CHEVY CHASE, Md. (WJLA) - A luxury home, recently placed on the market, literally opened its front door to a brazen thief.
On Sunday afternoon, the listing agent held an open house. The property, which boasts six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, is neatly situated along the 5200 block of Oakland Road, in Chevy Chase's Kenwood neighborhood.
"I did notice a lot of cars out front, and lots of people going in and out," Chevy Chase resident Martha Blair Fitzgerald recalled.
Sally Spaisman, 58, of Potomac, was among the crowd of potential buyers visiting the handsome Williamsburg Colonial, currently listed for $2.295 million dollars.
According to Montgomery County District Court charging documents, another woman touring the home heard noises coming from the second floor master suite. Upon entering the room, she reported seeing Spaisman riffling through a jewelry box, tossing designer items in her purse. Alarmed, the woman returned downstairs and notified the selling agent.
Minutes later, Spaisman allegedly emerged from the bedroom, and walked toward the home's front door. When stopped by the realtor, Spaisman claimed to have placed her personal wristwatch in her purse. The 58-year-old wife and mother of two then walked briskly to a light yellow Volkswagon Beetle parked out front, and sped away.
"It's distressing, absolutely," Fitzgerald added. "The homeowners are really wonderful people, and you hate to see something like that happen to them."
Using Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration records, police traced the brightly-colored VW to Spaisman's Potomac home of 25 years. According to court documents, while searching her car, officers found $15,000 in stolen jewelry. Among the loot: a David Yurman silver bracelet, silver earrings, and a black sapphire diamond bracelet.
"They [police] were going through her [Spaisman's] belongings," Dagmar Tawil recalled. "It was weird to see."
Tawil, who lives around the corner from Spaisman's $1.3 million dollar home, was stunned to learn about the allegations.
"I thought she was getting a speeding ticket," Tawil remarked. "It just makes you wonder. Why would people do something like this?"
A search of court records reveal a strikingly similar arrest in June 2012. In that case, Montgomery County police arrested Spaisman for purportedly stealing $10,000 in jewelry during an open house, this time along the 8200 block of Osage Lane in Bethesda. The then 56-year-old hired a private attorney, and the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office later dropped felony theft charges due to a lack of evidence.
Although open houses have become a mainstay sales tool in the real estate industry, some agents question their success.
"There are three groups that come to an open house -- neighbors, suspects and prospects. It's the suspects you have to be worried about," Realtor Eric Stewart with Long & Foster said.
Stewart, who has been in the home real estate industry for 26 years, nowadays guides his sellers toward virtual open houses. Instead of opening the door to countless strangers, a professional photographer photographs and films a home for a nominal fee. The photographs and a video montage are then posted online for buyers to view from the comfort of their own homes. If the virtual tour piques a buyer's interest, a one-on-one showing is then arranged.
"I disclose to my clients up front, the potential risk by having an open house," Stewart remarked. "The virtual tour is really the way to go, in my opinion."
Apart from high-end jewelry, Stewart says prescribed medications are also an easy item to snag during open houses. His recommendation -- hide every valuable that fits through a door or window.
"Unless you've got cameras in your house watching everybody, you're just not going to know what's going on. It's the risk you take," Stewart concluded.
Spaisman, who's married to the CEO of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in Bethesda, is facing one felony count of Theft: $10,000 to $100,000. If convicted, she could spend 15 years in prison.
"It baffles me because it seems to be a very respectful neighborhood. You don't expect it, and surely think twice when you hear those types of allegations," Tawil concluded.