Safety can't be stressed enough for agents and sellers of property….

Safety is always a concern of mine for both me, my team, and my clients. Oddly enough, agents work in a profession where we and our clients are frequently targeted for a variety of opportunistic crimes such as burglary, assault, rape, and murder. Recently, notices went out from our local MLS letting agents know that a strange man was attempting to lure female agents to vacant properties. I’m pasting in the full content of that original notice. There has been an update on the MLS site since then that actually has a photo available of this potentially dangerous person.

“February 6, 2008. NWMLS has recently received reports of potential dangerous situations regarding a man attempting to lure women agents to homes.

A man named Christopher Heath (from Vermont) is trying to get female agents out to vacant properties. Most of the properties he is interested in are vacant and secluded. He has been arranging to meet with several agents in the area (Duvall, Monroe, Kent).

Heath claims to be relocating here to work at the Fire Academy in North Bend. He claims to be a widower, retired firefighter, cash buyer searching for rural setting with room and privacy for the 2 search-and-rescue dogs he has for his job here with the Seattle Fire Department.

He originally was looking for a house priced between $400,000 and $600,000. He later changed the price to a million, saying it was going to be a cash deal and that the money would be wired from Merrill Lynch.

One agent was feeling uncomfortable with the situation and began a background check. The Fire Academy has never heard of him. He had called from a New York phone number so she did a reverse search — it was a doctor’s cell phone # — when she called the number the next day it had been cancelled.

A 2nd agent called the number she had been given in Vermont and spoke to his wife (he claimed to be a widower). She said there are about 10 different female real estate agents leaving him messages and she found many Seattle area agents on his home computer. According to his wife, he was in the middle of taking out a home equity loan on his wife’s (of 4 months) home. His wife just happened to be home and saw the appraiser measuring her home – a 30-acre horse ranch in Vermont.

Another agent arranged to meet with him today (February 6). She told him by voice mail and email that they would be meeting at her office to introduce themselves in person and to go over their tour and initial real estate paper work. She told him it was their company policy to meet new clients at their office, introduce them to their office manager and to make a copy of their driver’s license. She has not heard from him since.

His wife believes he is now in New York heading to Washington.

The situation has been reported to the police.

Please be careful! If this man contacts you, contact your local authority.”

Making this seem even more important to bring to public attention was news that RE/MAX agents received yesterday of a murdered colleague in Canada. The same type of tactic used by this guy noted above was used to lure a 24-year old agent to a vacant home where she was then stabbed to death. Purportedly, she had expressed concerns about going out to this viewing for a variety of reasons based on the calls she received asking for the showing. I wish she’d listened to her gut and not gone but we can’t change what happened now, but I can certainly put out a warning to others in hopes that they’ll escape a similar fate in the future.

When it comes to sellers, I also speak strongly about safety measures. Just because a sign is in your front yard doesn’t mean you need to open the door to just anyone because they ask. Follow all the same security procedures you would if the house wasn’t on the market. If someone comes to the door, ask them to set up an appointment with their agent, or your own agent so that there is a layer of qualifying put in place. If you happen to be home and an agent comes to your door, to make sure they really are an agent make sure they first check in with the keybox. Only agents have the products available to them to open these boxes. The key boxes are geared specifically to capture electronic data so that the people going in and out of your home can be monitored, plus it allows for follow up and feedback, also necessary for the agent selling your home to do their job most effectively. This came up recently when a client had stayed home with a sick child. A bunch of agents came over and went through the house without logging in to the keybox. I told her that in the future she should have every single agent log in before allowing them into her home.

Having an open house potentially puts your belongings at risk so if you have anything of value – whether it’s monetary or personal in nature – put it away. Medicines in your cabinet? Put them where they can’t be picked up by snooping people or those there to see if they can pick up their “fix”. Sometimes it can seem entirely benign to have an open house but what you’re doing is inviting complete strangers in, who haven’t been qualified by anyone specific much less a lender and/or agent, who will come traipsing through your home. Even if people are asked to sign in they will oftentimes put down false information because they want to remain anonymous. I’m not saying “don’t do it” at all, but rather think about safety measures that can keep you, your family, and your belongings safe throughout the sale.

Famous Real Estate Agent Found Dead

Linda Stein, a New York real estate known as “broker to the stars,” was found dead, apparently bludgeoned to death in her Manhattan apartment.

[photopress:Linda_Stein.jpg,thumb,alignright]Her body was found on Tuesday by her daughter but the cause of death was not confirmed until an autopsy Wednesday. Linda lived by herself. The building featured heavy security and there was no sign of forced entry or robbery. Reports say that all people entering the building use the elevator and there is an elevator operator. Officials have not announced any motives or suspects in the case.

Linda was the ex-wife of Seymour Stein, former president of Sire Records, which was the launching pad for the Ramones, Talking Heads and Madonna.

Before real estate Stein was a pivotal figure in the early New York punk scene, co-managing the Ramones with Danny Fields, and was a friend to David Bowie, Talking Heads, The B-52s and Madonna as wife of Sire Records founder Seymour Stein.

Her career continued into the world of expensive real estate, as she brokered property deals for stars like Sting, Billy Joel, Harrison Ford, Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, LaToya Jackson, Sylvester Stallone and Andrew Lloyd Webber, amongst others.

For many local Seattle-area agents this brings up painful memories of Windermere agent Michael Emert who was murdered in January 2001 in a Woodinville home listed for sale. Mr. Emert was showing the home or previewing it for a buyer at the time of his murder. Mr. Emert’s body was found by the seller, who is represented by another real estate firm and was a stranger to Mr. Emert. Police believe that Mr. Emert’s late-model Cadillac SUV was taken by the perpetrator and later abandoned in Kirkland. As far as I know this murder was never solved. But it caused a major change in many agents behavior when meeting prospective clients and help inspire SKAR‘s (Seattle-King County Association of Realtors) “Safety Week

How to List a Homicide-challenged Home?

Between Galen scaring us with stories of AOL mischief, and both the WSJ and USA Today treating us to stories of crime-infested houses (you can’t just “repaint” over memories), I’m thinking there is something fishy in the air and I probably shouldn’t be writing any blog posts today.

However, I can’t help but wonder: What factors do you use in choosing your client when they are dead?

From the WSJ:

The red-brick mansion that just went up for sale in Greenwich, Conn., has about everything a buyer could want. Set on 2.1 lush acres on tree-lined Dairy Road, it has four bedrooms, four bathrooms, two fireplaces and a pool. Its $5.2 million asking price is, by Greenwich standards, appealing.

The home has another distinctive feature. The basement is where real-estate developer Andrew Kissel — who had been renting the home for $15,000 per month — was found bound, gagged and stabbed to death in April. “To say the broker will need all the luck he can get finding a buyer is an understatement,” says Greenwich broker Chris Fountain, who isn’t connected with the property’s sale.

From USA Today (via Zilow):

Almost 10 years after the body of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was found in the basement of her Boulder, Colo., home, the Tudor-style house at 749 15th St. is on the market again.

“It’s stigmatized. It’s always been stigmatized,” says Joel Ripmaster, president of Colorado Landmark Realtors. Ripmaster has represented the last four owners of the property, all who purchased or sold the house at below-market value since JonBenét’s slaying in 1996.

Note: I went ahead and published this article today because it was brought to my attention that RCG does not do well in “real estate murder”-related search queries 😉