Some Florida real estate agents pack heat

Stephanie King is coached by Joe Naples on how to fire a gun.

Steve Chiotakis: The latest data on mortgage applications come out in just a few minutes. The last few weeks have seen fewer people applying for loans. That's despite lower home prices and a slew of homes -- including foreclosures on the market.

Well a lot of those foreclosures are vacant houses -- unsecured, and a haven for crime. So real estate agents -- who oftentimes enter those homes by themselves -- are thinking a lot about personal safety.

From foreclosure-heavy Fla., Tracey Samuelson reports.


Tracey Samuelson: When you think of dangerous jobs, you think policemen, firemen. But real estate agent?

Joe Naples: When you're ready, come up on the target. Get ready to pull the trigger.

Gun shots

Stephanie King: Weird.

That was Stephanie King being coached through her first time firing a gun. She's on Florida's Gulf Coast in a class that's the first step to getting a concealed weapons permit. Because, lately, things have been a bit dicey on the job. King works for a broker who specializes in distressed properties. Just recently she was alone, on a visit to a vacant house with a graffiti-tagged barn.

King: You don't know what's waiting for you inside a property that's been sitting vacant for two or three years. So I spent the whole time on the phone, just so that someone knew where I was if something happened.

Given the glut of foreclosed homes on the market, realtors across the country have a tough choice to make: work with vacant and potentially dangerous listings or lose out on business. Melanie Johnson is another broker taking the class.

Melanie Johnson: Just about everything I've sold in the last few years has either been a short sale or bank-owned.

Of those sales, half were vacant. In Florida, one in every seven home loans was in foreclosure at the end of 2010. Nationally, a whopping 39 percent of existing home sales were distressed properties. So while it's certainly not for everyone, that has a subset of realtors looking to pack heat.

Naples: My saying always is: get the training you need today to save your life tomorrow.

Weapons instructor Joe Naples is a former policeman. He says empty houses attract vagrants, and that can pose a real threat for realtors. Of course, carrying a gun is a huge responsibility. Other realtors turn to mace or tasers. And Johnson says while the class was a good start, she'd like a bit more practice before toting a gun in her purse.

Johnson: It's not quite as shocking when it first goes off and it's "boom" and the power and everything. But it makes you think a lot how you really hope you never have to use it.

In Palmetto, Fla., I'm Tracey Samuelson for Marketplace.

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