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Like other industries, technology has been integral in evolving the business of real estate in the last twenty years. As a result of proper application, consumers are empowered. However, some technologies are abused by real estate agents. The combination of aggressive sales tactics and technology can sometimes go over the line and become harassment. Recent lawsuits highlight the alleged misuse of technology in real estate practice.
A recent class action lawsuit filed in California is taking on real estate agents who “cold call.” Realtor Magazine (Cold Calling in Real Estate Under Fire in New Lawsuit; magazine.realtor; April 8, 2019) reported that the suit originated from a request for the defendant brokerage to stop directing their agents to make unsolicited calls. The suit alleges that calling without consent violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and unsolicited auto-dialer calls violate the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry.
The plaintiff alleges that he received unsolicited calls from multiple agents affiliated with the same brokerage to his cell phone, which is listed with the National Do Not Call Registry. The calls solicited to re-list his home after it did not sell. Although it’s sometimes easy to find a phone number (typically a land line) associated with a property, the plaintiff said his cell phone was not associated with the property listing in any way.
Two other lawsuits filed earlier this month in Florida focus on unsolicited texting. In one, the plaintiff alleges they received thousands of unsolicited text messages, violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, advertising homes for sale. The other alleges the use of unsolicited texting to find potential home sellers.
Haru Coryne, for the Real Deal, reported that the suits are really about the abuse of auto-dialer technology that transmits “thousands” of text messages from a spoofed local number (Unsubscribe! Resi brokerages sued over text message spam; therealdeal.com; April 4, 2019). The founder of a popular real estate technology platform acknowledged to Coryne that real estate agents who use these technologies without knowing the law can get into trouble. He further stated: “A typical real estate agent will have five, six, seven programs, probably never took the time to see what the law is. (But) Just because they offer it doesn’t mean you can abuse it. It’s like eating candy and wondering why you’re getting fat. You can’t take technology and abuse it and wonder why you’re getting sued.”
There are many platforms selling these services to real estate agents. New technologies mine data (including emails and phone numbers) and “communicate” with consumers (including internet auto-dialers). There are several popular services that sell contact information (including cell phone and email) for expired listings and Sale by Owner. The data can be used in conjunction with text/email broadcasting, phone number spoofing and auto-dialers. Many consumers feel harassed because they are bombarded with auto-dialers, texts and emails, after they have opted-out or have asked the agents to stop.
This can be a watershed moment for the industry to educate consumers about professional Realtors and reign in the “bad actors.” The National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) and local Realtor associations advocate for the responsible use of technologies and cold calling. With regard to telemarketing, the NAR states, “There’s no fine line or gray area: There are laws you must not break. But you still have a lot of flexibility on the right side of the law.”
Dan Krell is a Realtor® with RE/MAX Success in Potomac, MD. You can access more information at DanKrell.com