It was a normal summer day in McKinney, Texas, a suburb some 30 miles north of Dallas. Sarah Anne Walker, an on-site agent for a local home builder was hosting an open house – a veritable free-for-all for those seeking a new home, looking for decorating ideas, or looking to cool off from the typical heat of a Texas summer. Sarah placed a phone call to a friend earlier in the day – nothing was amiss. Yet, when she was found, she had been beaten, bitten and stabbed 27 times. Her Rolex and ring were missing. Her killer, Kosoul Chanthakoummane was convicted in 2008 of capital murder and is currently serving his sentence on death row awaiting a lethal injection.
Sarah had been attacked in her workplace, a place she more than likely had never considered risky. It’s not something they teach you in real estate school – I should know – I once held a real estate license in the great state of Texas. It’s not covered course material. It’s not covered in the required continuing education classes. And it SHOULD be. It should be a required element in all real estate agent training, in every state.
While those in the industry have chalked the reasons up to the average person believing that real estate agents are wealthy, and therefore great targets for robbery, that’s not it – criminals have a predator mentality – and empty homes are prime hunting grounds. In simpler terms, Realtors are easy targets. They often show homes alone, depend on home sales for a living and must show a home to make a sale, and with the rise in the use of social media to announce open houses – are increasingly easy to find.
Brendon Smith, a personal protection specialist, former police officer and ARMABAND® wearer, offers the following tips not just for REALTORS®, but for everyone:
- First and foremost, women (and men) need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. This includes in the home, working, driving, shopping, etc. I think as a society, people in general are so distracted by their phones or other devices. That distraction lays the foundation for a dangerous situation to occur. Keep that phone in a purse or pocket until you get somewhere safe to look at it. When you do enter a place of business or area where you have to look at your phone or respond to it, never allow yourself to be in the open per se. Find a wall to put your back up against and where you can have a great line of sight on anyone passing by. Don’t stand in line and have a conversation on your phone so that everyone around you hears every detail of your life/whereabouts/things you’re going to do…this may allow a would be attacker to use anything from that conversation to gain “compliance” from you by acting like he/she knows you.
- When walking to your car from a building or vice versa, be ready. Don’t have anything in your hands other than your keys. Keep your head on a swivel, always looking to the left, right and glance behind you. If you notice someone watching you, make eye contact!! Let them know YOU see them. When you get into your car, LOCK IT! Before you get that key in or seatbelt on. If you are checking your phone while sitting in your vehicle, look up frequently to check your surroundings. Don’t allow yourself to be so absorbed in that phone or conversation that you don’t notice someone coming up to your car.
- For those in real estate:
- I would suggest, along with being aware of your surroundings, learn to trust your instinct! That is our built in “alarm” system. We were designed with that for a reason. Do not “justify” or “silence” those alarm bells because the person “looks” harmless, is cute or charming, has been personable in previous visits. That is something that criminals will use to their advantage to gain the trust of the intended victim.
- If you are scheduled to meet someone to show a home, have a code word with the office or friend to let them know you have arrived at the home/when you are leaving/if you feel scared, etc. Develop a plan and stick to it, the same thing every time. Whether it’s checking in via phone with the office or texting a “safe” word. If possible, when you arrive, take note of the vehicle description and license plate number. text or call those in. Let the office know if the person shows up alone or with someone else. If you have the personnel, take another agent with you. Have a time limit, if you haven’t checked in within 10 mins, have them call you.
- Never allow yourself to enter a room first…always allow them to go first. Keep yourself between them and the door in case you have to exit quickly. If you have your keys, keep them in your hand with one key (preferably a longer one) firmly wedged between two of your fingers and close your fist around it. If you have to defend yourself, that key can serve as an object to cause pain to the eyes, throat, head etc. allowing you time to get away or create distance.
- This is where the ARMABAND® comes in…it could be “armed” from the moment you arrive on property. Never give personal information away to potential clients. You can be polite but firm in your stance on that. Most people who don’t want to cause you harm will respect that.
- Bottom line – If your “gut instinct” tells you something is wrong, listen to it. If you have to…come up with a reason to leave the house or area. Don’t dismiss that feeling!
ARMABAND® is just ONE step in keeping yourself safe, providing a line of defense to not only help you get away, but identify the attacker with the DNA capture. We challenge each and every one of you to re-think your own personal habits that impact your safety. It could save your life.