LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - ?
The suspect in an Arkansas real estate agent's murder pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday morning. Aaron Lewis was arrested Sunday in connection with Realtor Beverly Carter's disappearance. She went missing after Lewis made an appointment to look at a house for sale.
Her body was found Tuesday in a shallow grave near a concrete company where Lewis used to work. Police say that Lewis admitted to the kidnapping but not to the murder.
Authorities say Carter was a target of opportunity, and her death has rattled realtors everywhere, including right here in East Texas.
Real estate agents in Lufkin are re-evaluating their procedures when it comes to their safety when it comes to meeting prospective clients.
Jill Navarro, a broker for Navarro Realty in Lufkin, spoke with all her agents Tuesday and made an immediate policy change in light of the murder of Arkansas Realtor, Beverly Carter.
"I'm going to make sure that we only show qualified buyers to Navarro Realty listings, and so we're going to ask for that documentation. Lenders will give a pre-qualification letter," Navarro said.
Navarro said the policy ensures that their agents won't just be jumping in the car and going to show homes. Only people seriously interested in purchasing a home will be meeting with their agents.
"It's not about a dollar sign," Navarro said. "There will be another deal. There will be another client. Go with your gut because safety is first. We can't replace that agent. Meet your client in the office and introduce them to another agent, so you have more than one person who can identify this client, get a copy of their drivers license, and put it in the file."
"But in all actuality when they call and you see this, and you know you have to get this home sold, I'm not going to lie, you see dollar signs and you hop in the car and you run out thinking you're doing a great service to your seller by instantly being available," Navarro said. "If it is a vacant home again, now that is a scenario where we would need to decide what position we are putting ourselves in by doing that, and at that, point the police in place would be there to protect the agent."
Linh Bass with Century 21 Bryan says she has a personal safety plan in place that makes her feel safe.
"This is East Texas and you go a lot of places that are rural and you don't have cell phone service, so I do text my husband and we go to the office and I tell the office staff where I'm going and how long I should be there and if I feel really unsafe, I'll ask another realtor to come with me," Bass said.
Navarro Realty has a calendar that tracks every listing and notifies the agency when someone is at the property, and they don't do public open houses.
"If I list a property, it's realtor open house only because realtors are working with qualified buyers," Navarro said.
Agents say the Lufkin Association of Realtors has a great communication system and always alerts realtors of suspicious behaviors and situations that have happened so they can be on guard.
Beverly Carter's body was found about 20 miles from the home she was showing.
Lewis is being held on $1 million dollars bond.