The Takeaway with Nobu Hata, Staying Safe as a Real Estate Agent with Carl Carter

Real estate professionals can find themselves at risk if they don't systematically keep safety top of mind while meeting customers. Carl Carter, Jr., a real estate agent in central Arkansas whose mother, Beverly Carter, also an agent, was slain in a botched kidnapping by people posing as real estate customers, talks about ways agents can stay safe and also about a foundation that's been created to promote agent safety.

The Takeaway With Nobu Hata is an audio podcast series. It features in-depth discussions on business-building tips that successful real estate pros are using in the field.

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Nobu Hata, NAR Director of Member Engagement: Welcome to the Takeaway. This is Nobu Hata, Director of Member Engagement for the National Association of REALTORS®. We are on the Takeaway to talk about one topic when it comes to the real estate business. Today, I am very honored to have Carl Carter on our show today. It is one of those watershed moments, Carl, when it comes to agent safety and the death of your mother. Carl, you are a new REALTOR®?  Tell everybody where you are in this world.

Carl Carter, sales associate, EXP Realty, Little Rock, Ark.: Well, first I can’t thank you enough for having me on the show today. I am in the central part of the great state of Arkansas. I am a new agent; however, I was raised around the business. My mom had been in the business about a dozen years or so when she was taken from us. I’m not only fully fired up about the industry, but I’m fired up about agents’ safety. I truly mean it whenever I say it. I do not want what happened to my mom to ever happen again.

 I think many agents out there know what happened to my mom, but as a quick reminder, in the fall of 2014, my mom went to meet two people that she thought were clients. They had built this entire story. They had been calling, texting, emailing, and giving out their background information to her and expressed interest in a property. My mom had no reason to believe this would be any different from a standard business transaction. She was kidnapped because of her perceived wealth and held for ransom. When the kidnappers began to realize their plan was not working, they decided to end her life.

 I have found great therapy in speaking to people about ways they can stay safe, such as collaborating with others, learning from each other rather than inciting fear or paranoia in the industry, rallying together, and, most importantly, to keep safety as a top priority.

NH: I truly believe, as a former agent and now a current NAR staff member, that Beverly’s death, although a tragedy, proved to be a watershed moment for this industry. I speak for all organized real estate when I say this: I appreciate your strength and the way you transformed this horrible event into a drive for change in terms of real estate industry safety. This is a touchy topic for me as well. In the past, I have had a gun pointed at me during a showing, and this possibility is one of those things that we all should be conversant about as agents. I really do want to thank you for spending time with me today.

CC: I appreciate you, my friend.

NH: Wow, so you are a new agent in this business and a child of a REALTOR®. Frankly, you’ve been in this business since you were a kid. Now that you are selling every day, let’s talk about it from your unique prospective. What is it about leads and, thinking of people as leads, that makes you turn your brain off when it comes to safety? Is it just this whole rush that we have to hurry up and meet people? Or we’re concerned we’re going to lose them as clients? What do you think is the crux of this issue?  

CC:  You know, to your point of being a new agent, I think I really have encountered two things so far that are just kind of burning learning opportunities for me. One, it’s a little pricey to break into the business. And so, I’m sitting there doing my pre-license work, with different fees that are associated with it, and I’m like, “Oh, my goodness.” There’s this pressure to quickly recoup this personal investment. So, you’ve got a little of that coupled with the possibility there might not be a sale. As an agent, you want to show to yourself that you can do this new endeavor. When the phone rings, you want to be the best agent. You want to build confidence as you interact with potential clients. One of the things that my mom used to say, “In this business, you fake it until you make it.”  I always thought this was so funny. But I heard a number of other agents say the big learning curve is found in managing the client relationship properly (on the front end). This concept means a lot to me. I learned that in addition to safety, it is crucial to know how the client is representing themselves, and are they who they say they are. An agent must consider if they believe the potential client is genuinely interested in acquiring or selling. The agent must also determine if the individual has the financial means to begin this real estate process. These two considerations can help the agent weigh the pros and cons of a potential client, protecting them from wasting their professional time. If something does not quite add up, there are worst-case scenarios to consider, including what happened to my mother.

