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The Tennessean | Real Estate | Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The murder of an Arkansas real estate agent during a house showing last month is prompting local professionals to rethink their own safety on the job.

Benchmark Realty has issued 15 new safety guidelines to its agents in the wake of the crime. The man charged with Beverly Carter's murder is reported to have posed as a buyer.

Crye Leike Realtors has named a new safety course in memory of Carter, who was one of the company's agents. And professional organizations including the Williamson County Association of Realtors have already been working on agent security issues; September was Realtor Safety Month.

“We had a safety course four days before this happened,” said WCAR president Lisa Culp Taylor. “It has always been a concern.”

For years, violent crimes against real estate agents have been reported in all parts of the United States including Tennessee, most often in on-the-job settings such as home showings, open houses or model homes.

With this most recent incident in a neighboring state, homebuyers and sellers shouldn't be surprised — or offended — if they see agents here doing certain things differently.

While not every agent will be practicing every safety idea being discussed, there's a good chance that most agents will be using at least some of these mostly common practices in the near future:

• Requiring buyers to meet them at their brokerage office, especially if it is the first meeting, and requesting a photo I.D., the buyer's license plate number and/or a pre-qualification letter from a recognized lender before taking the client to any showings.

“Asking for identification and pre-qualification letters, I don't think is as common as it should be,” said Taylor, “but it's not anything new.”

• Not offering to chauffeur clients to showings; the agent instead driving his or her car to the appointment and the buyers driving their cars separately.

• The agent may bring another agent along to the showing, or even a friend or family member.

• Unless well acquainted with you, your agent may decline to show a house to you after dark or identify a property as vacant.

• The agent does not lead you around a house during a showing but asks you to “go first” and stays near the door.

• You may see the agent keeping his cell phone in hand during a showing, not just to make an emergency call. It could be a Taser device designed to look like a cell phone.

• Some agents might be carrying a firearm, although it's doubtful they will be advertising that fact to a client.

“That's a personal choice,” said Phillip Cantrell, Benchmark's CEO, who isn't recommending firearms to agents but does recommend they carry pepper spray or Tasers.

No brokerage here is known to be recommending that agents carry guns but some may decide to do so or are already doing so, in some situations, such as showings of property in remote locations.

As independent contractors, real estate agents will be choosing whether or how they alter their own safety procedures.

“If that (carrying a gun) is an option in someone's mind, I would hope they don't do it if they aren't trained in how to use a firearm,” Cantrell said.

“Certainly not all agents are necessarily comfortable with that,” said Crye Leike broker Chip Kerr.

Crye Leike is not recommending that its agents carry guns, but is urging them to take other steps including taking someone with them to showings in vacant houses.

• At open houses and in model homes, visitors may see more requests to sign in and give some information about themselves including license tag numbers.

• It may become more common to find two agents inside open houses, which have been known to attract thieves.

Sellers shouldn't be surprised if they are asked to prepare for open houses by removing all prescription drugs from the home, putting away the mail, gaming systems, all family photos and weapons including even the knife blocks on kitchen counters.

“I don't think there are going to be a whole lot of things that the public is going to notice that are different,” said Kerr, “and we're not going to publicize some things that we do because we don't want to inform the bad guys about our security practices.”

“But we're living in a different world,” he said.