Finding Purpose After Tragedy: 7 Tips for Staying Safe

The murders of REALTORS® Ashley Okland and Beverly Carter shook the industry. Today, their loved ones have found purpose in sharing strategies for keeping real estate professionals safe on the job.
Safety roses
Session attendees were given a pink rose with a quick-reference safety guide attached.

Ashley Okland was hosting an open house in a West Des Moines townhouse when she was shot and killed in April 2011. The case remains unsolved. In September 2014, Beverly Carter was kidnapped from a private showing in the outskirts of Little Rock, Arkansas—targeted because her captors believed she was “a rich broker who worked alone.” Carter was killed after a failed ransom attempt. These two cases have brought the issue of REALTOR® safety to the foreground.

Speaking in an emotional session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Francisco, Carter’s son, Carl Carter Jr., and Okland’s friend, Jen Stanbrough, offered seven strategies for keeping real estate professionals safe while engaging in typical daily activities.

  1. Meet first in a public place. Carter cautioned that “bad guys fit no discernible profile.” By insisting upon an in-person, pre-showing buyer consultation in a public place, agents can verify the identities of new contacts and remove the sense of anonymity.
  2. Collect identification and personal information. Agents should fill out a client profile form for each new contact, so key information and insights are close at hand. Red flags may become more apparent if contacts begin requesting showings at locations that are outside the parameters they have previously set. Stanbrough also recommends that agents take a photo of each contact’s driver’s license and keep it with their records.
  3. Share your appointment details. Stanbrough mentioned that her husband and assistant have access to her Google calendar. Within each appointment, she details the listing address, the name of the client she’ll be meeting, and the times she expects to arrive and depart.
  4. Use a listing safety form. Stanbrough shared the Des Moines Area Association of REALTORS® listing safety form, which gives sellers the option to permit showings to identified buyers only. Many sellers, she said, are surprised to hear that agents may otherwise arrive at the house for a showing with strangers they haven’t met previously. Sellers may be inclined to agree to this protocol, Stanbrough said, when they understand that it protects both their property and the agent they’ve hired.
  5. Leverage real-time safety tactics. Even if real estate practitioners follow all these safety protocols, Carter said, they may still have that “Spidey sense” that something isn’t right while hosting an open house or attending a private showing. He referenced one preferred tactic, which is to say, “I just wanted to let you know that in the property description, they said they have an Alexa device and they’re actually recording right now, so just keep your comments about the house to yourselves until we’re outside.” In that moment, the perception of anonymity is lost—and so is the opportunity to commit a crime without a trail of evidence.
  6. Have a signal. Carter mentioned a “rapid-fire” communication system comprised entirely of emojis. This allows agent to communicate their current status via text with someone who knows their whereabouts. An agent can send a single emoji that indicates they are safe or unsafe and in need of help.
  7. Trust your instincts. Carter also stressed that practitioners should never ignore their instincts. Before her final showing, Beverly Carter noted a red flag coming from her new clients, whom she had not yet met in person. They requested to see a run-down foreclosure in a rural area, which didn’t seem to match their previous conversations. “My mom didn’t want to show this property,” Carter said. So, on the spot, she made up a company policy that agents from her brokerage were not permitted to show a home alone in a rural area. When the wife of the couple stated she would be present for the showing, Carter agreed to meet them there. The wife never arrived, and her husband went on to kidnap Carter after she let him into the house to view the property.

In the Absence of Answers, a Need for Purpose

“I used to believe that everything happens for a reason, but I’m not able to believe that anymore,” Stanbrough said. “But in the absence of explanation, there can still be purpose.”

Together, Stanbrough and Carter’s purpose is to educate and advocate for REALTOR® safety. The number one thing real estate professionals can do, they say, is to keep the conversation going and to create ingrained habits that protect them from being the target of criminals.