Technology

Real estate tech is making life hell for some homeowners

Lead generation tools threaten to tarnish the name of real estate agents

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Imagine you’re just living your life, and then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, your phone starts ringing off the hook.

Every caller is a real estate agent trying to convince you to sell your home.

That’s what happened to one homeowner in Aurora, Colorado, this week. On Monday alone, she estimates she received anywhere from 75 to 100 calls in just a 12-hour period, 9NEWS reported.

The agents calling her had apparently acquired her contact information through lead generation tools, including Vulcan 7 and RedX.

Her experience captures how technology designed to help real estate agents drum up business is increasingly making life a living hell for consumers who are deemed likely to buy or sell homes.

The phenomenon raises questions about whether lead generation tools are invading consumer privacy and inadvertently damaging the image of real estate agents.

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“Yeah, let’s find another way to make agents more annoying,” one broker recently tweeted, after I asked whether big data lead generators might make life a living nightmare for some homeowners.

The Colorado homeowner was apparently targeted as a lead because she had taken her home off the market after unsuccessfully trying to sell it.

Real estate agents have long chased expired listings. But the proliferation of lead generation tools is likely boosting the number of agents who hunt them.

Lead generators are also helping agents target a number of other demographics, like homeowners who have recently had kids or people whose parents have passed away.

The watershed moment in data-driven lead generation may have come in 2012 when Zillow began displaying for free the addresses of homes that are in foreclosure or have been repossessed by lenders. The number of homes in foreclosure outed by Zillow numbered 1 million at the time.

That’s just one flavor of distressed homeowner that real estate technology is flagging for business-hungry real estate agents. Other marks include recent divorcees and grieving heirs.

Privacy laws prohibit marketers from calling people on the do-not-call list, or sending auto-dialed prerecorded calls or auto-dialed text messages to the mobile phones of people who never provided their “express written consent” to receive such communications

They also can’t send “commercial email” to people who never consented to receive it, or previously opted out of receiving it.

Even if real estate agents carefully adhere to these rules, all signs seem to point to a future where many distressed homeowners will face constant reminders of their troubles in the form of phone calls and advertising from real estate agents seeking to capitalize on their hardship.

Maybe I’m missing something, though.

Perhaps the volume of solicitations that distressed homeowners receive has been painfully high for some time, and the spread of lead generation tools and predictive analytics won’t make it anymore agonizing.

Inman readers, do you think the trajectory of lead generation is pushing us towards a marketing dystopia?

Are you worried that lead generation tools might hurt the name of real estate agents?

Do you think distressed homeowners deserve more privacy protections?

Email Teke Wiggin.