The kidnapping and murder of Little Rock area real estate broker Beverly Carter has caused the real estate industry to re-examine policies and procedures in light of her death.
Carter was last seen Thursday before showing a home near Little Rock. She was found Tuesday (Sept. 30) in a shallow grave at a concrete company northeast of Little Rock. She was 49.
According to Emily Morgan, director of public relations at the Arkansas Realtors Association, Carter's murder has been a "big reality check."
"As far as updating our policies, we definitely are. This is been a big reality check. We have a lot of our leadership coming in today to meet with our CEO and implement new policies statewide," she said.
While it is up to each real estate agent and broker to implement a safety plan, Morgan said the ARA works with local Realtor boards to provide training statewide.
"Many of them hold classes and many boards have office safety plans that they give new agents and brokers."
The Association issued this statement Tuesday (Sept. 30): “On behalf of the Arkansas REALTORS Association, we would like to extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to Beverly Carter’s family. Words cannot express how truly sorry we are that this tragedy has happened. Though not every REALTOR in Arkansas may have known her, we all feel a deep connection with her as a part of our REALTOR family.
“We feel an obligation to re-educate our members on best safety practices and plan to implement a statewide, if not nationwide, safety plan. It is our goal to make sure that all REALTORS have the information and means to keep themselves safe during showings, open houses and in their day-to-day business.”
Vickie Davis, a realtor with Sagely & Edwards Realtors in Fort Smith, said she always makes sure to notify her husband, son or mother where she will be, much like Carter had done with her husband before going on the showing that result in her death. But Davis said she has another way to let her family know where she is at all times.
"On my cell phone, I have the 'Find My Phone' app, so they can usually track me wherever I am," she said.
Davis said there were other simple steps she took to protect herself on the job, such as listening to the needs of the client and listening to your own instincts.
"Whenever you're talking to someone on the phone and have a few red flags, in that case you have them meet you at the office first. Some Realtors even ask you to fill out forms and show a drivers license," she said.
MEET PEOPLE FIRST
Aimee Edens, an agent with Chuck Fawcett Realty in Fort Smith, said that was exactly the procedure followed at her agency if agents and brokers do not know potential clients.
"When we show a house to someone or someone calls in and wants to see a house and it’s someone we don't know, we meet them at the office first and take a copy of their drivers license," she said. "A lot of times people who don't want to come in, we don't show them the house. We try to meet with our people first and find out what they're looking for. People who are serious about looking for a house will come in."
Edens said another step to protect herself includes not entering a vacant property with a client.
"A lot of times what we'll do is unlock the property and let them go in and look around. We wait outside of the property," she said, adding that repeat customers such as investors are treated a little differently since the client is known and would likely be less of a risk.
In spite of all the training and available resources for agents, the ARA's Morgan said an incident had occurred in the Fort Smith region within the last several years involving realtor safety. Davis recalled the incident while contemplating Carter's murder.
"We have an agent that works for us now that was assaulted and raped many years ago. It's not anything new," Davis said. "I've known some people who have had problems over the years. But you try to look at what you can eliminate as far as a risk factor."
CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT
Edens said Chuck Fawcett agents often will team up for a showing to ensure safety. Other agents have resorted to carrying weapons to protect themselves from potential predators.
"Several agents in our office have a concealed carry (permit) and I am considering it. I've talked about it with my broker, especially after what has happened, about getting that conceal and carry permit."
But Edens said the Carter murder will be a reminder for agents at her office of best practices in the real estate field.
"Probably what we'll do, and what we've done in the past, is we have training meetings about once a week and we'll discuss safety. It's something we do often and try to reinforce so our realtors aren't going to houses just by themselves with people we don't know."
Vickie Briolat, a broker with Crye-Leike Real Estate in Bentonville, is proud to have a concealed carry permit, but is not sure in some situations it could protect her, which is why agents need to follow measures of safety protocol when there is a higher element of danger.
“It takes two hands to open a lock. I have my phone in one hand scanning in the code and the other hand on the lock box to retrieve the key and my back is to the buyer. Even if you have a concealed carry weapon and are packing, it’s likely in your purse which is on your shoulder or locked up in car,” Briolat said.
THE ‘RED FILE’
Briolat said the terrible crime against Carter could have just as easily been against any number of agents including herself.
“It’s been a huge wake-up call for everyone. Crye-Leike has long advocated for agent safety instituting a ‘Red File’ program years ago. The procedure hangs in our Bentonville office and we have had several meetings on safety in recent years,” Briolat told The City Wire.
The “Red File” procedure requires agents to meet prospective buyers at the office first, where they can obtain copies of their drivers licenses, which are put into a red file folder along with the addresses of the properties to be shown that day. Briolat said any time an agent is uncomfortable with a client they can call the office or an agent and say they forgot the red file, which is a trigger that they need backup.
“We have this protocol, but we all have made exceptions. If someone called to say they wanted to pay cash for a $250,000 listing, it’s in our nature to jump toward that opportunity,” she said.
Briolat added that on the listing side of the business, at least two times in recent months when she has felt uncomfortable going into deep rural areas, she has provided that listing to a male colleague.
“The reason I passed on two listings is because I did not feel comfortable going to those remote locations by myself several times a week. There is no amount of money that will compensate for that feeling of uneasiness. Sometimes you have to draw the line for yourself, because we are independent contractors and at the end of the day it’s our decision,” Briolat said.
One insight Briolat gained from the tragedy is that she will no longer use her photo on her business cards. She believes perhaps Carter was first targeted because of a prominent photo used by the victim.
Nicky Dou, a broker with Keller Williams in Bentonville, also has a high level visibility throughout various social media formats that she uses in her business. Dou told The City Wire she will continue to use her photo, because she can’t live in fear. That said, she adds that in the future she will be better prepared and cautious.
“This very well could have been me or any one of us. My thoughts and prayers go out to Beverly's family and friends. It has definitely had a huge impact on me and my daily activities,” Dou said.
Briolat said the buddy system is important for agents who spend a lot of time alone in the car or at listings. She said it’s important to keep cell phones charged and have someone who can text them at regular intervals to check in. That is the procedure she and her husband have followed for several years.
Like other agents, Dou said this incident has her considering a concealed carry weapon permit.