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Honoring Ashley Okland and Advocating for Realtor Safety

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Special Thanks to Jen Stanbrough for writing this article.

April 8, 2011.  Just another Friday.

Until it wasn’t.

27-year-old fellow Realtor Ashley Okland headed off to host her recurring open house from a model townhome in a new construction community located in what was considered quiet, safe, and desirable West Des Moines, Iowa.

Across town, I was preparing to show homes to buyers as I had countless times since becoming a Realtor in 2006. I had prepared by planning my route, scheduling the showings, printing packets of pertinent information for both my buyers and myself and verifying my lockbox key was updated and charged. Almost on autopilot, I opened the lockbox at each home, grabbed the key, unlocked the front door, entered the home, asked my clients probing questions to help them evaluate if this home would meet their needs, locked the door, replaced the key and proceeded on to the next home to repeat this all too familiar sequence of events. It was just another Friday afternoon...until it wasn’t.

It has now been 10 years/ 120 months/ 3653 days/ 87,672 hours since I approached the third and final house that I was showing that day. I found myself opening just another lockbox, grabbing yet another key, unlocking another door and letting buyers into another home as I had done countless times. However, the events that occurred during the next showing are imprinted into my recurring thoughts and memories. When the events of that day come up in conversation, enter my thoughts or wake me in the night, my heart again begins to race, my chest tightens. The simple act of breathing becomes difficult. I am almost instantly lightheaded. And I remember...that call. That day. The loss. The tragedy.

During the showing, I noticed my phone ringing repeatedly and text messages buzzing through at a regular pace. As I tried to stay present and attentive to my buyers, I sent calls to my voicemail and ignored texts. Finally, I glanced down noticing a second call from my manager which I decided to answer. Her and I had recently closed a deal that ended with a bit of non-matching paint touchup drama. I answered to make sure the deal had finally closed and funded. Being in “Realtor” mode, I didn’t notice the quickness in her voice and odd tone coming through the phone. She asked me where I was. I replied that I was out showing. She asked me to call her when I had finished. I asked if everything was alright (still worried about our deal). There was a long quiet pause. She answered saying my family was ok but I needed to call her after my showing. It finally hit me that something was wrong. I wasn’t going to want to hear what came next. And I was realizing it wasn’t going to be about a hiccup in a real estate transaction.

Now that I was alarmed, I was not hanging up the phone without knowing what this call was about. And then came the words….

Ashley was shot during her open house.

The room began to spin. My mind tried to make sense of what I was hearing. I dropped to my knees. I started firing off questions…."Is she ok? Where is she? Is she ok? What happened? Who did this? Is she ok?”

Answers to some of these questions would be provided in the following hours. However, they were not the answers any of us wanted. Ashley had been found in the model home shot twice. She had been taken to the hospital where we would later find out she hadn’t survived. That was the start of a nightmare. A nightmare that still has no resolution 10 years later as the murder remains unsolved.

The days, weeks, months, years that followed were filled with grief, heartache, questions and pain. Honestly, they still are. I miss my friend. I miss the loss of innocence in which I viewed the world before this. I always will. I have come to realize despite what questions are answered in the future, the pain, the loss, a life without Ashley will remain. I hate that...but I acknowledge that.

In trying to find ways to honor Ashley and to try to find purpose amidst tragedy, I have become passionate about the conversation of Realtor safety. Prior to that day in 2011, I am embarrassed to say I had not given much thought to the dangers those working in the real estate industry could face. I had met strangers in vacant houses. I had parked allowing myself to be blocked in. I had led during showings entering a basement ahead of clients leaving myself no exit. I had never asked a client to provide proper identification. I had not been diligent in letting someone else know where I planned to be or my route when I was showing clients. Never had I run a background check on a potential client or implemented a screening tool such a Forewarn. I, too, had spent hours hosting open houses (some in a model townhome) where I did not have easily accessible exits or a plan if I felt uncomfortable. I had ignorantly trusted that all was fine and in doing so put myself at risk, as do many agents on a regular basis.

While I had recommended sellers remove personal photos when preparing to sell their home, I had not been diligent in explaining the safety reasons behind this. I had urged sellers to lock up guns and ammunition but did not use a form for the seller to read and sign off on this. Prescription medication was not something I often thought about having a seller lock up during showings until we experienced theft during showings and open houses. I briefly mentioned the need to remove anything with personal information but did not focus on the importance. I had yet to begin explaining to a seller how our lock box system functions and the importance of only allowing access through this tool as it creates a log of agents who have accessed the home. I had often failed to remind a seller not to open their door or home to any strangers knocking on their door to inquire about the home. I did not use a form to give sellers the option of requesting that their home only be shown to prospective buyers who have been properly identified.

After suffering the tragic loss of Ashley Okland, a committee of Realtors from our Association, gathered to bring awareness to Realtor safety creating a Realtor Safety Pledge.

This safety pledge reads:

Because we care about the safety of our clients, the public and our agents…

*We agree to encourage our agents to take the REALTOR SAFETY PLEDGE and to implement safe showing practice.

*We pledge to provide our agents access to qualify safety training programs and education on the best ways to stay safe while conducting business.

*We believe that no REALTOR should show a home to a stranger whom they have not met or “identified” and therefore agree to implement identification processes within our offices for our agents.

*We commit to abide by the “Safe Showing” requests on MLS showing instructions and encourage our agents to only allow properly “identified” clients into listings that have requested the “Safe Showing” option.

Because I owe it to myself, my family, my colleagues, and my clients to implement safe showing practices,

I pledge not to show any home to a stranger without first meeting them at the office or a public place and asking them to submit identification.

As I remember my friend today and always, I will continue to promote Realtor Safety. I will continue to implement safe real estate practices in my business. I will continue the conversation with others encouraging them to be smart, be prepared and be safe. I owe it to myself, my family, my colleagues, my clients. I owe it to my friend, Ashley Okland.

 

For Safety Resources, please visit https://www.iowarealtors.com/members/safety-resources

This article is also posted on dmaar.com.