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Using text message marketing? This class action lawsuit may change your mind

(MARKETING NEWS) A new class action lawsuit may have your team reconsidering whether or not text message marketing is worth the risk.

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Imagine sitting on the sofa with your family and your phone vibrates. It’s a text message! You’re expecting your brother to let you know if he’ll make it to dinner tomorrow.

But it’s a text from a real estate brokerage, loudly proclaiming an “OPEN HOUSE THIS WEEKEND” in all caps, with a link to the listing.

How did they get your number? Why are they yelling at you? Why doesn’t the link have a brokerage name in the URL? Why would I click that link? Why am I being bothered during family time? Why, why, why?

Most people would block the number and move on, or text “stop,” in hopes that the future barrage of unsolicited texts would stop. We all get them from every direction, nearly every day now.

But not Floridian Steve Grossberg, who took a screenshot of a text message from a Coldwell Banker agent, and hired an attorney. A class action lawsuit has since been filed in the Southern District of Florida, and a court date is set for this Friday, April 12, for Judge Federico A. Moreno to review the case.

The lawsuit claims the text messages were sent without written permission from the recipients (required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) since 2012), causing the Defendants “injuries, including invasion of their privacy, aggravation, annoyance, intrusion on seclusion, trespass, and conversion.”

Class action status is being sought for this case – Grossberg’s attorneys claim individual cases for all those impacted would overwhelm the court system and be too financially cumbersome for potential individual plaintiffs.

They’re seeking up to $1,500 in damages for each violation, which they say exceeds the $5,000,000 threshold for federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). The “Class” would include anyone in the past four years that have texted by Coldwell Banker or anyone on their behalf, using automated equipment (or an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS)). Interestingly, in the “Class” description, the attorneys don’t include permission status at all, just “anyone” that has been auto-texted by the brokerage.

Court documents outline in detail the technologies used that allegedly violate federal statues, and Grossberg isn’t just suing the local agent or brokerage, but the international company, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, claiming the text messages sent violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

The lawsuit does not outline in such detail, the chain of permission that was or was not given.

Real estate professionals that hire a marketing firm or a tech startup that promises to modernize their marketing, have an expectation that their money is being spent on something that is in compliance with all laws, be they local, state, or federal. Especially if that is what the company being hired specializes in.

Laying it at the feet of the end user (brokerages) is unfair, and it is curious that no service provider is named as the Defendant. Perhaps Coldwell Banker’s pockets seem deeper.

Additionally, the topic of permission is convoluted, as website visitors will often fill out their information when viewing homes, and the IDX provider will use that contact information to send even more information, thus written permission to contact.

Lumping the above activity in with telemarketing spam would be inaccurate. If a brokerage bought a list of phone numbers to cold text without consumers’ permission, that would, however be illegal.

Regardless, in the text message showcased in the lawsuit, the URL provided (ishomenow.com) forwards to listingstoleads.com – Listings-to-Leads (L2L) which says it is a “leading inbound marketing platform with a lead generation system.”

It appears to us that the lead generation company is the originator of the text message, not a specific Coldwell Banker agent or broker.

This Friday will determine next steps in this case, but for now, it is worth investigating your own text message marketing efforts (whether done yourself or through a third party) to make sure proper permissions have been obtained, and that all use is within current federal guidelines, because a potential $1,500 per text message sent in violation of the law would hurt any brokerage.

Be sure to read the lawsuit in its entirety as it outlines the specific behaviors in question, and review this potentially helpful compliance checklist in the meantime.

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Real Estate Technology

Your home or office needs this $20 smart camera

(TECHNOLOGY) Whether for your office, home, home office, or listing, this $20 smart cam is a great secret weapon!

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Home security cameras are becoming standard equipment in many homes and offices these days, but some of the more popular ones still come with a hefty price tag. That’s where the Wyze Cam comes to the rescue. This simply designed device hit the market for $19.99 in 2017, and now the company offers an upgraded option for $29.99. (You can still buy the lower-cost version.)

Does this relatively cheap security camera hold up to pricier security options like Nest, Ring, and Amazon’s Cloud Cam? Tech experts seem to think so. Cnet appreciated features such as timelapse, the ability to turn off alerts, and its built-in carbon monoxide and smoke alarms. TechCrunch gave a thumbs up to its easy installation, software, and video quality.

So, if you’re a real estate agent, should you consider installing these affordable security tools in properties you’re trying to sell, especially empty homes that could be easy targets for vandals and burglars? The simple answer is yes: Wyze Cams are a low-cost way to protect these properties when no one is around. The longer answer is yes, but make sure you’re following the law in your state.

In Texas, for example, the so-called “one-party rule” requires at least one party to consent to recording conversations. In the case of a home listing, the person most likely consenting would be the seller. However in many states, including Texas, if the seller is not participating in the conversation being recorded, they cannot record the audio, only video. And they cannot install cameras in areas where the potential buyers would expect privacy, like the bathroom.

To protect yourself, buyers, and sellers, NAR advises that listing agents ask sellers if they’re using any kind of cameras or other surveillance equipment. If so, they should tell the buyer’s agent or include a notice in the listing so everyone is aware before entering the home. If you want to take it a step further, you can require sellers to inform you of any surveillance equipment in the home as part of their contracts.

