One Safe Way to Practice Real Estate: By Referral Only

A survivor's warning to trust your gut

July 1, 1998

People are so eager to make a sale that they don’t think about their own safety, says Joan Malone. And she ought to know.

“You have to remember that there's no 100 percent–safe situation and that when you leave your house in the morning, you may never come home,” says Malone.

The salesperson with RE/MAX–DFW, Dallas, had a run-in last year with danger and almost lost her life.

It was every real estate practitioner's nightmare: She was attacked by a prospect who strangled and stabbed her and left her for dead.

In response to her ordeal, she has made it one of her goals to educate others about personal safety.

She gives speeches at professional meetings, is involved with a woman's safety program in her community, and recently donated $1,000 to her local police department to fund the purchase of a specially designed, ultra-padded suit used in self-defense courses.

And despite the pain of remembering her attack, she shares her story with many people, especially real estate practitioners, to make them aware of what can happen.

“We all think it can’t happen to us,” she says, “especially if you live in a community like mine: mostly professional, average home price $190,000, a small-town atmosphere. But bad guys have nice cars, too.”

When Malone met up with her bad guy, she did everything right except trust her own instincts.

The well-dressed buyer came into the office and told her he was an attorney who was dissolving a partnership and would have all-cash funds in a few days.

He gave her his name and a working telephone number. He drove a nice car. There were people with him—two women and a child.

After Malone had shown them several houses, they left without a purchase. Several weeks later, the buyer resurfaced and made an appointment to see houses. Malone felt uneasy.

The next afternoon, while showing him a house, Malone was brutally attacked by the buyer. She was knocked to the ground and broke her back. He started to rape her, but she fought him off. Instead, he strangled her until she was unconscious and then stabbed her. He robbed her and drove away in her car.

After Malone regained consciousness, she crawled to a phone, dialed 911, and collapsed.

But she also had a paper trail—with the man's real name—that helped police catch him. Malone was able to identify the attacker.

The Dallas County district attorney offered Malone's assailant a plea bargain: 40 years in a maximum security prison with no chance of parole for a minimum of 20 years. He accepted.

Malone has returned to the real estate profession and now works mostly by referral.

On the first anniversary—March 19, 1998—of her attack, she took the day off. The next day she went to three closings.

One point that Malone and safety experts emphasize is to trust your gut.

“You spend time to get people you work with and live with to trust you, so why not trust yourself?” asks J.J. Bittenbinder, a former homicide detective with the Chicago Police Department.

“Listen to your inner voice,” says Malone. “I had a gut feeling, but I argued with myself anyway.”

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