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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Marv and Lynn

When I was an active agent, I never showed property alone. Although he didn't like it, I would force my husband, or teenage son to ride along. I told my sellers to never let someone in their homes that were not escorted by a Realtor, and I did not sit open houses.

April 15 2011 at 6:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Safety tips are nice, but the story doesn't tell anything about this murder. I would think some explaination of the crime would be in order here.

April 15 2011 at 6:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Get a digital camera that connects to a offsite computer.....................hide the cams and post notices that the
premises is being recorded, it works ! ! ! Also, put a outside cam on the street !

Most all Malls did this years ago ! What a sad story, my sympathy to this Family and their loss !

April 14 2011 at 5:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

well i meant to state an armed plainclothes escort security officer,pehaps a retired police officer or an ex-corrections officer.

April 13 2011 at 11:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i suggest a realtor have an armed plainclothes security officer.

April 13 2011 at 11:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There was a realtor in my area which was also killed this winter by a man who had had a deal gone sour and he thought the realtor was to blame. The police did catch this man, but I believe all realtors could be in danger each time they have an open house or even showing a house.

April 13 2011 at 9:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good grief, are there ANY safe activities in America anymore? Apparently, you can run into a lunatic at any time, anywhere. We really need to address the violence in our culture, especially towards women and children. And while we're at it, maybe we need to revisit our mental healthcare system. It seems like for every one of these murderers, there were MANY warnings and nothing was done. Why do we wait until someone is murdered to take action? That's a system that doesn't work.

April 13 2011 at 7:42 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Jennifer Knisley

Have your husband act as your personal body guard as often as possible.

April 13 2011 at 5:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carolyn DiFiori Hopk

As a retired agent and broker, here is my opinion/advice for what it is worth:
#1 While many may argue this point, Open Houses in the long run do not really benefit anybody except the agent, who can maybe pick up some other business during the open house. Rarely is a house sold through an open house. Also, open houses are designed to make the seller think that the agent is actually "working" to sell their house. There are much more effective ways to promote the property. Any good agent knows this already.
#2 If you must hold an open house, never host the open house alone. Always bring someone with you. Never show the basement/attic/garage or any other space where you might get trapped.
#3 A home owner who allows an open house is asking for trouble in that the agent has no way of pre-qualifying the potential buyer. Anyone can walk into an open house! Casing the joint for a later break-in is always a possibilty.
#4 Placate the seller by hosting a "brokers open house". These are the people who will sell the house, not the noisy neighbors who just want to see how clean or dirty the sellers house is or is not.
#5 The only people who should be touring a house are pre-qualified buyers or other agents.
#6 Always meet potential buyers in your office, make a copy of their license and get their plate information. NEVER drive in their car. Always have them walk ahead of you. Showing houses isn't a fashion show. Wear sensible shoes in case you have to run. Carry PEPPER SPRAY visible on your keychain. Show the property and then get back to your oiffice for further discussion.
#6 If you have a "bad" feeling - go with your gut and get out of there. No amount of commission is worth, rape, injury or murder.
Personally, I had an expereince where vandals ran out of the back door, while I came in the front door. Fortunately I was with another agent at the time and we were okay....

April 13 2011 at 1:24 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

In response to "rp8252007",
Dazz raaight. This a conspiracy by whitey to keep us down!

April 13 2011 at 12:22 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply