When a prospective renter recently contacted New York City-based agent Keith Frazier through a listing portal, the lead’s phone lit up within minutes. It was a text from Frazier. How could he help? After the potential client responded, she received a flurry of questions. The woman may have thought she was building a rapport with Frazier as she answered these questions.

  • Riley concierges send responses to new leads within minutes and then ask follow-up questions to prequalify them. Then concierges turn the text conversation over to an agent.
  • Concierges at Riley's 'text centers' interact with leads using questions provided by agents, along with their own ingenuity.
  • They can handle some requests, like relaying listing information or looking up the closest grocery store to a property.
  • Real estate licensees that allow unlicensed assistants to perform certain activities can be liable for violating state real estate laws.
Keith Frazier

Keith Frazier

When a prospective renter recently contacted New York City-based agent Keith Frazier through a listing portal, the lead’s phone lit up within minutes.

It was a text from Frazier. How could he help?

After the potential client responded, she received a flurry of questions, including, “What are your specific search preferences?” “How much money do you earn?” and “What do you do for a living?”

The woman may have thought she was building a rapport with Frazier as she answered these questions.

And she was. Sort of.

The questions were actually sent on Frazier’s behalf by a “text center” operated by Riley. The startup’s “concierges” send text responses to prospective buyers and sellers just minutes after they contact an agent, then ask a series of follow-up questions to tee up leads for agents.

Frazier, who heads up the Keith Frazier Team at Highline Residential, took over the text exchange after the lead had provided desirable answers to the questions asked by the Riley concierge. The lead ended up using Frazier to find a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

From listing aggregator and showing scheduler to lead assistant

Since beta launching last year, Riley has evolved from a text message-based service that aggregated listings and scheduled showings for consumers to one that focuses solely on using text messages to qualify and convert leads for agents.

The new Riley joins a growing number of resources that can help agents, teams and brokerages boost the number of online leads that they convert into clients. Options include high-octane customer relationship management systems (CRMs) with auto-responders, lead-“scrubbing” call centers and virtual assistants.

Riley stands out because it focuses on text messages. And unlike text autoresponders, it uses real people to write texts. That human touch is central to Riley’s appeal — but if not managed carefully, it can also create liability.

“Existing solutions on the market are either automated [text messages] … or are for Web chat,” said Daniel Ahmadizadeh, explaining why he created Riley. “There wasn’t anything on the text messaging side of things.”

How it works

Individual agents can sign up for Riley for $25 a month, while team subscriptions cost $75 a month. Team accounts let supervisors monitor how quickly team members continue text exchanges once they are transferred by Riley concierges.

Concierges send text messages to leads that are a combination of questions designed by an agent or team leader and a concierge’s own ingenuity.

Keith Frazier has instructed Riley concierges to ask the questions above to leads.

The fact that a human is on the other end of the line means Riley concierges can not only modify assigned questions based on a lead’s preferences or responses — and, say, crack jokes — they can also handle certain types of requests.

If a lead asks about the closest grocery store or subway stop to a listing, concierges can consult Google Maps or AddressReport, a property report provider, to dig up answers, Ahmadizadeh said.

The time at which a concierge hands off a text conversation to an agent depends on what questions the agent has instructed the concierge to ask. Agents can also click the “Override and Claim” button in Riley’s dashboard to take the reins of a conversation if they like.

Frazier has given Riley 12 questions to ask to prequalify leads.

But concierges can use their discretion to skip some questions depending on how the conversation plays out.

“It has to flow naturally,” he said. “Also, the order of the questions are not etched in stone.”

Here’s what Ahmadizadeh said a text exchange between a Riley concierge and a lead inquiring through Zillow about a three-bedroom listing might look like:

Lead: Hey! I’m interested in this place. When can I see it?
Concierge (can see the listing that the lead is looking at and the lead’s name): Hi Chris! Thanks for reaching out. While I look into the availability of the listing, when are you looking to move?
Lead: Thanks for the quick response! I want to move in 2 months.
Concierge: Great. What’s your budget? Are you exclusively looking for 3 bedrooms in Queens?
Lead: $800,000 and I would be open to anything above a 2 bedroom. Important to have a backyard.
Concierge: Fantastic. I will make sure I keep an eye out for listings that meet that criteria. Open to outside Queens as well? Are you working with an agent already by the way?
Lead: Oh yea sorry I didn’t respond to that. Brooklyn works too. City too of course. Not the Bronx unless you can find me a 6 bedroom. HA!
Concierge: Wishful thinking but who knows…I’ll see what’s out there! :) Anything else I should know?
Lead: Yea if you can try to find places near the expressway, that’d be fantastic.
Concierge: You got it! I’ll get to work and get back to you asap. Have a great start to your day!

Legal tangles

Like so many other real estate startups, Riley will have to navigate a tangle of real estate laws that vary by state.

Screen shot showing section of Riley's lead dashboard.

Screen shot showing section of Riley’s lead dashboard.

Riley concierges do not have real estate licenses, meaning they are legally prohibited from performing a wide range of activities. Text center concierges are a type of unlicensed real estate assistant, according to Anthony Gatto, director of legal services at the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR).

New York state law permits real estate assistants to collect information to prequalify leads and confirm basic listing information, like home price, Gatto said.

But unlicensed assistants shouldn’t answer detailed questions about listings (for example, “Does this listing have a fireplace?”) or neighborhoods (for example, “Where’s the closest grocery store to this listing?”), he said.

Gatto wrote in an article providing guidance to New York Realtors on unlicensed real estate assistants that explaining or interpreting “information on listings, contracts or other information relating to a transaction” is a licensed activity under state law, and is therefore off limits to unlicensed assistants.

Licensee’s legal duty to act “honestly and trustworthily” also would legally prevent agents from allowing assistants to impersonate them in text message conversations, Gatto told Inman.

Agents thinking about using any type of unlicensed assistant should also keep in mind that, at least in New York, a broker and licensee are “jeopardizing his/her license by allowing a personal assistant to perform licensed activities,” he wrote in an email.

Some states may offer more leeway to unlicensed assistants, but Gatto’s legal assessment suggests that Riley may be well advised to carefully regulate the activities of its concierges.

Ahmadizadeh says that whenever a concierge has any doubt about how to respond to questions from leads they know to transfer the conversation to Ahmadizadeh or another founding member of Riley.

“If we mess up a single text message for an agent, that agent is never going to use us again,” Ahmadizadeh, he notes,

Email Teke Wiggin.

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