Sherri Hinkel

On Friday Oct. 20 real estate agent Sherri Hinkel met 26-year-old Micheal Beat, who said he was a potential homebuyer, at one of her listings near Pacific Springs Golf Course in Omaha, Nebraska. Hinkel had spoken with Beat on the phone several times before and looked him up online. Nothing struck her as out of the ordinary.

“He answered all the questions and answered them all very normally,” Hinkel said to KETV 7. “He didn’t hesitate or pause.”

On the day of their meeting, Hinkel arrived at the listing with his bank statements in hand, showing that he was qualified to buy the home.

As they were touring the spacious property, the situation reportedly turned dangerous. Hinkel says Beat went into the master bedroom and began taking off his shorts, touching himself and asked Hinkel to get in the bed with him.

“We both know why we are here,” said Beat according to a police report. “Don’t you find this a turn-on?”

In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald, Hinkel says she asked Beat to leave the home and texted a coworker for help, who called 911. When the police didn’t immediately arrive, Hinkel reached out to another friend who advised her to call 911 again and tell the dispatcher that Beat was still there and had attempted to sexually assault her.

Hinkel’s previous self-defense training kicked in and helped her notice that Beat was acting strangely before he invited her into the master bedroom, she said in the interview. Beat had insisted that she enter rooms before him, something that could have given him the opportunity to trap her in the room, if she had followed his requests.

“Real estate agents need to take Realtor safety seriously. They need to realize it can happen to them and it can happen to anybody, male or female,” she said to the Omaha World-Herald. “It’s a good thing it happened to me and not someone else because I’m probably a little bit more prepared. I hope he gets help because something is wrong.”

Hinkel told Inman that she became interested in taking self-defense classes six years ago after helping a local self-defense instructor with his marketing plans. Hinkel said he was extremely knowledgeable, and she believed taking the course was important in ensuring she stayed safe on the job.

“It’s not just self-defense, it’s preventative as well,” she said of what she learned, noting that the instructor helped her to recognize and avoid dangerous situations, and taught her to act quickly and rationally under stress.

Hinkel has continued to stay abreast on the latest safety tactics, and she even teaches safety courses in her Keller Williams office. When it comes to what she could have done differently, Hinkel says she doesn’t know.

“I knew where he went to school, I knew where he had worked,” she said of her online background check on Beat. “I could have met him in the office, but I think he still would have been polite and given all the right answers.”

Hinkel says all agents need to take a safety course and have an app or tool where they can call for help immediately.

“You have to be able to push a button or make a phone call immediately,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t have time to pull out [a weapon or a tool]. You need something that’s automatic.”

Safety is a major topic of discussion in the real estate industry. A number of standard responsibilities and marketing efforts in real estate put agents in a vulnerable position — showing an empty property to new clients, holding an open house and advertising your location on social media can all be risky.

A quarter of male Realtors carry a firearm for protection, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR), while 12 percent of their female colleagues choose to pack heat as well.

Many agents also take precautions such as downloading a safety app, carrying pepper spray — the most common defense weapon — or investing in a taser.

In light of Hinkel’s harrowing situation, Omaha Board of Realtors President Mark Leaders says Realtors should take advantage of safety courses offered by their local association and have a safety plan in place.

“We just want everybody to be safe and take precautions,” Leaders said, mirroring the advice the board gives on its website. “If you don’t know the customer, I would definitely go with a friend.”

Leaders said the Omaha Board participates in the National Association of Realtors’ safety initiatives and courses and encourages members to use the Homesnap Pro app that allows agents to use a safety timer and send out a distress alert.  Lastly, he said the Board will bring in martial arts and self-defense experts as a follow-up to its Knowledge is Power safety series that took place in May.

Beat was arrested and booked for lewd conduct, disturbing the peace and attempted third degree sexual assault. He is currently being held on $25,000 bond.

Email Marian McPherson

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