The real estate industry needs to hire “secret shoppers” as part of an effort to save lives. Undercover consumers posing as prospective clients could be an integral part of how a brokerage works to improve the safety of real estate pros on the job. The “prospects” would be instructed to provide only minimal, fictitious personal information and firmly request a meeting at a property ASAP. If this study were conducted on 100 agents, how many do you think would show up at the property to meet a complete stranger with little to no advance identity verification?
Far too many for my comfort.
I suggest this not to bring shame on those who would fail such a real estate safety litmus test. I just want to wake this industry up and prevent anyone else from becoming the next Beverly Carter—my mother—the Arkansas agent who was kidnapped and murdered in cold blood. It’s been three years since her death at the hands of a couple who posed as prospective buyers interested in a vacant listing in a rural area outside Little Rock.
Mom was kidnapped on Sept. 25, 2014—during REALTOR® Safety Month—and her body was found five days later. I remember my doorbell ringing at 4:30 in the morning. I hadn’t slept in days and had been worrying nonstop. Standing at my door was a group of women, my mom’s friends and colleagues who had been saints during the confusing days after her disappearance.
“Carl, they found your mother,” one of them told me.
“Is she OK?” I asked.
“No, baby, she’s not.”
Those words haunt me to this day.
When I started speaking publicly about my mother’s death, it was to protect her. Her killers were all over the national news, and some opinionated individuals would say things like, “Only reckless agents get robbed or killed.” I was angry—and fired up. I created a real estate training course highlighting who my mother was and identifying the things she did right in her business, incorporating takeaways to help keep this tragedy from happening again to someone else. It hasn’t been easy. For the longest time, I had horrible nightmares after leading each session. It seemed to trigger my grief and trauma. But time and experience has taught me how to talk about it in a way that’s helpful, not hurtful.
Now, it has evolved into my passion. Over the past two years, I’ve been honored to have the opportunities to share my love for my mom and our industry with agents across the country. But I also know this: The topic of safety is a buzzkill. You go to training sessions expecting to be inspired and to learn new ways to be successful at selling, not to be distracted by downtrodden safety discussions. Even I lost interest when I recently had to sit through an “active shooter response” training. I know the risk is real and the lessons are important.
So what can I do—what can we do—to wake you up?
You’d be surprised to know how often someone has said right to my face: “I’m sorry about what happened to your mom, but statistically speaking, it will never happen to me.” (You can imagine the look on my face when I hear that.) Even worse, brokers have told me: “Agents are independent contractors, so it’s their responsibility to learn about safety procedures and apply them. I don’t want to be involved because I don’t want to be liable if something goes wrong.”
It’s frustrating to say the least, but I had one of the most teachable moments in my life at a recent industry event in New York. I was walking to a networking session when I bumped into a group of young professionals. We exchanged introductions, and everyone was getting along.
“What do you do?” one of them asked me.
“I’m a real estate agent, and I work to keep other agents safe,” I replied.
“Oh, so you prey upon the emotions of women so we’ll buy your safety product,” she said while rolling her eyes.
That could’ve upset me, but the thing is I see her viewpoint. There’s a lot of noise in the real estate industry—and not just around safety. Everyone has a product to sell, and the safety niche is no exception. I cringe whenever I hear safety experts say, “Everything you’ve done up to this point is wrong,” right before they shove their product in your face.
I’ve had much more success when I work to inspire change in the real estate industry rather than preach my personal tragedy to scare people. I’ve also learned that I don’t need to pitch any product; I simply need to convey my message in a compelling way. Agents who want my personal opinion on best safety practices or useful technologies will ask for it.
The third anniversary of my mother’s murder falls during REALTOR® Safety Month. September will be hectic for me between traveling and training, sharing my mother’s story. Even as I write this, I still can’t fathom that my mom was murdered while doing the job she loved so much. She was an angel among us, and I strive to honor her life and legacy with everything I do. And I want all real estate professionals to join me. Let’s fight on.