As if times haven't been tough enough for local real estate agents, now they're being warned to be on the lookout after several of their rank have been the victim of crimes.
In recent days, two agents have been held up at gunpoint--one in a storefront office, the other while showing a house--and another had her wallet stolen during an open house and saw $10,000 worth of items charged on her credit cards in the two hours before she caught on.
"I never expected it," said Dave Iverson, the victim of the first crime, which happened April 25. He noted that the man who robbed him was clean cut and professional looking: "I thought he was coming into my office to buy a home until he pulled the gun."
In the more recent holdup, on April 27, Atascadero Police said that a heavyset white male, about 60 years old, came to the door of a house a female agent was showing, pointed a gun at her, and demanded her purse.
Iverson said that he doesn't understand why the man, if it's the same one, is targeting real estate agents.
"There's no cash!" he said. "We sell houses, but the money goes through escrow."
Indeed, police said that they suspect the same man may be responsible for other local holdups, including one on April 25 at a motel in Pismo Beach.
In response to the crimes, the Pismo Beach Association of Realtors sent out a list of safety tips to agents. Another alert was sent out on the Multiple Listing Service, the agents-only wire more commonly used to advertise homes for sale.
At the SLO and Los Osos offices of Century 21 Hometown Realty, they're already making changes, according to Sales Manager Shirley Hulin.
It was one of her agents who had the wallet stolen--two young women are suspected. Hulin said that, for now, agents won't be allowed to hold open houses alone.
"Everybody's just really concerned," she said. "I think we can become complacent living in SLO County because it doesn't usually happen here but our little SLO glasses are off now."
Sheriff's officials have been talking to local agents to give them tips for how to stay safe and respond to danger, said spokesman Rob Bryn.
"Real estate crime of that nature is highly unusual," he said, "yet they can be victims in part because of the isolation they often work in."