Bombing suspect dead, Austin real estate community remains vigilant

Real estate agents in the Texas capital are relieved that the serial bombing saga appears to have concluded without more bloodshed, but aren't taking chances with safety
  • The real estate community of Austin greeted the news of the capture and death of the serial bomber with cautious relief but is staying on alert.

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After a combined effort of police and FBI resources rivaling those of the manhunt for the 2013 Boston Marathon bomber, a SWAT team on Wednesday, March 21, converged on the car of the lead suspect behind the serial bombings that killed two people, injured four more, and have terrorized Austin for the past three weeks. As SWAT officers approached the vehicle of the suspect, later identified as 23-year-old Mark Conditt, in the early hours of this morning, an explosion went off, killing Conditt.

Police warned that the bombing suspect, who was thought to be in East Austin and Southwest Austin over a period of three weeks, might still have sent other explosive packages in the last 24 hours from FedEx facilities (one bomb went off at a FedEx facility in the San Antonio suburb of Schertz — an hour’s drive southwest of Austin — on the morning of Tuesday, March 20 local time, and another was discovered at a separate FedEx facility back in Austin near the airport, both linked to the same suspect). They encouraged residents to remain vigilant.

The real estate community of Austin — which had been on high alert — responded with cautious relief. The Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) interim CEO, Emily Chenevert told Inman today in an email: “While authorities confirmed this morning that the bombing suspect is dead, we do not yet know if he was acting alone or with others. It’s also possible he shipped or placed additional packages in the city that haven’t been identified yet. It’s important for Realtors to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings.”

Melanie Kennemann, team leader and CEO of Keller Williams Austin Southwest told Inman she was relieved about the news but was not relaxing just yet. Her agents had been taking special precautions in recent days and there was no reason to stop these yet, she said.

“Now this one suspect is found but we don’t have enough information to know that it’s really behind us. I am advising agents to keep those precaution levels high,” Kennemann said, adding that she thought agents should communicate this message to their clients too. As she continued:

“We live in a world where people don’t pay attention. They are looking at phones, they need to be on guard.”

Real estate agents were the “eyes and ears of the community” so should play a key part in advising clients, Kennemann said. “I loved seeing our agents saying, ‘guys, turn your cameras to the street’ to help find the perpetrator.”

Kennemann was heartened by the way the Austin community pulled together to help authorities, and agents did their part. “As agents we are the communicators for the city. We live, love and support Austin, we take personal responsibility for it.”

Kennemann said one of her best agents was in lockdown on Monday after the tripwire bombing on Sunday in the Austin neighborhood Travis Country. Still, this agent continued to use Facebook to give his clients and followers safety advice.

JP Piccinini, whose brokerage JP & Associates Realtors bought Private Label Realty in Austin in October last year, said: “In all markets across the U.S., Realtors must remember to be constantly aware of their surroundings and proceed with caution remembering the basics for safety reasons. Since agents are typically out and about, they can play an important role in their community by reporting anything out of the ordinary.”

It emerged today that the suspect, Conditt, was a local Pflugerville resident living in a home with at least two roommates now being questioned, according to the local newspaper Austin American-Statesman. The newspaper reported that police were evacuating neighbors in a four-block radius of the home in case the structure was booby-trapped with explosives, and further noted Conditt was said to be remodeling a home with his father.

Local agents who cover the Plfugerville market, in Travis County (not Country) described Pflugerville as a mid-level suburb in Austin north of the city where houses sell between $250,000 and $400,000.

Coldwell Banker Realtor June Green said it was a commuter suburb with the Samsung plant right next door. It was a relatively diverse area with lots of parks and trails and homes at a good price point, she said.

In nearby Round Rock, where Conditt was pursued before his death, Dell has a big campus, and Amazon is looking at the area north of there for a second headquarters, said the agent.

Green said she had just activated a listing near Pflugerville and was getting calls on it.

Keller Williams broker associate Adrianne McKewen said she was heeding the advice to stay cautious as she goes about her day. She said if she saw a package on the doorstep of a home she was showing a client, she might well say: “That might not be a house that we look at today, it’s not worth taking the chance.”

She was anticipating returning to a busy selling season.

“We are at double the amount of units on last year, ” she said. There are more new homes that have come on, in fact, whole new streets, which is good news for inventory, she said.

Email Gill South.