NH: I did not know that these people tried to foster somewhat of a relationship with your mother beforehand. The various media of communication seemed to portray that these were very interested buyers. This leads us to the question, should we rush out to show a given home? These fake buyers reached out to your mom in many different ways, perhaps to ensure her nothing was out of the ordinary. This speaks volumes about, no matter what you do as an agent, broker, or as a team leader, the relationship needs to be offline before you even go out and show these homes, don’t you?

CC: Absolutely. You know, and to give a little more background on my mom’s situation, we can learn a lot from how they reached out to my mom. They told this story that they were relocating from another state and in order to further this lie, they used a smart phone app that would mask their phone number. This app created a number to match an out-of-state number, even though they were right down the road.  It is a cautionary tale, that we must remind ourselves that a phone number doesn’t necessarily mean anything anymore and I think we’re realizing this. We see now that even telemarketers have found sneaky ways of get calls to appear like they are local. Another reminder is to be cautious with email addresses. An agent could be getting an email that has a client’s name on it, but that could be fake. The kidnappers set up fictitious email addresses that matched the names that they were giving her. They had analyzed her marketing and come to the conclusion that she was a beautiful and wealthy woman. They had taken her name and searched county records and then built this scenario in their own minds, that she was wealthy. They had identified where she lived through those country records, the property value of the home she lived in, and they really thought they struck a gold mine in that they thought they would get a lot of money from my dad.

NH: Wow, that is a lot to take in. Has this changed the way you think about the amount of information you share online and on social media? These days, a lot of information is shared with both friends you know and people you don’t know.  After what happened to your mom, does it change your opinion on how to go into a sale as an agent?

CC: You know, there are some lessons that I can say honestly I have taken to heart and I have learned from. One being, I definitely practice what I preach, in that I will meet a client in the office or in a public place beforehand. I have had potential buyers who walk away from me and undoubtedly go to another agent because they would have to meet me first. To your point about what I share online, I sometimes will have lapses in judgment. I will go to Facebook and I will be out to a great dinner with the family and I post a picture of my whole family, including my kids. Afterwards, it can bring about an eerie feeling because of the publicity of mom’s case. I can’t go to the grocery store without people knowing who I am. People will come to me in the grocery store and will say, “Oh that’s such a cute picture of your family at dinner last night!” I have no idea who they are and it’s just those moments like, “Carl, do better man!” There are people watching that you don’t know and granted those moments can be harmless. Then you’re like, “Ugh” what about those individuals that may not have pure intentions? I’m a work in progress and I’ll admit that.

NH: There really is a line between humanizing yourself as a real estate person, showing off family, showing off the things that you’re passionate about versus that whole idea about when safety comes into play. For the folks you don’t know, that is something that the real estate industry is grappling with now. I think everybody is dealing with this as a result. It is the safest practice to meet someone you have had brief professional contact with in the office first. Do you use real-world issues like, “Hey, I don’t know you from Adam. I would like to meet you first!” What kind of objections do you get and how do you fight that? This is an issue that a lot of agents are experiencing right now.

CC: Yeah, and I can empathize more than ever with agents on this particular topic. Before I was in real estate, I was like, “Guys, have them meet you. It’s not a big of a deal!” Now I’m realizing as a male I have to be extra cautious. If a female reaches out to me and she’s interested in a property and I say, “Hey!” I have to be very careful on how I phrase that because if I say, “I would love to treat you to a public coffee to better understand your goals or whatever it is that you are seeking to do here.” We run the risk of seeming like, is this agent on the up and up? Or she may feel as though he is trying to take her on a date. I’m interested in a business transaction but my office is not always the most convenient place to meet. I really have to communicate carefully. I don’t want to, especially the first time I talk to someone, to twist and be like, “Well, hi, my name is Carl! Oh, and by the way this horrible thing happened to my mom, so can I guilt you into meeting me in a public place?” That is awkward, and I don’t want to do that. Most recently, I’ve said, “Hey, let’s meet briefly.”  I don’t even offer the beverage anymore. I ask them if we can meet briefly in a public place of their choosing. This is for your safety and mine and once we briefly meet, we will go on over to the property. This seems to work a little better for me because they’re like, “Okay, this is about safety and not about somebody trying to get me to sign something or a high-pressure sales pitch that I can’t escape.”  It is tough…

