Real estate agents getting safety tips from police

January 09, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

The rape and slaying of a 57-year-old Columbia-based real estate agent in West Baltimore on Dec. 21 has county realty firms re-evaluating safety and turning to police for advice.

"It certainly has had a large impact," said Pfc. Bruce Lohr of the Crime Prevention Unit.

Private Lohr spent about two hours at Town Center's Oakland Manor on Friday morning lecturing more than 20 real estate agents about how to make themselves less vulnerable to crime.

Howard police have received five requests from real estate agents for formal safety information under the department's "Realtor Watch," a program designed to provide safety tips to real estate professionals. So far, Private Lohr has four more lectures scheduled this month.

Friday's meeting was sponsored by American Properties Inc., a large Columbia-based real estate company. The sales agents took notes and watched a 20-minute safety film.

Private Lohr told his audience -- most of them women -- to "trust their instincts" when working alone in model homes and dealing with unknown clientele.

"The key is to take away the opportunity for crime to occur," Private Lohr said. "Most criminals are opportunists."

Eye contact, locking up personal or expensive items, allowing for one entry and exit point, working in pairs, keeping model homes well-lighted and calling police at the first sign of trouble or suspicion were among the tips given.

American Properties sales manager Terry Acra said the hardest part for many agents is personal judgment, a gamble the workers must face every day.

"We're all still very uncomfortable," Mrs. Acra said. "You just can't keep track of everybody coming in."

She said many homes in new developments in western Howard County, some as large as 4,200 square feet, are open to the public eight hours a day, seven days a week. It's not uncommon to have as many as 10 appointments a day in her model home, but all viewers are not scheduled, she said.

"We have to be aware of our surroundings," said Leslie Heishman, an American Properties marketing manager. "It's scary not to know what to do."

Real estate agents should think of their own safety first, even if potential clients are put off by their caution, said Doug Magill, director of the New Homes Marketing Group of American Properties.

Mr. Magill said that although there is a perception women are easier targets, all agents are vulnerable to property crimes.

In fact, Private Lohr said most of the criminals the agents are likely to encounter are thieves.

"They just want to get the stuff and go. So give it to them," Private Lohr said. In the event of an attempted rape, Private Lohr suggested that women even claim they have AIDS or "just act crazy" to turn off or distract an attacker.

Agents should also write down license plate numbers of all prospective buyers if possible, he said.

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