Here’s how desperate some real estate agents and investors are in searching for new homes for sale on Florida’s hot marketplace: They’re sending unsolicited text messages to find potential sellers.
“I hope you have a wonderful day. By the way, you own the house 26840 SW 142nd Ct, ”reads a message sent on Friday to Wladamiro Romanovski, a resident of Miami. “If you are fine! Would you like to sell if the price is right? “
Consumers who do not want to be contacted by real estate companies have little choice but to reply with the word “stop” and hope that the sender will respond.
Romanovski, who owns several investment properties in South Florida, says he gets at least seven text messages a day asking if he wants to sell. “It’s a big sore point on me,” he said. He says he’s blocking numbers, but companies just change the number shown on his phone and keep texting him.
While having your name and phone number on state and national no-call lists makes it illegal for businesses to use automated systems to offer a good or service, texts urging sellers not to say are considered violations the authorities.
Romanovski is among the recipients who filed 244 complaints about the unsolicited property texts with the Florida Division of Consumer Services in the first nine months of 2021. That’s 145 in 2020 and 16 in 2019.
Homeowner Richard Levis says he has been subjected to “continuous harassment” through text messages asking if he would like to sell his Hollywood home. “They have your name, they have your address, they write everything about you in the text,” he said.
Jupiter resident Bill LaFlamme has stopped counting the number of text requests he’s received from people begging to buy his property – plus property he’s never owned. “If I said hundreds, I wouldn’t be lying,” he said. “I’m just so sick of it. I don’t want to sell my house. “
It’s not just property owners who receive the text requests. A selection of 10 complaints recently received by the Consumer Services Department include several from consumers who said they do not own a home and do not understand why they were contacted. Others said that they do not own the properties mentioned in the texts.
Searching for sellers is not illegal
Levis and Romanovski say they filed several complaints with the state but never received a response.
One possible reason: State law does not prohibit voice or text prompts to registered do-not-call lists when the sender is trying to convince the recipient to sell something instead of buying it, says Alan Parkinson, director of the Mediation and enforcement of the consumer services department.
State law prohibits businesses from sending text messages, calls, or direct messages to sell goods or services to consumers who are on the Do Not Call list or who do not provide written permission. Violations will result in fines.
“If they’re selling a service – ask if you want to clean your carpets, have a new roof on your house, or high-pressure wash your driveway – that’s what we’re looking for,” says Parkinson.
Asking if someone wants to sell something is “different”.
Even if they were illegal, it would be difficult to find the source of the unwanted texts, Parkinson said. Caller IDs for most are likely to be spoofed by the software sending the messages, he said.
If a consumer doesn’t respond, it’s hard to know if the sender is a licensed agent or broker, a part-time real estate flipper, or a scam.
Among the 10 complaints received from the state, only two names of legitimate real estate companies were identified. One of these did not respond to a request to discuss its marketing strategy while another denied the complaint, stating that it only sends text messages to consumers who sign up for a customer benefit program and check a text message opt-in box.
Two other complaints identified companies with hard-to-trace generic names, including We Buy Houses and Property Cash Buyers.
Most of the phone numbers identified as sources of the texts were not in use for callbacks or SMS on Friday. One number was answered by a recording of an unfamiliar male voice saying, “I’m on the other line. Please leave your name and the address of the property you are calling about or text me. ”Nobody responded to a text attempting to speak about the man’s text requests.
Big companies don’t write without permission
Florida Realtors, formerly known as the Florida Association of Realtors, declined to discuss whether it would support unsolicited text messaging through its agents. A spokeswoman said the organization’s top attorney had to deal with the problem but would not be available on Thursday or Friday. A blog post on the association’s website explaining how agents can use text messaging to communicate with customers, but doesn’t mention the use of text to cold-call potential buyers or sellers.
The real estate marketplace website Zillow offers its “Zillow Premier Agent Partners” enhanced services, including advice on using text messaging to communicate with customers during the sales process. Texts are only sent “until the buyer or seller is ready and specifically asks for a connection,” said Zillow spokesman Tyrone Law.
Christina Pappas, vice president of Miami-based agency The Keyes Company, declined to say whether or not consumers should reply to unsolicited messages, even if they want to sell their home.
“It’s up to the consumer,” she says. But Pappas recommended that consumers considering working with the sender ensure that it is a licensed, reputable establishment.
Ultimately, “I think the safest and best way to sell your home is to contact your local real estate professional,” she said. “They know your local market and can offer you the best value for money.”
While consumers might find it creepy to get text with their names and addresses, businesses most likely get this information from the publicly available databases on real estate appraisers’ websites. Typically, this data includes the owner names for almost every property and building, as well as sales records, previous sales data, fair market values, taxable values, square footage, and even rough sketches of buildings.
“People need to remember that the information is public in the first place. It doesn’t take a lot of digging, ”said Parkinson.
Data companies likely scrub such databases for public records and then match recipients with cell phone numbers held in non-public databases before selling the information to real estate agents and brokers for use in building property listings. But, as complaints from consumers who do not own property make clear, the information is often out of date or riddled with errors.
If it doesn’t sell, it’s “fair game”
Target groups who are dissatisfied with the state’s hands-off strategy will not find any relief from current federal law.
A year ago, according to the Federal Law for the Protection of Telephone Consumers (TCPA), it was illegal for automated telephone dialing systems to send unsolicited texts or calls – for whatever purpose – to anyone who had not given the sender express written permission beforehand, said Manuel Hiraldo, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney who has represented clients on cases alleged to have violated the TCPA and the Do Not Call Act.
According to the old interpretation, any device that dialed from a list of numbers was considered an automatic telephone dialing system and fell under TCPA regulations. Unsolicited real estate texts used to be considered violations, said Hiraldo.
But in April, in a case called Facebook vs. Duguid, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously to limit the definition of an automated telephone dialing system to devices that store or generate numbers using a random or sequential number generator. This left systems that dialed numbers from lists or databases unregulated.
Florida lawmakers attempted to close the hole opened by the Supreme Court decision with a law that went into effect July 6th that required express written approval for texts or calls to sell a good or service. But the law didn’t cover calls or text messages asking recipients if they’d like to sell something, Hiraldo said.
Other types of communication that don’t require prior consent include job offers, political speeches, religious messages, surveys, and fundraising requests to charities, he said. “Anything not related to selling is fair game,” he said.
Federal law still requires that senders of unsolicited text allow consumers to avoid further text by responding with “STOP,” Hiraldo said. Should the SMS continue to come, he suggests that consumers block the phone number they were sent from and report the SMS to their phone service provider as spam.
According to Parkinson, unsolicited property texts asking owners to sell their homes can only be made illegal if lawmakers decide to change state law.
Romanovski said he would not only support such a change, “I will be the first to argue for it. I’m so passionate about it. “
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