When the Fort Wayne area's real estate professionals invited Carl Carter to speak Thursday at a membership meeting, they didn't know how timely his message would be.
Carter lost his mother, Arkansas Realtor Beverly Carter, in 2014 at the hands of a brutal criminal who abducted and murdered her – after luring her to a house showing.
Just last week, an Elkhart Realtor reported she was raped by an unknown assailant when she went to take photos of a home listing.
Those kind of incidents are bringing a higher awareness of the importance of safety on the job, said Carter, 36, who recently became a Realtor himself and has started a foundation in his mother's memory to educate fellow professionals.
“I think we're raising a lot of awareness, but I think it's taken a tragedy to get people's attention, and I think that's sad,” he said.
Carter said his mother was a vibrant, 50-year-old grandmother who had been selling real estate for years when she started getting calls and messages purportedly from a couple who were moving to Arkansas from Missouri and expressed interest in a lakefront property near where she and her husband lived.
The phone number apparently originated in Missouri, so her suspicions weren't immediately aroused, he said. And when the potential buyer asked to see the house, Carter said, she told him it was company policy not to show a house alone.
But the man got his “wife” on the phone to say she'd come with him to the showing, at 6 p.m. that day, when she was on her way home.
But, Carter said, when the buyer arrived, he was alone. He had a stun gun and duct tape and immobilized his mother and shoved her in the trunk of his car. Then he tried to extract a ransom from her husband, and investigators believe he wanted to use the woman's credit cards.
But, as a safety precaution, Beverly Carter made a practice of locking her purse in her car, causing the plan to go awry, Carter said. She was ultimately taken to a remote concrete yard and smothered with duct tape and a day or so later buried in a shallow grave.
The man was found guilty and sentenced to two life terms without parole but is appealing, and the “wife” also was found guilty, Carter said.
Carter's point now, he said, is that any working professional, even one trying to be careful, can become a victim.
“She wasn't a rookie trying to make a sale by any means possible. She was a hardworking experienced agent,” he said. “She did so many things right.”
Carter now recommends that agents never show a home to clients without first meeting them at the office or another public place or asking them to submit identification. A shortcut agents can use is requiring a mortgage pre-approval, which indicates vetting from a bank or lending institution, he said.
He also recommends agents travel with a “showing buddy” if their intuition ever tells them something is off. He also suggests limiting open houses because they often involve long periods of what he jokingly referred to as advertised “alone time.”
Agents also might want to reconsider their personal marketing strategy, which often involves portraits of themselves or a pitch that they are a “luxury” or “quick response” brokerage, Carter said.
His mother may have been victimized because she had been identified by the criminals as a potentially well-off and attractive older woman likely to work alone, he said.
The Upstate Alliance of Realtors, also known as Upstar, who brought Carter to Fort Wayne, will soon sponsor a free self-defense class and plans future safety programs, spokeswoman Kim Ruffin said. .
Also, a new smartphone app that amounts to a one-button panic alarm may soon be introduced locally, she said.
Some area Realtors already are changing their business practices.
After the meeting, Mary Mauger of Century 21-Bradley Realty in Fort Wayne, said she turned down a potential client when, she said, “nothing added up.”
She now carries Mace with her on a lanyard around her neck along with the card allowing her to open lock boxes.
Brenda Williams, also with Century 21-Bradley, said she wants prospective clients to know that if a Realtor asks for ID, they're not being singled out.
“So please don't be offended,” she said.