Charlotte area realty firms re-emphasize safety after rape in Salisbury

Some Charlotte real estate companies are stepping up their focus on agent safety after a man was arrested and charged with raping a woman during home showings in Salisbury on Tuesday.

Police say Brian Harold Cooper, 49, had made arrangements the day before to tour homes with the agent. At the first home, Cooper assaulted the woman, then told her to take him to the second home, where he assaulted her again, according to police.

Cooper, of Granite Quarry in Rowan County, faces one count each of rape, attempted rape, felonious restraint and kidnapping, and two counts of sexual assault. Cooper was in custody Wednesday night at the Rowan County Detention Center in lieu of $1.5 million bond, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said.

Charlotte-area real estate officials say the incident serves as a fresh reminder of the risks agents face as they show homes – usually by themselves – to people who are often strangers.

In light of the Salisbury incident, some managers of local real estate officers say they are planning to take the opportunity to re-emphasize the ways agents can be safe.

Sandra Larsh, broker in charge for Charlotte-based Cottingham Chalk Hayes Realtors, said she is trying to move up a safety meeting that was originally set for September to two weeks from now.

“There’s even more of an urgency to really get it … going as soon as we can,” she said.

She believes the Salisbury incident highlights the importance of having processes in place to keep agents safe. “We better be alert.”

Nancy Legg, broker in charge for Charlotte-based Wilkinson & Associates, said she plans to buy pamphlets on safety to hand out next month at one of the company’s weekly training classes. Legg, who also teaches courses for the Real Estate School of the Carolinas, said she plans to spend the first five minutes of an upcoming class talking about safety. Wilkinson & Associates’ email newsletter to its brokers this Friday will discuss safety, she said.

Salisbury police said Cooper met the agent at her office at 10 a.m. Tuesday. They then drove together to the first house on Secret Garden Court. Once inside, the suspect choked her, pulled out a knife and threatened to kill her if she didn’t do as he said, according to police. After he sexually assaulted the agent, police said, he told her to take him to the second house.

Before doing so, the agent called her office and used a predetermined code word to alert them that she was in distress, police said.

Cooper and the agent then went to the second house, on Trantham Lane, where he took out a knife and assaulted her, police said.

Police say another agent, unaware of the assault, entered the home and the victim immediately left and called 911. Cooper was arrested at his residence late Tuesday.

Attempts by the Observer on Wednesday to reach the broker in charge of the Salisbury office were unsuccessful.

Tuesday’s incident follows other attacks on Charlotte-area real estate agents in recent years:

Larsh, who estimates that the majority of real estate agents working in the Charlotte metropolitan area are women, said safety is a major focus of training for new agents in her company. “It’s a huge topic,” she said.

She said her company also has codes that agents can use when they are in danger in the field. “If an agent calls in and gives a code, which we have never had happen, we call the police.”

Larsh tells her agents: If a cold call comes in from someone wanting to tour a property, take down the person’s information, including email address and work address and phone number.

“You can Google them and get quite a bit of information on them,” she said. “You try to get as much info as you can.”

Legg said she tells agents to always carry their keys and cellphones in their hands, not buried in a purse or bag. And never park your car in such a way that it can be blocked in a driveway.

“You never know when you have to run,” she said.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.