NH: And that’s what I don’t understand: tip toeing around being offensive or inappropriate. You have to start by explaining the interaction in terms of safety. You don’t want to leave with a hole in the ground either. That is one of those things you know it’s going to be up to us to infuse safety into these daily processes. This is the only industry that I know where a seller will welcome a stranger, a real estate agent, who sometimes has another stranger with him, into his home. When you think about it, it’s just such a crazy way to think about how showings work in real estate now. This whole idea about incorporating safety into the process and being upfront about it is something that we should all execute, don’t you think?

CC: I whole heartedly agree and we can all unify and support each other. We don’t want to be the agent down the street that has no safety or screening protocol on the front end so that people will come to you. I think the more unified agents are, the better off we will be. This sense of togetherness could reshape some of the industry.

NH: Yeah, and you do it on your own as an agent, as a broker, and as a team leader. Do you think that technology could save people’s lives? Can you give an opinion on that?

CC: I do have a strong opinion on it. I think it can be a great tool. I don’t think it’s for everyone. Similar to the idea that, I don’t think carrying a gun is not for everyone. I don’t think that’s a total fix, anyway. One of the tough things about these top conversations about safety is the solutions are very complex. Whenever I tell my mom’s story, I realize she did so much right. We can teach a whole class about what Beverly Carter did right. However, there were key points along the way that it could’ve gone differently. A different decision could’ve been made. A better process could’ve been implemented. I’m in no way blaming the victim because she’s precious and I love her. There are things that we can learn from my mom’s story. She turned around from taking a photo to text the bad guy’s wife, and then suddenly there was a roll of duct tape and a Taser. If your business process led you to that point, it’s game over.  There’s not a panic button on the app. If it’s the jewelry or some device that you can press button potentially or whatever the solution may be. If you’re in that deep, it’s game over for you. At that point, she was taken from us, so I have a real hard time with it. It is like the myth deployment of one solution, when I know full well that, whenever I’m looking at the audience of these precious people, who want to work hard and go home to their families in the evening, I know that a vast majority of them they have their own styles. They implement their own processes that will work for them and remembering to trigger a timer before they go into a showing is not going to work and I think we have to be real with it. It’s not going to work for everyone.

NH: Yeah, every situation is going to be different. If you were to boil it down to one thing, what is one thing, whether you’re a broker, a team leader, or an agent. Is there one thing that you would recommend everyone do? It could be before or during or after a meeting. Is there one thing that you would recommend folks do now, from the outside looking in, as a new agent that these folks can instill safety into their day-to-day routine?

CC: It’s hard to say one thing. If I have to say one thing, it’s going to go back to the point I mentioned earlier about developing a process to help you determine that you know the person with whom you are working. You begin to get to know your client, and you build a relationship. Once you meet them in person, get somebody in the room. Shift and adjust your process to see how sound it is. You know, I hear of processes that some agents around the country are very proud of. They explain that they will never meet a client unless they send me a picture of their driver’s license. Well, if we’re all in the room, we’ll kick that one idea around. If you’ve never seen the person, you can’t even know if the driver’s license picture that they are sending you is correct. You have to verify everything to build accountability with the potential client. I’ll tell you what, the win-win of it is, you are safer and, not only that, but many times you’re going to keep yourself from spending a lot of time and energy with people who aren’t really at the stage that they should be for reaching out to an agent.

