The wife of Cutler Realty agent Andrew VonStein, 51, notified the sheriff shortly before 4 a.m. that her husband was missing. She also called the car's OnStar service, which in turn called the car, but did not get a response, according to news reports. Tracking the vehicle through the OnStar GPS system, deputies found the car in the driveway of the vacant home.
In Youngstown, where the owner of Essence Realty was discovered on the kitchen floor in a burning home on Monday, police are treating the death of 67-year-old Vivian Martin as a homicide. She had gone there to meet a client. It was originally thought that the home burned due to a gas explosion, but WFMJ-TV reported that the gas to the vacant home was shut off and thus not the cause.
In a possibly similar case in Corona, Calif., a man was convicted Tuesday of the rape and attempted murder of a real estate agent that he'd lured into a foreclosed home. Jurors deliberated less than two hours before finding 36-year-old Shawn David Yates guilty of seven felonies, including kidnapping, rape and robbery, in the March 2008 attack on an Orange County real estate agent.
While one can never blame the victims for these kind of crimes, there are precautions that agents can take to lessen the risk of exposure to robbery and violent attack, and that also goes for FSBO sellers and homebuyers.
How common are such crimes? At a time in the 1990s when unemployment was also high, there was a wave of real estate agent slayings which HousingWatch wrote about this year in "Fatal Transaction: Gruesome Tales of Real Estate Murders." In it, HousingWatch also looked at eight real estate agents slain during this decade.
The National Association of Realtors' Annual Safety Week was observed just last week. During this time agents across the country were being reminded of safety strategies. Here are some tips the NAR recommends.
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.
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.
For more on home security, home selling and related topics see these AOL Real Estate guides:
- Home Security Systems With Cutting Edge Protection
- How to Choose a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home
- Top Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent
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