Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware applies to Realtors too, if only to Beware

Time and again buyers are reminded that when buying a house a prudent thing to do is exercise due diligence in investigating the target house entirely, from neighborhood conditions to possible natural hazards, and as of late, the area’s crime statistics. However, how often do Realtors heed such advice when working areas and homes unfamiliar to them? A recent story of an upcoming trial of a suspected rapist shows why, in addition to “Caveat Emptor,” Realtors, or anyone in service or sales may do well to remember “Praemonitus, praemunitus,” or being forewarned is forearmed

On any given day the average real estate agent is involved with numerous task that pits them face to face with potential buyers or sellers, who, for all intents and purpose, are essentially strangers. As a result of such goings on many otherwise cautious people let their guard down as demonstrated by the case of a woman real estate agent (name withheld), who in early 2008 was allegedly raped and nearly killed by what appeared to be a potential client looking to buy a house.

The unsuspecting agent was the victim of Shawn David Yates, 36, of Corona, who posing as a would be buyer, identifying himself as "Ron Jones" arranged to see a house on Silvestre Court, in Riverside County, at 10 a.m. on March 7, 2008. Without a care, the agent went about showing the house as she’s probably done dozens of times before. However, this time the result was much more than an offer she couldn’t refuse, it was an offer that nearly cost her her life. Yates allegedly ordered the woman to the ground while pointing what appeared to be a gun at her. He bound her wrists and ankles and held the gun to her head while he raped her. Yates proceeded to beat her on the head with the gun. He threatened to kill her, and perhaps would have were it not for the agent’s astuteness, who decided to fight back, "…I'm not going to let him kill me without fighting. I'm going to go down on my terms, not his," she recalls thinking.

Stories like these point out the importance of applying a buddy system and of doing the right things prior to going out to meet any person, regardless of how you came to know of them. Due to the use of the Internet sites where anonymity is paramount, these situations can develop a lot easier. The use of “social networks” makes agents more accessible to the buying and selling community, particularly when you see how much detail is put on these. I venture to say that it also makes them more vulnerable.

The case of this crime and this criminal have thrust into the limelight the importance of exercising common sense in dealing with people in general, especially for those whose daily routine puts them in similar situations. No one is saying that we need to be ultra sensitive to the possibilities of being victimized this way. However, many a time in the routine of selling a house any agent faces such possibility, particularly at the onset. If nothing else, there should be a safety measure incorporated into the agent’s activities. For instance, the agent who is independent rarely confides in anyone I’m going here or there, but rather “books” an appointment to meet someone at the house without so much as a clue who that someone may be.

Incidents like this are not uncommon, there have been others less alarming, e.g., someone showing a house and removing personal effects – common where lock-boxes are used to facilitate showings. Others, such as open house, are prone to having too many people overwhelm an agent, particularly when the house has too many rooms or too many floors to physically man or supervise when more than two people show up at any given moment.

Again, real estate agents being a trusting sort, have accepted some of these situations as “normal” but simple techniques could minimize the risks, if not eliminate them altogether. One way is partnering with another agent; another is to show by appointment (at the office first), to people who have been “screened” by pre-approving their credit and financial position – something that automatically makes that prospect more viable as a possible buyer, and, records their particulars where people will know about them should the need arise.

The case of Yates, who faces seven felonies, including attempted murder, kidnapping and three counts of rape stemming from the 2008 attack, was readily solved because fortunately the real estate agent survived, and the perpetrator left a blood trail leading to his nearby home where police quickly found incriminating evidence and arrested him – leading to his trial.

If nothing else, this case should serve as a wake up call to anyone in any service business, not just Realtor, to exercise caution just like the exhortations to buyers when buying a house, “Caveat Emptor” only for Realtors it should be “Praemonitus, praemunitus”; forewarned is forearmed.