Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Lenora was holding an open house when career criminal Dustin Holdren of Roanoke allegedly beat her in the head with a blunt object repeatedly. According to her friend Kathryn Bishop, she was beaten at least 10 times with a crescent wrench.
Holdren has been arrested on charges of aggravated malicious wounding, which in Virginia means the “malicious shooting, stabbing, cutting, or wounding of another person with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable or kill resulting in severe injury and permanent and significant physical impairment.”
Permanent and significant physical impairment from sitting in an open house. My heart aches for Lenora Farrington, her family, and her friends. I’m beyond sick and tired of reading and writing about agents getting assaulted, raped and murdered while holding open houses.
Despite the publicity, the awareness classes, self-defense training, firearm purchases and concealed carry permits, agents continue to be beaten and killed when showing homes, collecting rent, serving eviction notices and holding opens.
Brokers, associations and agents have already started proclaiming they will be making procedural changes due to the attack on Lenora Farrington. That happens every single time there is an event like this. Then a few days, or weeks — months, if we’re lucky — will pass, and it’ll happen again. And again. And again.
Why? Why does this happen over and over and over? Probably because there are evil people in the world.
The world is full of criminals and predators, there’s nothing that can be done to stop them. Lock one away, and another will take his or her place.
So what can this industry do to protect the agents that are out there trying to earn a living and provide for their families?
Education helps, but it’s not a cure.
Yesterday, I was in a discussion with a friend who claimed only women are attacked at open houses. Tell that to the Snohomish County, Washington, agent who was attacked by three men at an open house.
Women are attacked more frequently, but men are far from immune. We can’t even educate a great and caring agent that males can be victims, how are we going to educate everyone on what to do to avoid being attacked?
The criminals don’t care. The Dustin Holdrens of the world will just go about their days, being arrested multiple times a month.
Farrington’s brokerage is implementing a “buddy system” for opens. That’s a great step because no one, male or female, armed or not, should hold an open alone. But why wasn’t this implemented years ago? Attacks on agents are hardly new.
Let’s not forget Virginia Freeman, who in 1981 was stabbed in the neck 11 times, strangled and bludgeoned in the head with a rock. Her killer was finally identified through DNA, 36 years later thanks to Freeman clawing enough skin off her killer for modern DNA tests to make an identification. Her killer had been executed decades ago for murdering a 9-year-old girl, but at least Freeman’s family finally got some closure.
If the criminals won’t stop, if the education can’t reach everyone, what can be done?
How about ending the practice of holding open houses? Remove one of the biggest opportunities for bad people to be alone in a home with an agent. Sure, that wouldn’t stop carnage from occurring during showings, but if there were no open houses, that’s one huge opportunity for assault, rape and murder not to happen.
Right now someone is rolling their eyes, thinking this is a ridiculous suggestion and wondering who the hell I am to propose eliminating one of their lead generation techniques. And lead generation is exactly why the vast majority of agents hold open houses.
Very few homes are actually sold at opens (stop right now with your one-off examples of where it’s happened). According to the NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, a whopping 6 percent of buyers find the home they purchase via open houses and yard signs combined.
Thanks to the marvels of the internet, your listing is virtually open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to anyone on the planet with an internet connection. Opening the physical doors for a couple hours on Sunday afternoon is insignificant compared to the potential exposure of the internet.
And you’re not going to get raped or butchered for posting a virtual tour on YouTube.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “But I have to hold my listings open. The seller wants it, I do it to appease my sellers.”
What a crock of feces. You want to know how to “appease your sellers,” how to make them really happy? Sell their home. That’s what they hired you to do. Have you ever seen sellers gush to their friends and family, “My agent is amazing. You should have seen the little snacks he made for our open house. He baked cookies! The house smelled divine!”
Do they really need to vacate their home on a weekend afternoon while they wonder if random strangers are rifling through their medicine cabinets looking for prescription drugs? Or digging through their sock drawer hoping to find hidden family jewelry? Or clubbing their agent in the face with a blunt object?
Open houses are old-school. In 2001, 15 percent of buyers found a home via yard sign and open houses, while 8 percent found their home on the internet. Last year, the yard sign and open had dropped to 6 percent, and the internet exploded to 52 percent. Something about that always on, “virtual open” works, and it works quite well.
This industry needs to band together and do something effective to increase agent safety. There are plenty of ways to generate leads that don’t involve inconveniencing your sellers and putting yourself at risk.
You certainly don’t need to hold an open house to make your seller happy. You need to sell their home as quickly as possible. Sell it for as much as the market will bear. Put them through the least amount of pain possible. That will make your seller sing your praises from on high.
Stop letting random strangers into a listing. There are only two good things that can come from an open — you sell the house (which is a rare occurrence), or you get a buyer lead. The bad — theft, hassle, wasted time, assault, rape and murder — far outweigh the good.
I don’t know what it would take for an industrywide ban. It’s not really NAR’s place to dictate how agents and brokers run their day-to-day business. Individual brokerages certainly can (and have) choose not to hold them.
Brokers need to step up and lead and protect the safety of their agents. Don’t give me the, “but they are independent contractors, I can’t tell them they can’t hold an open!” line. Of course you can. Put it in your policy and procedure manual, and reiterate it in their IC agreements.
Something needs to change, or soon yet another agent is going to wind up in the hospital or the cemetery.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help cover Lenora Farrington’s extensive hospital bills. Please consider donating.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.