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WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Realtors in real danger

Real estate agents across the Tennessee Valley are training to make sure they can face deadly threats.

Posted: Nov. 14, 2018 4:58 PM
Updated: Nov. 14, 2018 7:11 PM

WAAY 31's latest I-Team investigation takes a comprehensive look at realtors in real danger. Real estate agents are fighting back against the threat of violence and death on-the-job.

Many agents are learning self-defense in an industry the Department of Labor labels a hazardous occupation because of attacks, sexual assaults, even murder. Year after year, killers, kidnappers and rapists target agents, including realtors here in alabama.

More and more realtors are learning to fight back as the industry is warning agents to watch their backs. Meanwhile, the state board of realtors is giving continuing educaton credit for potentially life-saving training.

We watched one Huntsville realtor go through training so she could get comfortable shooting a gun. It didn't come naturally. “I was terrified!" Cheryl Doucette told WAAY 31. "I was scared of me and scared of the guns!”

After her training, Doucette is confident and empowered. Before, though, the real estate agent was often scared. She spent a lot of her time alone and on the road. Doucette already owned a gun. But she lacked the confidence to use it. She decided to take a realtor self-defense course.

“Our job is dangerous," Doucette said. “I want to do this because I want to learn about it. I also know safety is important for me everyday of my life, not just because of my job, but everyday living.”

"Several of my agents have been in situations that they needed some help,” Mark Moody explained to WAAY 31. Moody worries about his agents at MarMac Real Estate. They’ve fought off assaults, attempted rape and other violence.

Two years ago in Lawrence County, a man posed as a property seller and groped a realtor. More commonly, though, the criminals pretend to be home buyers. Moody told us, five years ago, an ex-con just out of prison posed as a buyer. He lured the realtor inside a house for sale in Decatur. “He had her down on the ground," Moody said. "But, she was able to get out from under him and she ran out the door and ran to the neighbor’s house.”

In its just-released 2018 safety report, the National Association of Realtors found:

41 percent of women -- who make up more than 60 percent of the real estate agent population -- have felt afraid for their safety on the job. For men, it’s 20 percent. Scary situations happen most frequently at open houses, empty houses, unlocked properties and with buyers who refused to meet in public places.

WAAY 31 went to a shooting range just outside Ardmore where realtors were learning to take aim at bad guys.

Michael Price is part of the team at Bishop 30 Solutions that trains realtors to defend themselves. “We don’t want these people to get hurt," Price told WAAY 31. “I think they’ve always had it in the back of their mind, ‘I need to have some type of self-defense. What if, what if, what if'.”

What if criminals attack realtors has become all too real.

Over the past decade, across the U.S., more than twenty real estate agents have been murdered. That’s according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One high profile case is the murder of Beverly Carter. The Arkansas realtor’s body was found five days after Arron Lewis kidnapped and killed Carter in 2014. Lewis posed as a potential buyer. He said he targeted Carter “because she was a rich broker.”

Agents can be easy targets. Fancy photos on billboards and business cards might make them look like high rollers. “They’re looking a little polished," Price told us. "Polished usually means they have some money. Maybe they have some cash in a wallet. It’d be a quick steal.”

Realtors find themselves in threatening situations so often, about half now use safety apps on their mobile phones. The apps let other people pinpoint the location of the realtors. Besides this high tech weapon, many real estate agents are packing heat.

The National Association of Realtors says 12% of women realtors carry guns. For men, it shoots up to 19%.

Also at 19%, realtors taking self-defense courses.

WAAY 31 went to a continuing education class in Madison where agents learned how to weaponize their own bodies. “I’m a realist martial artist," Price told us. "I take stuff I’ve learned from the Marine Corps, Jujitsu, a lot of Caw McGraw, especially.”

The training is hands-on and teaches realtors how to slow down or stop an attacker.

We watched as realtors lined up to practice self-defense moves on the trainers.

The realtors gouged eyes.

They kneed attackers and threw their elbows.

And they practiced disarming a criminal.

“They understand that a firearm is just a tool and the martial arts is just an extension of their own bodies," Price told us. "It’s something they can carry with them everywhere.”

"I was totally ignorant of all of the mechanisms and all of the strategy, the understanding of shooting," Doucette said. "I had to learn in order to be comfortable and in order to acquire skill.”

Back at the shooting range, Cheryl Doucette learned she can fight back. "This is just another tool in our belt that gives you knowledge, that equips you and empowers you."

Mark Moody explains one way real estate buyers can help realtors stay safe is by simply understading why the agents like to first meet you in their offices. Being ready to show your driver's license and pre-approval letter is another way you can help.

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