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Corrine Wagner, an employee of Coldwell Banker in Lakewood Ranch, gets instruction from martial arts instructor Jessie Vi.
East County Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 6 years ago

Realtors knock out plan for safety

Lakewood Ranch martial arts instructor donates time to instruct those who show homes.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Joan Voorhees watched as a fellow student launched a punch into Lakewood Ranch karate instructor Jessie Vi.

Then it was her turn.

Voorhees, who is 81, did her best Bruce Lee imitation, although the impact would have registered at the break-an-egg level.

"I don't know if I could do this," said Voorhees, who is a property manager for Coldwell Banker.

Even so, Voorhees wants to find out.

That's why she came to the Ming Wu Martial Arts studio for the first time on a Thursday morning. Like all the realtors in the room, she had heard about attacks on senior female realtors in Bradenton in August and in St. Petersburg in June.

Vi isn't attempting to get Voorhees ready for competition. His hope is that if she ever encounters a dangerous situation when showing a home, she can offer a quick, aggressive reaction that will stun her attacker.

That reaction could open a window of a couple of seconds to allow for an escape, or could discourage an attacker who thought he or she had picked out an easy target.

"When it comes to that point, anything is possible," said Vi, who has donated his lessons twice a week to a class made up mostly of realtors.

Although Vi said "I don't want to see anything happen to innocent people," he also has a vested interest in teaching the class. His wife, Miranda Oswald, is an associate broker for Coldwell Banker.

Oswald was in a meeting in September with fellow Coldwell Banker employees, who all were voicing concern about possible attacks when showing homes. Oswald thought it was time to discuss the matter with her husband, who volunteered his time "without batting an eye."

The class began three weeks ago.

"There have been recent happenings around the area and in other places in the United States where realtors have been abducted," said Michael Taylor, the managing broker for Lakewood Ranch Coldwell Banker. "We wanted to be pro-active. We are providing them with self-defense lessons. They need something other than carrying around a gun, or mace or pepper spray.

"You don't always have those things readily available."

But why karate lessons?

"A lot of agents have not punched anyone ever," Taylor said. "I would much rather they learn something they will never use, then not know something they might need."

When Vi volunteered his time, almost 20 realtors, mostly from Coldwell Banker, signed up.

"This really is amazing, to give up his time to help the community to be safer," Taylor said.

Voorhees said she would be back for more lessons. "Absolutely. I go into vacant houses and meet people I don't know," she said.

Coldwell Banker agent Paula Cashi, who only would admit to being "60-something," was among those taking lessons.

"This is a good idea," she said. "I am trying to get both my daughters, Tami Cashi and Lori Cashi-Haught, to take this class. They will be here.

"I have heard stories about people getting hurt."

Does Cashi worry that learning to fight back might get her into even more trouble?

"No," she said. "A little knowledge can go a long way and you need to have some sort of foundation. Not only realtors, but everyone."

Although Cashi never has experience a problem in showing homes, she does think about a possible attack. Making it an even more dangerous situation is that she said you just can't tell by looking at a person if they might mean you harm.

"You would have to be God to know," she said.

Oswald carries a stun gun and she, obviously, has been exposed to karate. But she said the other realtors are picking up techniques in a hurry.

"They're getting it," she said. "They are feeling empowered."

Coldwell Banker agent Corrine Wagner said that Vi has taught her that most aggressors believe they will surprise their victims.

"A response will give you seconds to get away," she said.

Vi also talked to the class about another weapon.

"I want them to use their No. 1 weapon, their voice," Vi said. "Your voice can stop a person for that second that you need to get away."

Another realtor, Sandi Dietrich of Coldwell Banker, said she felt that she had no safety zone besides a weapon, and it is tough to attract clients if you have a weapon in your hand.

"(The lessons) make you practice real-life circumstances so you won't be a deer in the headlights," she said. "I am getting used to being hit or pinned up against the wall.

"Meeting strangers in a vacant house is extremely dangerous in our current times."

Green Lion realtor Judy Taulbee already is a third-degree black belt, but she was in the class working alongside the other realtors.

"These houses where we go are vacant, and they all are big houses," said Taulbee, who is 56. "I don't get complacent. Definitely anywhere I go, I always am looking around."

Safety tips from Coldwell Banker realtors

"Don't ever park in the driveway, you could get blocked in." -- Joan Voorhees,

"If you have a bad feeling, don't show the house." -- Paula Cashi

"Educate yourself and be aware of your surroundings." -- Miranda Oswald

"Always have a copy of their driver's license." -- Corrine Wagner

"Always know who you are meeting. Text a photo of the driver's license to your office if you meet at the house." -- Sandi Dietrich











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