Murder of Iowa Realtor Sparks Safety Concerns

The shooting death of an Iowa real estate agent during a model-home showing raises safety concerns for other agents and even for-sale-by-owner sellers.

Ashley Okland, a 27-year-old Realtor with Iowa Realty, died at a hospital Friday evening after receiving two gunshot wounds that afternoon in the model townhome at Stone Creek Villas, a relatively new community of homes built by Rottlund Homes. Her broker and other local agencies canceled many Saturday and Sunday open houses in response.

"It's unfortunate that it takes such a horrible tragedy to increase awareness," Kurt Schade, president of the Iowa Association of Realtors, told the Des Moines Register.

Members of the Des Moines Area Association of Realtors met Monday to discuss safety concerns and plan to hire safety experts to meet with real estate agents to discuss how they can better protect themselves. Iowa Realty posted its own safety site for agents,

Open houses are not just a concern for Realtors, but also for anyone trying to sell a home without one (see our story "FSBO: 13 Safety Tips for Home Sellers)." And it's not just personal safety, either: open houses can also be an invitation to burglars.

When it comes to safety, especially as we approach a more active buying season, here are some tips the National Association of Realtors recommends to its members. These are geared toward real estate professionals, but they're good precautions for FSBO home sellers too.

1. Check in.

When you have a new client, ask him or her to stop by your office and complete a Prospect Identification Form. Also, photocopy their driver's license and retain this information at your office. Be certain to properly discard this personal information when you no longer need it.

2. Keep it light.

Show properties before dark. If you are going to be working after hours, advise your associate or first-line supervisor of your schedule, as well as relatives you live with. If you must show a property after dark, arrive early to turn on all lights beforehand, and don't lower any shades or draw curtains or blinds. Keep in mind that foreclosures might not have electricity turned on, and you should avoid showing these properties at dusk or after dark.

3. Don't get parked in.

When showing property or meeting someone, park your car in front of the property rather than in the driveway. In the event of an attack, you will avoid having your car blocked in and have an easier time escaping in your vehicle, You can also attract more attention by running and screaming to your car at the curb.

4. Bring up the rear.

When showing a home, always have your prospect walk in front of you. Don't lead them, but rather, direct them from a position slightly behind them. You can gesture for them to go ahead of you and say, for example, "The master suite is in the back of the house."

5. Plan ahead with escape routes.

Upon entering a house for the first time, check each room and determine at least two "escape" routes. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked for easy access to the outside.

6. Don't be too public.

Limit the amount of personal information you share. Consider advertising without using your photograph, home phone number or home address in the newspaper or on business cards. Use your office address -- or list no address at all. Also avoid mentioning where you live or your vacation plans.

7. Don't use your full name.

Use only your first initial and last name on "For Sale" signs to prevent anyone other than a personal acquaintance or current client asking for you by name.

8. Be mindful of groups.

At an open house, be alert to visitors' comings and goings, especially near the end of showing hours. Police have reported about groups of criminals who target open houses, showing up en masse near the end of the showing.

Lt. James Barrett, a spokesman for West Des Moines police, said investigators believe the suspect they are looking for in the Okland case is a real estate agent, and they are hopeful that other real estate agents may be able to identify the killer. The reward for information leading to an arrest has swelled to $11,500, reported the Register.

Sheree R. Curry
, who has owned three homes and used to live in Des Moines, is a three-time award-winning journalist who has covered real estate for six years. During her 20-year career, her articles have appeared regularly in the
Wall Street Journal, TV Week, and Fortune. She's been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009 from a Minneapolis-area rental. She seeks a book publisher -- or at least a lender who'll give a reasonable mortgage rate to a self-employed mom.

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