Some real estate agents are taking their complaints against lead generation firm SetSchedule to the legal system. The suits exemplify patterns of behavior that other agents have alleged against SetSchedule, both in online forums and directly to Inman.
Real estate agent Jacob Bennett has filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status against the company, alleging SetSchedule’s “unsolicited, autodialed phone calls” violate federal law. And California agent Muhammad Azam has filed a small-claims lawsuit against SetSchedule, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment for leads “paid for and not received.”
According to a March 2 complaint, Bennett — a licensed broker associate for Carpenter Realtors in Martinsville, Indiana — received an autodialed call on his cell phone from Irvine, California-based SetSchedule on Feb. 12. The caller attempted to sell Bennett SetSchedule’s services and told him SetSchedule acquired his contact information from his brokerage website.
“Plaintiff has never had a relationship with SetSchedule and has never provided SetSchedule express written consent to contact him,” the complaint said.
“The unauthorized phone call placed by SetSchedule, as alleged herein, has harmed Plaintiff in the form of annoyance, nuisance, and invasion of privacy, and disturbed Bennett’s use and enjoyment of his cellular phone, in addition to the wear and tear on the phones’ hardware (including the phones’ battery) and the consumption of memory on the phone.”
The complaint alleges violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which prohibits making unsolicited autodialed calls to consumer cell phones without their consent. The complaint seeks to represent all U.S. persons who in the last four years SetSchedule, or an agent of SetSchedule, has called on their cell phone using a platform similar to the one SetSchedule used to call Bennett and for which SetSchedule did not obtain prior express written consent.
In the complaint, Bennett’s attorney, Rachel Kaufman, asserted there are hundreds, if not thousands, of class members. The complaint alleges that each member of the class is entitled to a minimum of $500 in damages for each violation of the TCPA and three times the amount of statutory damages if the court finds SetSchedule’s conduct was “willful and knowing.” The complaint requests a jury trial and asks for an injunction requiring SetSchedule to “cease all unsolicited calling activity.”
Kaufman works for Kaufman P.A., a Miami-based law firm that has also filed TCPA suits against other real estate companies, including Realogy subsidiaries NRT LLC and Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC as well as Keller Williams Realty and eXp Realty. Kaufman P.A. has sued Keller Williams in at least two jurisdictions and those cases are ongoing, as is the case against NRT and Coldwell Banker. The case against eXp Realty is currently stayed until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of the TCPA.
Other law firms have sued other real estate companies for alleged violations of the TCPA in regards to text message spam, including a Florida brokerage sued last month for sending unsolicited telemarketing texts asking a consumer to read articles about homebuying on its website.
Last year, the National Association of Realtors identified TCPA lawsuits as one of the major legal issues its members should keep in mind in the near term, noting that a lot of “trolling” law firms see violations of the TCPA as “low-hanging fruit.” The trade group advised its members to obtain written consent from consumers before texting them, to avoid using autodialers without consent and to scrub phone numbers in their contact database against the Do Not Call registry.
A TCPA case brought by South Florida real estate agent Courtney Silverman in 2018 against NAR and News Corp. subsidiary Move Inc. for sending unsolicited text messages through realtor.com was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice by all three parties this week, likely due to a settlement.
Stephen Weisskopf is an attorney with LevatoLaw and represents SetSchedule. He called Inman in response to an email sent to SetSchedule CEO Roy Dekel seeking comment on the TCPA suit.
“SetSchedule has reviewed the recently filed complaint and disputes the claim that it violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. SetSchedule intends to vigorously defend the allegation,” Weisskopf said.
In 2016, Dekel was barred from working within the securities industry for defrauding investors in a “Ponzi-like” scheme that ran from 2011 to 2013.
Bennett’s complaint noted that “SetSchedule is open about the fact that it places cold calls in order to solicit business from real estate agents,” pointing out that a SetSchedule job posting for an inside sales rep position said the job included “cold communications.”
The complaint also used employee reviews to illustrate the high volume of calls SetSchedule’s employees are required to make to real estate agents.
The company has overall positive ratings on employee review sites Indeed and Glassdoor, which are mentioned in the complaint, but several reviewers call the company’s services a scam and at least one notes that employees are required to “spam realtors with calls.”
The complaint includes examples of real estate agents complaining online about unsolicited, autodialed calls from SetSchedule.
Bennet did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
In a Feb. 27 small claims lawsuit, Muhammad Azam of Fremont, California — who appears to be an agent at Black Oak Properties — alleges SetSchedule owes him $1,665.95 due to “Breach of Contract in regards to services (business lead generation promised) paid for and not received” as well as “unjust enrichment.”
