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Ohio Realtor killed, NAR highlights agent safety issues

Last week, the death of Youngstown, Ohio Realtor Vivian Martin was ruled a homicide after her body was recovered from a vacant home that was burned to cover evidence.

Also in Ohio, Realtor Andrew VonStein was found in a vacant home he had shown that night, dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest. Police are considering this case a homicide as well.

“Our hearts go out to the families and friends of our lost colleagues, and this tragic situation highlights the unfortunate fact that REALTORS are exposed to threats against their personal safety more often than other professionals. Although there is no guaranteed method to protect yourself, being safe starts with a plan and attitude and ends with utilizing the right tools to get you home to your loved ones at the end of the day,” Rob Goehring, Co-Founder of (a personal alert tool which we recently covered).

The saddening list goes on…

Last week in Orange County, California, a man was convicted of rape and attempted murder after jurors deliberated for under two hours about the 2008 attack.

In 2006, Sarah Ann Walker was stabbed 27 times in an open house in McKinney, Texas.

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In 2007, Samuel D’Costa was shot twice and left for dead in a basement of a home he was showing, and his car was stolen.

Last summer, Ricardo Contreras was discovered stabbed multiple times at a bank owned home in Westchester, California.

This year, James A. Hole, accused of robbing, beating, and strangling Cambridge Wisconsin Realtor Ann Wilson changed his plea to not guilty for reason of mental disease. The heartbreaking list goes on.

Real estate may seem like a cushy job from the outside, but from the inside, it’s not only a grueling pace that cuts into weekends and makes vacations nearly impossible, it’s a career that puts people alone outside of the public eye, making agents vulnerable. None of this is news, it is taught in real estate schools across the nation and it is an unfortunate truth agents live with.

What can be done to stop this

The National Association of Realtors is promoting Realtor safety month to advocate “the Keys to REALTOR® Safety: Knowledge, Awareness and Empowerment.” Through presentations, videos, webinars, handouts and various resources for agents, NAR is working to empower agents to be safe. Agents can even get tips by following @NARsafety (which appears to be an official NAR outlet despite no avatar, bio or link).

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NAR recently surveyed their blog readers asking what safety devices agents carry and interestingly enough, 24% carry handguns while 0% carry stun guns. We asked on our Facebook page recently if agents feel safer with agents and overwhelmingly, agents that service REOs in rough neighborhoods carry guns while many carry heavy objects in their car (bats, crowbars between the seats, etc) for peace of mind.

Regarding her own safety, Northern California Realtor Jessica Murr said, “I always send an email to my office and my husband about where I’m going and to my office the name and contact information of my client. I never meet a client at a property that I haven’t met in a public place first. If they haven’t come to my office first or we haven’t been in ongoing communication for at least a few months I meet them at a grocery store or gas station or some other place where I can show up on a surveillance camera and can leave a paper trail with a purchase. That way my last known location is recorded, my office knows who I was with, and my office and my husband know where I was going. Also, my cell phone has GPS tracking and my car is enabled with OnStar.”

How do YOU keep yourself safe?

There are tracking and alert systems like Moby, defense tools (stun guns, hand guns, pepper spray), simple safety tips (like keeping all areas lit, not entering closets) and more to keep you safe. It’s easy to become complacent, especially if you’re in a nice neighborhood with a seemingly nice person.

How do YOU keep yourself safe? Are there any tips you have to share?

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Sheila Rasak

    September 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Bottom line, for me at least, my evening meetings are kept with a male business associate. Open houses are either conducted with two agents on site or with an open door. I never enter a room first, but might follow a potential buyer into a room IF I feel safe after greeting him/her at the door. Otherwise, I’ll allow the client to view the property and then meet up with me in an open location for discussion.

  2. Herman Chan

    September 28, 2010 at 6:30 am

    i don’t like to think about this. but sometimes i get reminded of how vulnerable we are. like one time a guy was at my open house, fawning over the property, and stayed the whole time, peppering me with questions. i thought ‘hot dang it, this is my buyer!” well as i was closing up, he corners me and says he was never interested in the house. he was interested in me. he saw my photo on line. my 1st thought was “yeah, i do look amazing in that picture.” but then i thought “OMG, this could be a pyscho stalker!” thank heavens there were some late stragglers who strolled in. i muttered something about me being married with 2 kids and that i was too young to die, and i slipped away to help the stragglers. he left shortly after that. after the incident, i seriously considered wearing a disguise at my open houses.

  3. Ken Montville

    September 28, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    This is pretty sad. No one realizes how dangerous being a Realtor can be. We meet all kinds of people we don’t know in all kinds of places in the interest of providing “excellent customer service” or just in pursuit of an income. Sam D’Costa worked in the franchise I worked for, at the time. It was sobering to hear how he died.

    I looked at the Moby website. It’s not quite ready for iPhone but it looks pretty cool.

  4. Cindy Brookens

    September 29, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I’m a realtor in Janesville, WI. My husband is retired and goes with me to every showing and Open House. He waits patiently in the car while I show the house and I carry my “panic button” and pepper spray with me. I think just the fact that someone is waiting in the car for me is making me safer.

  5. James Shaw

    September 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    I'd just like to add here – since we're on-topic with this post – that my company is now giving away free pepper sprays. There's no catch at all – no purchase required. We're just trying to keep women safe, and Realtors are an obvious example of women being in sometimes dangerous situations.

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