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
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
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,
For Safety Resources, please visit https://www.iowarealtors.com/members/safety-resources
This article is also posted on dmaar.com.