Maybe not! A recent South Carolina arrest brings this terrifying issue to light. Consumers visit houses accompanied only by real estate agents in South Carolina every day. Is this practice safe?
In November, Todd Kohlhepp was arrested in connection with the deaths of three individuals whose bodies were found on his property in Woodruff. Investigators were on his property near Wofford Road when they heard banging. They found a kidnap victim alive inside a large metal container “chained like a dog”. The victim had been missing for two months.
Kohlhepp was charged with three counts of murder, three counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and one count of kidnapping. Kohlhepp is also alleged to be connected with four slayings in 2003 at Superbike Motorsports in Spartanburg.
Kohlhepp was a South Carolina licensed real estate agent. Real estate agents in South Carolina are licensed by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR). A November 7 “Housing Wire” article asks how Kohlhepp got his license. The article quotes a prior article in “FOX Carolina” to the effect that LLR had stated Kohlhepp applied for a real estate license in 2006.
A background check was not required for the application. LLR’s website indicates an applicant who has been convicted or a crime must reveal that fact on the application and that the Real Estate Commission may review the application and conduct an investigation which may result in a delay in processing.
Kohlhepp had, in fact, been convicted of a 1986 kidnapping and rape in Arizona and had served 15 years in prison. But on his LLR application, according to FOX Carolina, he explained:
“I entered into a verbal agreement with my girlfriend who was also 15 at the time. I was charged with felony kidnapping due to the fact that I did have a firearm on me.”
He obtained the license and eventually established a firm of twelve agents and a reputation for being successful, professional, out-going and hard working. He was called a great salesman. He looked the part! He dressed well. He drove expensive cars.
What’s the lesson here? Consumers should understand that a real estate agent’s license is no indication that the person who shows a home is honest and trustworthy. Paying proper respect to the many, many wonderful real estate agents I know, however, it should be noted that we have seen cases in other parts of the country where real estate agents were harmed by their clients.
Unfortunately, for both sides of this equation, caution should be exercised in these situations of one-on-one contact with strangers in confined locations. Ask your friends for referrals. Do some on-line digging about the person you are about to meet. Take a business associate. Take a friend. Take your scary-looking cousin. Shoot, take your whole family. Schedule meetings during daylight hours. Let your business associates, friends and family know where you are, who you are with and how long you should be there. Keep your cell phone in your hand.
The good news is that this particular former real estate agent, who has confessed to the crimes, is likely to be off the streets permanently.