A good rule of thumb if you’re a buyer’s agent: Assume you and your clients are being recorded anytime you tour a home. Some buyer’s agents are even directing clients to keep any opinions — good or bad — to themselves until safely out of any cameras’ reach so sellers don’t get the upper hand in negotiations (just make sure it’s done legally).

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Real Estate Technology

This tool tells you if it’s worth installing solar panels on a specific property

(TECH NEWS) Solar panels can improve the value of some homes, but Realtors should be equipped to know that not all properties can even get the appropriate amount of sunlight.

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Solar panels roof

As a Realtor, you are tasked with both creating a positive customer service experience AND continuing to be innovative. While one aspect relies on continuity, the other is adaptation-based; therefore, balancing the two can be a steep challenge. Staying ahead of the competition requires you to develop revolutionary techniques and pitches in both fields. For this reason, you should consider adding potential for sustainability in the form of solar panels to your repertoire.

Google Maps instated a service called Project Sunroof that allows you to see exactly which houses, neighborhoods, and general properties are solar panel compatible. Additionally, the function lets you see approximately how many hours of useable sunlight you will have per year, as well as how many square feet are available for customization.

Quick video demo of Project Sunroof:

Solar panels still belong to a medium of sustainable energy that is shrouded in mystery (if not shadow). Terrestrial use is tentative, at best; however, a combination of increased awareness regarding climate change and a common desire to save money makes the notion of domestic solar panels an easy pitch for the right realtor.

There is a definitive market for sustainable living, but it tends to be cliquish and exclusive. Energy snobs can end up settling for the ideal home in a less-than-ideal location, simply because these dwellings are relatively few and far between. Solar panel installation could be the olive branch that bridges the gap between clean energy and optimal living.

In the interest of catering to clientele, you might use Google Maps’ solar panel feature to persuade them of the aforementioned gap. Showing them the possibilities for customization could be a huge benefit to you and your client alike; your properties see growth, and your clients are satisfied.

You can also look at potential ways to collaborate with the companies providing the panel services, thereby opening up ways to monetize the experience. Be sure to point out that the initial cost, while large (around $20,000 for installation), is generally offset by the end result: huge savings in energy expenses.

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Real Estate Technology

Why blockchain is urgently critical to the real estate industry

(TECHNOLOGY) We’ve known that blockchain technology will permeate the real estate industry, but this is the case for why it is unavoidable, and we should hurry things up.

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Raise your hand if you remember the housing crash in 2008. Raise your other hand if you remember the following years of fallout, learning about the failures on all levels (regulatory, banks, title companies, and so forth).

As an industry, we look backwards and while vision isn’t quite 20/20 (given the complex nature of the crash and slow recovery), solutions to prevent a similar crash are bubbling up.

One solution is blockchain technologies.

We’ve been writing for years about how blockchain tech will inevitably be used in every part of the real estate transaction process and even in marketing efforts, but today we assert why it must be used in the industry – to prevent another housing market crash.

Take for example MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems). In 2011, the company was disbanded after endless cases made it clear that the company had destroyed the chain of title.

The entire chain.

We’re talking about the robosignature debacle where people lost their homes without any human review, in many cases through no fault of their own (no late payments, or the system had the wrong address).

This alone reveals a critical need for blockchains in the transaction process – just ask the thousands of people whose homes were illegally and unnecessarily taken from them.

If you’ve ignored the word before, here’s a primer, but it is essentially a public ledger that automatically records and verifies digital transactions. It’s what powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Data is stored differently through blockchains, and transparency is improved as all actions are tracked, so it stands to not only speed up all transactions, but add accountability to the chain of title in a way that would have made the entire MERS nightmare impossible.

Real estate transactions are ripe for fraud given the volume of paperwork, and are particularly vulnerable to public record errors (both of which were part of the housing crash’s DNA).

Speeding up transactions is a great benefit (contract efficiency is pretty neat), but the reason blockchain tech is critical for the real estate industry, but minimizing vulnerabilities not only protects transactions, but that risk mitigation reduces transaction costs in the long run.

Because blockchain not only records and tracks titles, deeds, and liens, it makes certain that all documents are verifiable and accurate.

Just some of the burgeoning startups aiming to insert blockchains into real estate include:

  • Ubiquity (SaaS platform for banks, title, and mortgage companies, already in use in Brazil)
  • Factom (blockchain as a service for mortgage companies)
  • backed by famous venture capitalist Tim Draper and others)
  • ShelterZoom (offer management, tapping into Ethereum)
  • Atlant (the ATL coin productizes portions of a housing transaction)
  • REAL (the Real Estate Asset Ledger which uncovers real estate investment opportunities)
  • Propy (investment vehicle, but more importantly, they could become the home of all title records)

If we want to curtail future illegal foreclosures and a broken chain of title, this technology is urgently critical for the real estate industry. It’s not as sexy as marketing tools or negotiation methods, but blockchain technologies will be the focus of innovation for the next decade.

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