Possible poisoning attempt of South Florida agent highlights open house safety

by Andrew Morrell

Local Realtor association chapters in South Florida are calling attention to safety precautions for real estate agents after an incident at an open house earlier this month. According to an email sent to members of the Miami Association of Realtors, a suspicious visitor may have tried to poison or drug an agent hosting an open house Sept. 9 in Jupiter, Florida.

The agent, who did not wish to be identified, was not harmed, and is working with local police to identify a suspect involved. But with more than 20 years of experience under her belt, she said the incident demonstrates why safety should always be top-of-mind at open house events, and how things can happen even when most precautions are followed.

“We have to think outside the box,” the agent said in an interview with Miami Agent. “We can’t just think about protecting the owner’s jewelry anymore during an open house. We have to think about how to protect the Realtor, too.”

The incident occurred at the end of the open house and may have involved some of the last people to arrive, a man and woman with two young children. The agent said she immediately felt something was strange about them, specifically because the man was wearing a backpack and asked peculiar questions. Because the kids were distracting the parents and it was getting late, the agent didn’t get a chance to have the couple sign in, although they eventually left without incident.

Afterward, when the agent went to take a drink from her bottle of water left open on the dining room table, she noticed something in her mouth. She stopped herself from swallowing, thinking at first a bug had crawled into the water: “This is Florida, after all.”

Upon spitting it out, she found what appeared to be half of a pill capsule. Her son, who was with her at the open house, then noticed a white powdery substance on her lips.

“Thank God I didn’t swallow,” she said, adding that she noticed a tingling sensation from the powder. She managed to save the remaining substance and notified the police of the incident. While the investigation is ongoing, she said authorities are not sure what the substance might be. The agent did not suffer any health effects after the incident, and is working with police to identify a suspect using surveillance camera footage nearby. Police haven’t named a suspect or filed charges in the matter.

“All I can think about are the ‘what-ifs’ after the fact,” the agent said. While she took nearly every safety precaution and is well aware of the risks agents face, she acknowledged that any agent can still get complacent. She thinks of the bizarre situation as a valuable lesson, and is now ensuring that all agents she works with closely follow open house safety precautions, as outlined by the National Association of Realtors:

  • Always bring someone you trust with you to an open house who can act as a second pair of eyes, “whether it’s a one-bedroom condo or a mansion,” the agent added.
  • Have all guests sign in and ask to see a copy of his or her photo ID.
  • Ensure that homeowners lock up or temporarily relocate any valuables or important documents that may be easily stolen, like jewelry, electronics, prescription medication or credit cards, before hosting an open house.

The agent noted that in light of the incident, she and her associates will mandate all open house guests sign in, have a photo of their ID taken, and not bring in any large bags. Keeping safety her top priority, she isn’t concerned if these rules scare off potential buyers.

“If prospects are bothered by it, so be it,” she said.

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