Opinion Editorials

Minding Realtor safety may seem paranoid, but losing friends is worse

First anniversary of two lives lost

As we approach September, we are being reminded that it will be Realtor Safety month from all different kinds of avenues. Sites like AGBeat are running stories, Governors will be declaring September Real Estate Safety Month, emails will be going out from NAR, and additional continuing education classes focusing on self-defense and being safe on the job are being offered across the country. While it’s awesome to have a month devoted to safety ideas being promoted by our industry, it’s vital that we remember to implement the practices, procedures, and precautions with us every single day. If we need a reminder as to why, we only have to look back to September a year ago, when two Ohio Realtors were murdered within a week of each other while showing properties.

Last September, within less than 24 hours of each other, Vivian Martin and Andy VonStein were both killed, in unrelated instances, while showing property.  Vivian was showing a rental property in Youngstown, OH when she was attacked. She was strangled, and the home was set on fire. The thugs, who murdered Vivian, were also wanted for robbery of another agent in the area, which occurred about a week before the killing. In Andy’s case, he was shot in the chest, and left in the basement of a vacant home in a crazy revenge trip from a perceived deal that had gone bad, years before. All the assailants were tracked quite swiftly, and detained.

Losing a coworker is life changing

For some, these murders may seem atypical occurrences, things that will never happen during the course of doing business. For the Realtors in my company, including myself, they are horrific crimes that hit way too close to home. Andy worked mostly out of my office, and I had known him for years, before I was even licensed. Vivian, a broker, and longtime Realtor, reminded me that we all can be extremely vulnerable in showing situations.

There is no way to prevent every single crime.  However, by taking precautions, being smart in our actions, and not becoming complacent, we can limit the exposure to potential violence.  We can utilize tools, such as the mobile app that AG partner Moby offers. If, as in this area, many court websites are updated instantly, we can do relatively quick checks on potential clients to see if they have been busted for anything. 

One preventative step: Google

With Google or other search engines, we can look up people, phone numbers, and even companies and find out scores of information. Prior to showing a home, at the initial meeting with a client, we can first greet them at our office, during business hours. Others will know who we are with, what they look like, and we can take this opportunity to copy driver’s licenses, and write down plate numbers. On every single showing, or when we are out on the road, we txt or call someone to let them know where we are and who will be with us. We can have a friend go with us to properties. There are a variety of self-defense and safety CE classes that are available, as well as carrying mace, pepper spray, or a weapon, if things do go bad on showings.

If it saves one life…

Some of these things may seem over-reactive, or paranoid-ish. If we have to be a little paranoid, if we have to take the time to research before rushing out and showing properties to people we don’t know, then so be it. Safety is no accident. Preventing even one violent crime is worth taking a few minutes to think about what we’re doing before acting. Having been on the receiving end of a phone call saying a friend and fellow Realtor has been murdered, is one of the most horrid things to go through. It would have been much worse for me, however, if I had been the victim.



  1. "Tracey, the Safety Lady"

    September 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Katie, thank you for the important reminder! I am a former agent and now I teach agent safety. This is my passion. It is sad to read about crimes against agents. I agree with you, education is the key to helping prevent these types of crimes. I am often surprised that all companies/boards/associations don't value and schedule safety training. It should be mandatory!

    Agents have to change their way of thinking. Yes, it is inconvenient to take the extra step to have the client come into the office first. Yes, it is hard to find an agent to go with you to show a property when you feel uncomfortable. Yes, open houses are good for business, but dangerous… You can take the danger out of the job, with some education and hard work.

    • Kathleen Cosner

      September 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Tracey, here, usually twice a year our local BOR does offer a great safety class that includes some self-defense and education. More would be nice though, as (I think) people tend to become complacent when these issues aren't talked about, and some of the free education can be outdated.

      And I agree with you!!!

  2. "Tracey, the Safety Lady"

    September 1, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I applaud you and BOR! You are really the exception. Most don't have one program, let alone two! I know, I speak to them and they tell me they are not interested, they would rather schedule programs to increase sales. They tell me there is no budget for safety training… Really? Katie, you are insightful and hit the nail on the head, agents become complacent after the stories about these crimes fade away. I firmly belive in being proactive. Let's not wait for a crime to happen or only focus on safety during Safety Month. I host an agent safety group on Linked In. The numbers have increased since the murder in Iowa this past spring. I share stories about these crimes, I give tips and advice and I ask agents to share their stories and safety tips. Is it possible to share the link here?

    • Kathleen Cosner

      September 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      That's sad that BOR's don't want to be involved. There should always be $$ for CE. From what I understand the one here gets a good turnout.

  3. Liz Benitez

    September 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    A little over a year ago maybe a few month, I had decided I was going to be more careful. I stopped meeting first time clients at homes, even if they were just down the street or on my way home. I make them meet me at the office, I sit down get their contact information (even if they already gave it to me on the phone), and make a copy of their license. I actually had another realtor give me a hard time because I would not show her property to a call in that refused to meet me at the office. She said I was being paranoid. Then we heard about the Ohio murders and I was very glad I held out.

    • Kathleen Cosner

      September 2, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      Liz, you are so correct in doing what you're doing, and awesome for holding your ground with the other agent!

  4. Devin O'Branagan

    September 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Katie, so thrilled you wrote this post!

    I am a real estate agent and a novelist. One of my bestselling novels, RED HOT PROPERTY, is a seriocomic tale about a group of rookie Realtors. It explores the highs, lows, and dangers of the profession.

    Tragically, in an unexpected plot twist, one of the rookies in RED HOT PROPERTY is murdered while showing property. The National Association of Realtors was so taken by the safety message of the book that they featured it and an interview with me during Safety Week the year the book was released (2008). Rick DeLuca endorsed the book. I've been asked to appear at real estate conventions to promote it, and I've been invited to speak at many real estate office sales meetings. Real estate schools throughout the country recommend it to their students. Owner/Brokers buy the book to give to their agents. I hope some of your readers will check it out as well.

    Here is a link to a page on my website that I devote to Realtors and their reactions to this book. It also has a link to the NAR interview with me that REALTOR Magazine ran:

    Because the book is a novel, and on the surface a very funny novel, the tragedy it reveals is powerful. It has an emotional impact that a dry list of safety tips lack.

    If you would like a copy of it for review, please contact me.

    Please help me spread the word.I believe this is a book all real estate professionals should read. Thanks so much!

  5. James Shaw

    September 18, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I'll be contacting your Editor directly too, but I wanted to say here that it is my company's new mission to give a free pepper spray to every woman in America.. I started with students at local colleges in Austin and now I want to approach local Realtors. Hopefully very shortly I can be handing out free pepper sprays here and quickly expand the giveaways elsewhere.

    You can read more about our mission on our website. Thanks for a great article Katie!

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