Editor’s note: STL Real Estate Group has ceased this marketing campaign after only a couple of days, the company told Inman, and asked that we take the story down. It will remain on the site, but Inman will be taking a deeper dive into the legal risks surrounding text message communications and privacy law this week. On April 25, STL Real Estate Group released an official statement about the marketing campaign, noting that “As of April 25th, STL Real Estate chose to discontinue their text message marketing efforts after leaving a voicemail to individuals. Moving forward messaging will only go out to individuals who specifically request it.”

“Do you have any interest in selling? My contact information is attached.”

A text message to potential sellers may not work for every market, but Jim Manning, co-founder of STL Real Estate in St. Louis, is finding some success with a text campaign he recently launched. The marketing effort was designed to identify potential sellers in the popular residential market of Tower South Grove.

But you won’t find a robot behind the keys, perhaps just some tired thumbs. Manning’s text approach didn’t rely on automation.

Text that was sent out by STL Real Estate Group, before the company ceased the campaign.

Instead, Manning’s team first called the numbers of hundreds of homeowners, supplied by lead provider Landvoice, then texted each of them, addressing them by name, if they had not reached them by phone.

The success of the experiment so far?

“We’ve only been doing this for a few weeks now, but we’ve had some success. The preliminary response has been pretty positive,” said the company team leader.

Some people are texting back, while others are calling. Manning’s had a total of 10 favorable responses with a handful of appointments set up as a result in these early stages. Plus, the agency made the Channel 4 news.

But according to Ryan DiClemente, a consumer financial services attorney who specializes in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, agents who buy leads from a third party could potentially breach the TCPA if they call people on the do-not-call list, or send auto-dialed prerecorded calls or auto-dialed text messages — such as those delivered by some contact management systems — to the mobile phones of people who never provided their “express written consent” to receive such communications from the third party.

DiClemente also said TCPA-related legislation has “exploded” in the last few years.

Text messages: Where the eyeballs are

Part of the reason a text campaign appealed to Manning is that he finds people don’t respond to other forms of communication anymore, even for things they are going to benefit from.

“It’s crazy — we do a Spring Fling every year with family, friends and past clients,” Manning said. “And each year the RSVP numbers have gone down. We have live music, activities for kids and adults, crazy, cool stuff. I don’t know if people are overwhelmed, but it is getting harder to get people to respond even to a fun event (even) to say: ‘No I’m not going.'”

His research found that 90 percent of people at least read text messages.

Goals and results

Manning’s inquiry is not speculative. He would like to get 400 properties out of this marketing campaign. The plan is to buy 200 properties for the brokerage’s sister investment company, STL Real Estate Properties to renovate and either rent or sell, while the other half will become listings for his agents to sell.

“I think it gives us an advantage,” Manning said. “This is not fluff. We are actually doing it. For some agents, it’s fluff; they are not actually wanting to buy the home. We actually really like buying and making homes better and communities better.”

He and his business partner, Ryan Wessels, started an investment property company nine years ago, then branched out into a brokerage. The brokerage has eight real estate agents and six acquisition specialists that work on finding houses to buy.

The ‘Wild West’ of text marketing

The brokerage has received one complaint so far in response to the messaging, and Manning dealt with it swiftly.

“When we received the complaint, we immediately took the person off the list so that they wouldn’t be contacted again and apologized that they were upset about it,” he said.

“Most people get that this is a good thing. We are trying to make property better,” he said.

People are asked to respond with a “STOP” to the text if they do not own the property or know who does.

Manning said he looked into the legalities of it before launching the campaign.

“My understanding is you are not allowed to solicit to sell something via text, but it’s okay because we are looking to buy. Honestly, it’s such a new thing, it’s like the Wild, Wild West out there.”

This story has been updated with comments from STL Group and an image that shows the entirety of the text message content before the campaign was ceased. 

Email Gill South.

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