Agent uses Facebook to track down thief who stole client's family heirlooms at open house

The suspect was arrested following remarkable detective work by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices agent Haley Larson. "I took it as a personal assault on our industry," she said.

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Inman Connect New York | January 29 - February 1, 2019

When broker Haley Larson got a tearful call about her client’s family jewelry going missing, she knew she had to do something.

Larson and her colleagues at a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices branch in Yakima, Washington had spent several weeks hosting open houses at the home on South 68th Avenue — their client, Jill Davison, recently lost her husband to cancer and was selling their home to join her daughter in Portland.

Haley Larson

But while the first three open houses attracted a host of prospective buyers as expected, the last one took a turn for the worse. The next day, Davison discovered that numerous things, including her mother’s gold chain necklace, her husband’s wedding band, her grandmother’s engagement ring and even some opioid medications prescribed for her husband’s cancer, were missing.

Feeling devastated for her client, Larson immediately tried to think back to the open house and what could have appeared off during the visits. She also brought it up with her colleagues and discovered that several other agents from their brokerage had also reported theft during open houses.

“I took it as a personal assault on our industry in general because people like this are going to make it really difficult for Realtors to market houses efficiently and effectively,” Larson told Inman. “People are now going to be afraid to have open houses.”

And so Larson asked to see the house’s sign-in sheet and noticed that the names of a man and a woman corresponded with the sign-in sheet of another open house that had property stolen. While she knew it was unlikely that any thieves would use their real names to sign in, she decided to punch these names into Facebook anyway.

“Sure enough, they pop up and I have six mutual friends with the girl,” Larson said. She then sent their Facebook photographs to several Berkshire Hathaway agents, who confirmed seeing them, while also encouraging her client to go to the police.

But even though the police said it was unlikely Davison would be able to recover the jewelry, Larson didn’t give up — she spent several evenings messaging all of their mutual friends and, with the help of the woman’s sister and her husband, eventually tracked down two pawn shops where some of the jewelry had been taken. Worried that someone would buy the jewelry before the police made an arrest, Larson purchased her client’s husband’s wedding band and the grandmother’s ring with her own money and returned it.

“I’m the one who suggested she have the open house and I’m the one who set it up,” Larson said, adding that people will sometimes assume nothing can be done about theft. “In my mind, some of that responsibility falls on myself and that’s an awful feeling.”

Pawn shop security camera footage eventually led the police to arrest Gino Lister on suspicion of second-degree theft and first-degree trafficking in stolen property. The woman, Melissa Rodriguez, has not been arrested, police told a local outlet.

Meanwhile, the Berkshire Hathaway team finally secured a contract to sell Davison’s house but now fear that the arrest could cause the suspects to retaliate against their client.

Russ Redfield, who works as the branch manager at Berkshire Hathaway, said that while theft at open houses remains a rare occurrence, it is still important for both homeowners and agents to stay vigilant during an open house.

While homeowners can prepare for the open house by passing through the house and putting away any valuables, agents should keep an eye out for people who constantly open drawers or otherwise wander aimlessly and insist every visitor use the sign-in sheet.

“Walk through, look around,” Redfield said. “The combination of the broker preparing for the open house and the seller doing their part [to put away valuables] is going to be crucial to minimizing these kinds of situations.”

Email Veronika Bondarenko