Here’s how desperate some real estate agents and investors are to find new homes to sell in Florida’s red-hot marketplace: They are sending out unsolicited text messages to find potential sellers.
“Hope you are having a wonderful day. By the way, do you own the house at 26840 SW 142nd Ct?” reads a message sent Friday to Wladamiro Romanovski, a Miami resident. “If you do great! Would you like to sell if the price is right?”
Consumers who don’t want to be contacted by real estate companies have little recourse beyond responding with the word “Stop” and hoping the sender complies.
Romanovski, who owns several investment properties in South Florida, says he gets at least seven texts a day asking if he wants to sell. “It’s a big sore spot with me,” he said. He says he blocks numbers, but companies just change the number that shows up on his phone and continue to send him texts.
While putting your name and phone number on the state and national Do Not Call lists makes it illegal for companies to use automated systems to pitch a good or service, texts soliciting sellers are not considered violations, authorities say.
Romanovski is among recipients who have filed 244 complaints through the first nine months of 2021 to the Florida Division of Consumer Services about the unsolicited real estate texts. That’s up from 145 in 2020 and 16 in 2019.
Homeowner Richard Levis says he’s subjected to “nonstop harassment” from text messages asking if he wants to sell his house in Hollywood. “They have your name, they have your address, they put everything about you in the text,” he said.
Jupiter resident Bill LaFlamme has lost count of how many text solicitations he’s received from people begging to buy his property — plus property he has never owned. “If I say hundreds, I wouldn’t be lying,” he said. “I’m just so tired of it. I don’t want to sell my home.”
It’s not just property owners who get the text solicitations. A sampling of 10 recent complaints obtained from the Division of Consumer Services includes several from consumers saying that they don’t own a house and don’t understand why they were contacted. Others said they don’t own the properties mentioned in the texts.
Seeking sellers not illegal
Levis and Romanovski say they’ve filed multiple complaints to the state but have never received a response.
A possible reason: state law does not prohibit solicitations by voice or text to Do Not Call list registrants if the sender is trying to convince the recipient to sell, rather than buy, something, says Alan Parkinson, chief of mediation and enforcement for the Division of Consumer Services.
Under state law, companies are not allowed to send texts, calls or direct-to-voice mail messages seeking to sell goods or services to consumers registered on the Do Not Call list or who do not provide written permission. Violators are subject to fines.
“If they’re selling a service — asking if you want your carpets cleaned, have a new roof put on your house, or pressure wash your driveway — that’s what we look for,” Parkinson says.
Asking if someone wants to sell something “is different.”
Even if they were illegal, tracking the source of the unsolicited texts would be difficult, Parkinson said. Caller IDs for most are likely spoofed by the software that sends the messages, he said.
Unless a consumer chooses to respond, there’s little way to know whether the sender is a licensed agent or broker, a part time property flipper, or a scammer.
Among the 10 complaints obtained from the state, only two identified names of legitimate real estate companies. Of those, one did not respond to a request to discuss its marketing strategy while another disputed 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 service for return calls or texts on Friday. One number was answered by a recording of an unidentified male voice saying, “I’m on the other line. Please leave your name and the address of the property you are calling about or send me a text.” No one responded to a text seeking to talk about the man’s text solicitations.