Yesterday the body of Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter was discovered outside Little Rock, and her death has raised red flags for the safety of realtors throughout the country. Carter disappeared last Thursday night after showing a vacant home to a man posing as a prospective buyer. She never returned from the appointment. Thirty-three-year-old Aaron Lewis has confessed to, and been arrested for, her kidnapping, but has not admitted to her killing.
The 49-year-old agent’s death has highlighted the dangers for realtors, who frequently meet complete strangers in empty houses, or drive them around to show properties. It has triggered a call for increased safety in the real estate industry. Crye-Leike Realtors, the Arkansas agency Carter worked for, along with many other company, are strongly encouraging agents to meet prospective buyers at an office before taking them out to show a home.
Matt Lombardi, who manages the safety program for the National Association of Realtors, says that at a minimum agents need to get the client’s name, address, contact information and a copy of the driver’s license. That way if something happens later the authorities know where to start looking.
In Arkansas, realtor Beverly Carter actually heeded the red flag warning raised before meeting a strange client, and took the safety measure of calling her husband prior to showing the house to Lewis, but even that step did not prevent the agent’s death. Her body was found about 30 miles from the home she was showing.
Robert Siciliano, CEO of realtysecurity.com, encourages realtors to drive their own car to a showing, and let the client follow. If it is not possible to take two cars, the realtor should always drive in order to maintain control. Parking at the curb rather than in the driveway reduces the chance of getting blocked in and leaves an easier avenue of escape. Carter’s husband found the realtor’s car parked and locked in the driveway of the Arkansas home she had been showing.
The National Association of Realtors in Jacksonville, Fla., offers quarterly safety webinars held by Andrew L. Wooten. He encourages agents to allow clients to lead the way in exploring a home, and avoid entering confined spaces with them, such as an attic. It is unknown at this time what occurred in the Arkansas home that Carter was showing when she disappeared.
Open houses are another situation where realtors are vulnerable, as the agent is frequently alone in a vacant property, often in an undeveloped area without neighbors close by. Realtor Martin Feinberg, from Santa Monica, Cal., suggests that agents familiarize themselves with the home’s floor plan prior to starting the open house, and note all escape routes. Working with another agent is best. He also encourages the agent to keep in close contact with their office, including having a code word or phrase to alert co-workers to possible trouble so they can call the police.
Federal Title and Escrow Company offers safety tips for real estate agents in all states, not just Arkansas, starting with verifying customer information, including getting the full name, phone number and where they work. Meeting the client in the office before taking them to a property allows more information gathering. They say to make sure someone in the office knows where the realtor is going, and ideally the agent should not work an open house alone. Cell phones should stay in the realtor’s hand, not in a purse or pocket. Preprogramming an emergency contact allows it to be called quickly in a crisis. Federal Title also encourages the agent to be familiar with the surroundings, driving through the neighborhood in advance and checking all exits and escape routes.
The final suggestion from Federal Title is to “trust your gut.” They encourage agents to get out if something does not feel right, saying the loss of a sale is not worth the loss of a life. Arkansas real estate agent Carter was just doing the job that real estate agents do every day when she was killed, and the red flags raised by her death may increase the safety awareness of agents throughout the country enough to prevent a similar occurrence.
By Beth A. Balen