By John Hielscher, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
WHEN MARY HOWARD HEARD about the Sept. 25 murder of an Arkansas Realtor, she decided she had to do something to reinforce the paramount need for safety among real estate agents.
So Howard, relationship manager with CornerStone Title in Bradenton, organized a seminar to provide information and safety tips to local Realtors — both men and women.
About 80 agents attended the session she conducted last month with Deputy Russell Younger, of the Crime Prevention Unit of the Manatee County Sheriff’s office.
She credits her decision to reach out to law enforcement to her upbringing: Her father was a narcotics and homicide detective in Manhattan.
“I just kept thinking of how much safety and awareness had been ingrained in my DNA, and I thought I really could help,” Howard said.
Beverly Carter, 49, went missing in after going out to show a house in Scott, Arkansas. Her body was found several days later in a shallow grave on the grounds of a concrete company, in a rural area northeast of Little Rock.
Law enforcement officials arrested Arron Lewis, who told reporters that he targeted Carter “because she was just a woman who worked alone, a rich broker.”
The National Association of Realtors says 57 percent of all real estate agents are women. A report in 2011 on violent crimes against agents found that women were victims of on-the-job crimes far more often than men.
In the wake of the murder, some real estate brokerages are now requiring prospective home buyers to meet agents at their office before heading out to show a property.
Some are also asking those shopping for homes to provide identification or drivers’ licenses, and some agencies are no longer allowing female agents to show properties by themselves.
Howard said the public needs to understand why the new rules are necessary.
“If a Realtor says you need to register at my office or show ID, don’t be put off by that,” she said. “Customers have to realize that this is part of the process now.”
Howard and others acknowledge, however, that agents who work for smaller brokerage firms may not be able to have someone accompany them to show a home, which can sometimes be a spur-of-the-moment request.
“Even after the recession, some Realtors are still living paycheck to paycheck, and that call could be their next paycheck.
“But it’s not worth your life or your safety.”
Here are the top 10 tips Howard and Younger provided at the seminar:
Always be aware of your circumstances — who is approaching you, your surroundings. Look for problems that could occur.
Try not to show properties alone, or to be alone at an open house.
Register prospective clients with your office. Meet them at an office and obtain their driver’s license and copy it. Have co-workers see the prospective customer, and let them know where you are going and when you expect to return.
Look into apps such as “agentsarmor.com” and “Cuff” jewelry, which are tracking and GPS devices created for Realtors.
Introduce yourself to neighbors before showing a property or conducting an open house. Let them know you will be there, and when.
Keep your car keys in hand while showing property, so you can hit the key fob’s panic button, if needed, and raise the attention of neighbors.
Park your car with the front facing the road, in case you need to make a quick escape.
Arrive early to any showing or open house and unlock all the doors to the home, so you can get out quickly if necessary.
Keep potential clients in front of you during a showing, so you are never backed into a room.
Carry pepper spray for self defense.