A local REALTOR® association in Indiana is stepping up efforts to arm its members with safety tools and knowledge after a real estate agent in the town of South Bend was beaten and raped inside a vacant home last week. The agent, who has not been named, was taking interior photographs of a listing around 12:45 p.m. April 20 when a masked man came into the house and attacked her, according to police and media reports. The man fled the scene before police arrived. The search for the assailant is continuing.
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The attack was the latest in a spate of violent incidents involving agents in the course of their work. Since the 2014 death of Crye-Leike agent Beverly Carter in Arkansas, the industry and the media have put more focus on the daily risks real estate professionals face.
When the Indiana agent saw her attacker coming, “she went to the basement—which is the worst thing she could have done—and that’s where he did his damage,” says Julie Alert, CEO of the Elkhart County Board of REALTORS®, which covers South Bend. The agent sustained “traumatizing injuries” to the head and shoulders, Alert adds, and was found unconscious on the basement floor after neighbors alerted police to an alarm going off at the property.
Now ECBOR is setting up a special task force, which will include members of the leadership team and community volunteers, to raise awareness about safety measures for real estate practitioners. Though the details are still being worked out, the vision is that task force members will go to individual brokerages in the area to deliver in-person safety training on a regular basis, Alert says. The hope is that it will prompt more practitioners to use the safety tools at their disposal. “I find that when you actually go and help them through the process of activating apps or setting up programs, they’ll actually use them,” Alert says.
Describing the victim as a conscientious, “worry-wart kind of person” and a seasoned real estate professional who grew up with a mother who worked as an agent for 40 years, Alert notes the incident shows that all agents are potential targets for violent crime. “It’s a horribly unfortunate situation, but it provides an opportunity for all our members to realize this can happen to them. We don’t live in Chicago, L.A., or New York; people go about their business here, and they’re not aware of their surroundings. I’m sure [the agent] went into that house and didn’t look around her.”
ECBOR is aiming to launch the task force as quickly as possible. Its creation follows a letter the Indiana Association of REALTORS® sent to members statewide after the attack, calling for a more proactive approach to REALTOR® safety. “[This incident serves] as a reminder that safety precautions are a must for real estate agents,” IAR President Cheryl Stuckwish says in the letter. “We need to raise awareness and spark safety conversations/planning in brokerage offices across the state. Not one more person should endure what this agent had to live through. Be vigilant. Stick to your office safety plan. No matter what.”
—Graham Wood, REALTOR® Magazine