, she said, and to let neighbours know if an open house is going to happen, so they can keep an eye out for anything odd.
"Maybe don't meet with somebody out at that acreage at 8:30 at night by yourself, unless you've met with them in-office first."