NH: Yeah, that’s great! An accountability process is a fantastic thing and accountability in all things in real estate is a beautiful thing. Tell us about the Beverly Carter Foundation? What have you been doing with the legacy of your mother’s memory, when it comes to doing good in the real estate industry?

CC: Well, I’ll tell you a little bit of history that led me to create the Beverly Carter Foundation. It wasn’t long after we loss mom. I had the opportunity to take the stage in 2015 at the NAR Legislative Meetings. I was on the stage briefly. The president at the time was so kind to honor my mom. I was given ten minutes to share a few thoughts. This moment opened up a lot of other opportunities for me to speak to various groups around the country. This was an intense time. I don’t even think my mom’s funeral had taken place yet and people were already saying this is so tragic. Are you going to start a foundation? It’s like, “What? No…just because she died tragically doesn’t mean there has to be a foundation.”

However, through all of these speaking opportunities I’ve had to talk about safety, I started to see recurrence. You know, I talk to groups and then a handful of these amazing agents come up to me after and they say things like, “Hey, I’m really glad that you are here. This is a timely topic.” And some of them say I was victimized in some way. You know some ladies even confided in me. Some ladies have even been raped. When someone comes to you and they lay a secret, even if it’s not a secret, when they lay something so heavy at your feet there’s this responsibility. I feel like that goes along with it. We need to keep talking about this, even though it’s not my nature to be out there trying to be this spooky guy. But we want agents to realize, ‘Hey, guys, we care about you. That’s why we are here!” And so on it went with getting to know people and seeing trends in some associations and brokerages. These trends were emerging and I was like, “You know, I can see where we can help. We can get this message in front of people and keep the conversation going.” People would say time and time again we either want to implement a safety program for our board or association, but we really don’t know where to get started. NAR has created the most incredible things out there. I actually pushed those resources. I travel and train but there’s an asterisk; no one in a local office might feel comfortable speaking about it or taking it as their passion to do social media campaigns. With the foundation, we applied for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and it came back almost immediately. We have been in a flurry of activity geared toward building great training programs that are relevant, portable, and scalable. The training programs have a lot of value to me, because I want this for my mother’s legacy. I think it’s most important for associations and boards at every level to be able to take anything that’s created and own it. And if that’s putting their own branding and completely taking something over, by all means, then so be it. Create good will among your agents and let your agents know you care about them. Another piece that is equally important. are these sweet victims that I’ve met, I want to know before I go to a state event what the resources are in that state so that, heaven forbid, someone shares a secret with me, I can get them assistance . And if there isn’t a lot of assistance then I look at what the Beverly Carter Foundation can do to fund what they need, whether it’s counseling or financial assistance. This can help them get back on their feet. It can be hard to get back in the business and be as active as they were. That’s the long of it, but I do get fired up about it and I think we’re going to do a lot of good things.

NH: That’s amazing! To have the ability—to have that resource—to not only help the industry but to help people recover from anything that might’ve happened. You’ve done some great work, Carl. Thank you so much for everything.  I respect everything that you are doing and again. I speak from the industry when I say this: Thank you from the bottom of all of our hearts for doing the hard work that needs to get done.

CC: I can’t thank you enough!

NH: That’s awesome! Again, for anybody listening the link to the ____ take the measures on nar.org along with links to the Beverly Carter Foundation.

The Takeaway

The Beverly Carter Foundation is dedicated to making the profession safer for all real estate agents.

About Our Speakers

Carl Carter is the son of a former REALTOR®, and is now a a real estate agent himself in central Arkansas.

Nobu Hata is the director of digital engagement for the National Association of REALTORS®. Before joining NAR, he was a real estate agent with Edina Realty in Minnesota. The self-described geek has called Alaska and Minnesota home. Now, he’s in in Chicago or on the road meeting with REALTORS® and association executives to talk about NAR, their business, and the integration of digital technologies in the real estate industry.

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