LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Five years have passed since Beverly Carter disappeared.
Carter, a realtor, was last seen heading to a showing for two people who said they were interested in buying a house. Her body was found five days later, and Arron Lewis and Crystal Lowery were eventually sent to prison for her murder.
But Carter’s legacy can be seen every day among the thousands of real estate agents in Arkansas. The way they train and work will be forever shaped by her murder.
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“Because I’m not a realtor,” Cam Kuhn explained Wednesday afternoon, “I think, as the general public, we have this idea of what realtors do, and something that’s really become fascinating to me when working with the realtors is, you know, every day I go into work very comfortable. I go into work thinking I’m going to work my 8-5, and I’m going to go home and I’m going to eat my dinner. My day is already planned out. I don’t ever go to work in fear that something is going to happen to me. Realtors don’t have that luxury, and I don’t think you think about that until you start working with them.”
Kuhn works in the office of the Arkansas REALTORS Association and is its staff liaison to the state REALTOR Safety Committee.
“Safety doesn’t discriminate,” he said. “It’s not going to pick you because of your gender or your race, or your height or your weight, or how long you’ve been in the business. It’s unfortunately just a circumstance that you may or may not be prepared for, and you have to be prepared for it at all times.”
After Carter was killed, her son, Carl Carter, established the Beverly Carter Foundation with the goal to improve safety training and practices for real estate agents. The foundation and ARA have partnered on safety programs for agents across the state.
Kuhn said many new agents will take unnecessary risks as they strive for sales and establish their businesses. At the same time, he said many veteran agents believe that since they have worked in the industry for so long without incident, the do not need to be overly concerned.
“We’re trying to emphasize that the sale is not worth it,” Kuhn said. “The sale is not important enough for you to risk your life.”
Danah Holloway is one REALTOR who takes her security seriously. She got into real estate to work with her husband, who had been in the industry for several years.
“We’re very cautious about our surroundings, always,” she stated. “And that’s in everything, not just in real estate. You have to be aware of your surroundings.”
Holloway said the two of them work together most of the time, and showing a house together helps each of them feel safer, especially if their client is a couple. But on occasion, she will have to show a home by herself, and she said she plans ahead.
“We contact one another,” she explained. “I let him know where I’m going. If not him, another agent, and I let him know where I’m going, who I’m showing a property to, and around what time it should take.”
A buddy system such as that is something Kuhn said is taught in most real estate agent safety training courses.
“Another thing that we tell them,” he said, “is try very hard not to get trapped in a room with them or trapped in the house with them. You know, always be aware of your surroundings, be aware of the surroundings. Definitely don’t lead them down into a basement. Don’t lead them up into an attic. Let them lead, and you kind of follow around.”
Holloway said she and her husband have contingency plans in case something makes them uncomfortable when they are showing a house.
“We have a text safe word,” she mentioned, “and he knows, if he gets a text that says something, or a phone call that says something with our safe word, he knows that I’m in danger.”
Kuhn said a recent focus of the state safety committee has been the Beverly Carter Safety-Certified Office program, which recognizes companies that do everything in their power to educate and protect their employees. “We’re very proud to say that we’ve doubled the amount of offices from the previous year,” he said.
Holloway’s Keller Williams office is one of them. It has its own safety committee that meets once a month and informs the rest of the office about new best practices. Holloway credited the office with creating a spirit of camaraderie instead of competitiveness.
“You can truly say, ‘hey I’m going on a showing and I don’t feel comfortable.’ And any given day,” she claimed, “you can get an agent that will ride with you and just be that backup for you.”
Holloway said technology is important in her ability to feel safe. She uses mobile apps like Homesnap and Life360 to allow her friends and family to track her, and said she always has a phone charger handy to make sure she has enough power to make a phone call in an emergency.
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She also schedules consultations at the office with new clients to make sure she can feel comfortable with them when she shows them a house. Helping someone navigate the home-buying process and achieve their goals is what led her to the profession, but going home at the end of the day to see her children is the most important part of her day.
“That gut instinct, we listen to it,” she said. “If you’re having a funny feeling, I don’t feel bad about saying I’m not comfortable doing something. And so that, at the end of the day, gives me peace of mind, being able to do that.”