“The plaintiff seeks judgment from the courts to recover monies owed, damages and expenses incurred,” the claim said. Attempts to reach Azam by phone, email and text were unsuccessful. When asked about this case, Weisskopf said he wasn’t aware of it, and that he would pass the inquiry on to Dekel. Dekel has not responded.
The Better Business Bureau is not offering information on SetSchedule at the moment, saying the company’s profile is “currently being updated.” Customer review site Sitejabber has middling reviews for the company, noting that “most consumers are generally dissatisfied with their purchases” and the most common issue is poor customer service.
Since first reviewing SetSchedule’s lead generation app in 2017, Inman has received 144 emails to date complaining about the company’s service and quality of its leads. No app, customer relationship management system (CRM), or lead generation technology reviewed by Inman has generated as many emails expressing frustration over service and allegedly wasted money.
When asked to address the ongoing complaints in 2018, Roy Dekel said that his company takes every one seriously, but that “The lashing out is really a derivative of an agent’s inability to make money or get a refund if they don’t get a commission.” When Inman spoke to Dekel at the time, Dekel said SetSchedule had many happy customers that don’t complain. When asked to be connected to one of them, Inman never heard back.
In response to news of the class-action lawsuit against SetSchedule, one-time customer Shawna Korth of eXp Realty in Denver and Helena, Montana was surprised to hear the company was still in business. “You can’t guarantee leads, but they didn’t even come close. This is the worst I think I’ve ever seen.”
In an October 2019 email, she explained that she feared the company took advantage of elderly homeowners.
“I felt like they prayed [sic] on the elderly. I would get a lead and call them and they were very old, didn’t understand, [and] said they had no interest in selling their home but had been promised a free appraisal but didn’t want to meet with an agent to sell their home. They were most definitely not viable leads. It looked like a lot of them were searching on realtytrac.com.”
Penelope Huang of Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, California, was also a SetSchedule customer who became frustrated with lead quality that didn’t match the company’s sales pitch.
“One was a 92-year-old woman who had no idea why I was calling,” Huang said.
The company’s business model is based on arranging listing appointments with prospective buyers and sellers on behalf of real estate agents, similar to an inside sales rep or assistant. It asks for calendar access to efficiently arrange visits.
Huang went on one appointment after 15 months of using SetSchedule. “It was a seven-unit apartment building and the person they had me meet was a tenant there for 30 years who had no idea why I was there,” she said to Inman in a phone interview. “Plus, I was at their highest level, a gold customer, and they continued to call me to sell me on the service, as if I wasn’t already a customer.”
Michael Lissack of The Virtual Realty Group also worked with SetSchedule. Reached over the phone, Lissack offered a blunt assessment of his experience with the company.
“It’s not 100 percent crap, but it is 95 percent crap. On a scale from one to 10, it’s somewhere around a negative two,” he said.
Lissack copied Inman on several emails sent to SetSchedule’s Dekel and also Udi Dorner, its COO, in July 2019. The email thread ended when the company simply ceased responding. Lissack lost $1,674.
“SetSchedule would claim they had made an appointment with the person,” he said. “On multiple occasions, not only did the person know nothing about the appointment, they weren’t even in the market.”
Lissack then started confirming appointments with his inside sales rep. “The leads would politely inform him that they were getting unsolicited phone calls from SetSchedule and would explain they’re not interested in talking to an agent, but SetSchedule would tell us, ‘Here’s your appointment.'”
Sarah Kenville of Greater Midwest Realty told Inman in an email that she also had issues with elderly leads unaware of why she was contacting them, writing, “The first appointment was a single (widowed, I believe) woman in her 80s who repeated herself several times; she was lovely, but didn’t seem to be entirely with it. She wasn’t sure why I was there and already had an agent. It was a total waste of time. Another appointment was with a man in his 70s. When I looked up his address, I realized that he lived in an apartment building, so he had nothing to sell.”
In an effort to learn more about SetSchedule, Kenville found a number of positive online reviews. However, many of them are word-for-word duplicates published under different names:
Many of the complaints received about SetSchedule also express frustration with customer service, SetSchedule filing counter claims to credit card disputes, and incessant service solicitations well after formal requests to stop emailing.
Lissack, along with Korth, believes that SetSchedule is merely selling outdated RealtyTrac leads. Lissack said the company is abusing RealtyTrac data. (RealtyTrac is an ATTOM Data Solutions service.)
When reached about working with SetSchedule, RealtyTrac representative Jennifer von Pohlmann said she is unaware of them buying leads, but they do use the company’s AVM tool, and were featured in a case study. SetSchedule uses the automated valuation model to demonstrate to homeowners what their home may sell for should they choose to list.
Jim Weix of The Keyes Company recently hired SetSchedule. He sent an email to Inman in January of this year, writing in reference to an appointment, “He was upset. He said someone from SetSchedule called him and insisted that he speak with me. He told them no, but they said they were setting it up anyway.”
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