Iowa realtor slaying raises questions about open house safety - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa realtor slaying raises questions about open house safety

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Police in West Des Moines are still looking for information in the shooting death of a realtor.  27-year-old Ashley Okland was killed Friday while working in a model home.  Police say they're searching for a scruffy looking man driving a black Cadillac Escalade.  Her visitation is Wednesday in Huxley.  And what happened in West Des Moines is raising some questions about real estate agent safety when hosting open houses.

The tragic murder of an Iowa realtor has sparked a discussion about how agents can stay safe during showings. Their profession can certainly put them at risk, since agents frequently meet with strangers.  But safety precautions are in place and the industry will continue looking at ways to improve its practices in an effort to avoid another tragedy.   

The weather is warming up and "for sale" signs are springing up in front yards everywhere. It's home buying season.  Often, open houses help realtors get a property sold.  And make no mistake, safety is top of mind as agents show off homes to total strangers.

"When we have people come into the open house, we greet them at the door.  So that's the first thing we do.  We do ask them to sign in, and we indicate that the sellers would appreciate that they sign in because the sellers want to know who comes through their house as well.  Then we take and actually let them tour the house themselves," said Gale Shinkle with Trapp Realtors.

That way no one's sneaking in unseen.  Real estate agents also keep the home's doors unlocked so they can get out should anything happen.  Agents also ask clients to conceal weapons, medications, and valuables like jewelry before an open house to deter potential theft.  And agents are always encouraged to report any suspicious activity to police.

"We use the cell phone to report things like that, if someone's hanging around or they look suspicious.  Then when we get ready to leave an open house, we always go through the open house to make sure all our visitors have left," said Shinkle.

For private showings, real estate agents almost always meet with clients in their first and collect information about them before leaving the office.  Trapp Realtors also lets others in the office known where they're going and frequently check in while they're away.  It's not a perfect system but includes important steps to keep agents safe and accounted for.

"With doing the things we have done in the past, I think we're reasonably safe.  I can't say we're 100 percent, but I believe we're reasonably safe in our communities around here," Shinkle said.

The Iowa Association of Realtors has a wealthy of information for agents online including safety videos.  And the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Board of Realtors requires all new agents to go through safety classes to become licensed.

Law enforcement also recommends that real estate agents limit the amount of their own personal information that's available to potential clients.  For example, authorities caution agents from advertising their earnings, which could cause a criminal to target them.

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