Ark. Realtor’s Death Sparks Safety Reviews On Local Front

OCEAN CITY — The murder of an Arkansas real estate agent last week has re-emphasized the importance of safety for local Realtors often put in compromising positions when showing properties to complete strangers.

Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter was reported missing last week after planning to show a property and never returning from her appointment. A few days later, her body was found in a shallow grave, the victim of an apparent murder.

The suspect has admitted kidnapping Carter, but has denied any involvement in her murder and has alluded to a co-conspirator. While asked about motive when being led in handcuffs, the victim said Carter was targeted because “she was a woman who works alone,” and that “she was a rich broker.”

With an abundance of local agents, the resort area real estate community has closely followed the Arkansas case and similar cases around the country and is now reinforcing its safety policies and procedures.

“As a sales manager, and in lieu of the recent Arkansas incident, this elevates my concern for my agents as well as the entire local Realtor community,” said Jay Wise, team leader of Prudential Pen Fed Realty in Ocean City this week. “I will make sure to address the safety protocols we have in place are followed and discussed at every sales meeting. I will also reach out to our local law enforcement and invite them to come to a sales meeting for a discussion on safety.”

A similar incident occurred in coastal North Carolina last spring and had a better outcome thanks to safety procedures in place and adhered to. In that case, a female realtor showing a home to a 49-year-old male and was sexually assaulted at knife point and was then taken to a second home where the assaults continued. In between, however, the victim was able to call her office and use a pre-arranged code word to indicate she was in trouble. Her colleague called 911, and the police arrived and saved the victim.

The near tragic incident cast light on the always dangerous problem of Realtors showing properties, often vacant homes, or sitting at open houses by themselves with complete strangers, some of whom have a propensity for violence. Following last week’s tragedy in Arkansas, the Coastal Association of Realtors this week vowed to review and rework if necessary the safety protocols for its members.

“Beverly’s death is a horrible tragedy for her family and friends and for our profession,” said CAR Executive Director Sheila Dodson this week. “Realtors face many safety concerns just doing their day-to-day jobs including meeting unknown clients one-on-one at property showings.”

In Carter’s honor, and in recognition of September being Realtor Safety Month, CAR will be offering safety courses for its members.
“We want to make sure our member have all the tools necessary to keep them safe,” said Dodson. “Whether it’s letting the office know where you are or utilizing the Buddy System, there are lots of things that can be done to ensure their safe return from a showing.”

A poll of Realtors this week revealed most have safety protocols in place for agents showing homes to strangers by themselves or sitting on vacant open houses.

Realtor Joy Snyder of Condominium Realty-Mark Fritschle Group said she recently had an unsettling request for a meeting with a stranger and took along support.

“Recently, I received a call to show a vacant house and the interested party asked me to meet him at his house,” she said. “We scheduled the appointment for 6 p.m. while it was still daylight. I met at the vacant ‘for sale’ property accompanied by my husband. Just the request that he preferred I meet him at his house was enough to take precautions.”

Snyder outlined some of the potential dangers, particularly in the resort area.

“The one thing we’ve always emphasized is leave an itinerary on your desk and tell the office when you expect to return,” she said. “If you’re not back within 20 to 30 minutes of the time you’re supposed to be back, the office is instructed to call you on your cell.”

Snyder said there are inherent risks for agents showing properties to complete strangers and offered some absolute no-nos.

“One thing that is very dangerous is showing properties at night,” she said. “We just never do it. Another curse right now is the Internet and pictures of vacant houses for sale. You never want to have photos of a vacant house. Instead, we have a photographer shoot the house while it’s still occupied.”

Snyder said the seasonal nature of the Ocean City area’s real estate market presents unique challenges.

“One of the problems we face here is the high level of vacancies in the offseason,” she said. “Never enter a property first and always follow the client, always leave the door ajar, and never, ever go out on a balcony with a client. In most cases, we’re dealing with strangers, and as nice as they seem to be, you just never know these days.”