Anne Lakusta, a team leader for the Keller Williams Dallas Metro North office, was sitting at a football game when an advertisement flashed on the Jumbotron. If you text a certain number, you get a coupon for a free taco.
At first Lakusta wondered, "Gee, how does that work?" And then the metaphorical light bulb flashed above her head: Although the real estate world hadn’t tapped the power of the text message, a similar concept could be used in her industry.
She went back to her office, talked with her fellow agents and then contacted DMX Inc., an Austin, Texas, company that creates experiential marketing services including mobile messaging.
The result was Realty Text Program, an interactive advertising and lead-generation platform that was unveiled this past November by the North Dallas offices of Keller Williams. The easy-to-use tool helps connects buyers and sellers using text messaging and integrates with MLS (multiple listing service) data systems.
"I felt the industry was lagging behind technology-wise," said Lakusta. "I mean there are a lot of technology advances, such as pulling up to a house and it will "talk" to you. But that wasn’t current enough. People are texting today. It’s how many of us communicate, much more than e-mails or websites."
The world is, indeed, moving to mobile technology and one part of that is the instant communication tool of texting.
Anecdotally, one news story about freshmen entering college in 2010 observed that young adults almost never e-mailed; they texted one another. And, in a more formal study of the financial services industry, Mercatus Partners LLC, a Boston-based consulting and research company, reported consumers will use mobile banking more than online services by 2015.
What was neat about Lakusta and the North Dallas effort was that it was completely entrepreneurial. It was their idea and investment, and not the corporate offices of Keller Williams.
"Keller Williams has some other texting programs at a corporate level, but nothing as innovative as this," noted Jaime Kane, DMX’s product messaging manager. "This was the first for DMX and Keller Williams to use this type of technology."
DMX’s techies understood texting was on the verge of taking off as a tool for the real estate industry, but it wasn’t until they brainstormed with the professionals at the North Dallas Keller Williams office as to what was needed that they saw the complete picture.
"We needed to create a more perfect solution," Kane said. "So, we worked with the North Dallas team to come up with what the right solution should be based on their needs, how they would use it and how it would be priced. It was a very collaborative effort between the two of us to put this specific program together."
The texting platforms generally in use today by real estate firms offer just one-way texting that isn’t interactive, basically common-variety SMS messaging, such as a Realtor informing a client he or she is having an open house at a certain location next Sunday.
"That doesn’t create any leads, unlike what we are doing with Keller Williams," Kane said. "And, it doesn’t tie that actual linkage to the MLS by giving them more information."
The key to the whole thing is a listed text number, sometimes referred to as a texting code. A buyer sees the code and dials the number on a cell phone and immediately gets information.
"I’m putting a rider on my sign, on my Craigslist ad, my realtor.com ad, on my fliers and any other marketing regarding a home," said Lakusta. "I’m going to include the texting code, which is going to allow easier access for all buyers and is going to attract more attention than, a wording that says ‘Visit my website,’ or ‘Call me on my telephone.’ "
Although agents can customize what information they want customers to see, the basic data points are pulled from the MLS — i.e., square footage, number of rooms, number of bathrooms, etc. The customer will get a series of follow-up texts with more information as well. Agents, meanwhile, get a message that someone was interested in a particular house.
"The Realtor logs into a dashboard we send out," Kane explained. "They can view when the customer has texted in specific keywords and see what the interaction has been. Then they can be as proactive as they want to be, responding with a text saying, "I’m in the area, let’s meet right now," or "Hey, call me at this number.’ "
Agents have the ability to write their own responses and manage the platform per time of day, so it can be a very personal response coming across the potential client’s cell phone.
As for consumers and property buyers, they gain access to information, which they can share with others or referenced later, all without skipping a beat.
Lakusta was truly one of the driving forces behind the development on this new technology, and part of her job in all of this was getting others to see her vision.
"Most thought it was intriguing, but once we proved it was cost-effective and agent-friendly, everyone bought in," she said. "The agents realized this is how they communicate with current clients. When they really need to get through immediately, they text."
Today, the other Realtors are "thrilled," she said. "What we are doing is an unlimited number of listings per agent so they can offer it for every single client. This is agent-friendly — they know they don’t have to build anything; it’s there for them."
So, in the end, a big shout-out to Lakusta and the North Dallas Keller Williams group for advancing a useful technology.
"Right now, we are at the tipping point as to how texting will be critical in the real estate business," Kane said. "We believe this innovative program has the ability to change the real estate industry."