Reach Out and Text Someone

Texting is becoming a common way to correspond. But that doesn't mean it's always the best way.

April 1, 2009

If phone calls and e-mail are still your preferred way to share information with clients, it might not be long before text messaging takes priority. According to the 2008 REALTOR® Technology Survey, 35 percent of real estate practitioners use cell phone texting on a daily basis; another 27 percent text on at least a weekly or monthly basis.

The general public has also embraced the convenience of texting. While the number of phone calls made or received by wireless subscribers in the United States remained relatively steady from 2006 through mid-2008, text messaging skyrocketed nearly 450 percent, according to a Nielsen Mobile analysis.

Many real estate practitioners have recognized this phenomenon and are incorporating text messaging into their client communications. "One of the first things I ask when I meet new clients is if they can receive text messages on their phone, and if they would like to be updated by e-mail or text," says Richard Van Kluyve, broker-associate with Century 21 Premier in Mount Juliet, Tenn.

About half of Van Kluyve’s clients tell him they prefer text, including one house-hunting couple in their 20s who’ve taken texting to a whole new level: "We may have spoken on the phone 10 times, but we’ve probably sent 100 text messages back and forth in the weeks I’ve been working with them," he says.

But don’t just assume that only younger clients are apt to text. With texting now available on all mobile phones, consumers of all ages are appreciating the ease of using their keypad to send real estate practitioners a quick question, arrange a meeting, or comment on a home they’ve toured. In fact, a whole class of mobile marketing services has emerged to deliver listing data directly to a consumer’s cell phone—and capture leads for real estate practitioners in the process. Once you’re subscribed to services like Cell Signs, House4Cell, or RI Tracker, just to name a few, you can post a special text code on your listings’ For Sale signs. Consumers who drive by the home can punch the code into their phone to receive a return message with property information and photos. Van Kluyve hopes for the day when clients can even receive text alerts as listings are added to the MLS, similar to e-mail alerts that are now commonplace.

Even as text messaging goes mainstream, there are times when it’s better to do things the "old-fashioned" way—with an e-mail, a phone call, or a meeting. Texting’s casual convenience is ideal for any situation in which a quick and informal message will do. Messages that are long or complicated or that can potentially spark questions from clients are better left to other media. Here are some other general guidelines:

Don’t text without permission. Ask clients if it’s OK for you to send them text messages. They may not be familiar with the medium, or they may simply be annoyed by it. Depending on their phone service, they also may have to pay for received messages. And never text a prospect you don’t know; it can land you in legal trouble. A pending revision to the CAN-SPAM Act prohibits sending unsolicited text messages to a wireless phone number unless the recipient has given prior consent or you have an established business relationship with the recipient. Also, the federal Do-Not-Call registry applies to text messaging.

Learn the lingo. Texting is all about fitting the most words into a maximum of 160 characters for the sake of speed and convenience. Even if you feel silly using shortcuts like BTW (by the way), QQ (quick question), or THX (thanks), you’ll want to be familiar with the terms so you can decipher clients’ messages. For a list of common abbreviations, visit Webopedia (www.webopedia.com).

Be considerate. Texting can quickly become addictive. But when meeting with clients or colleagues, don’t be absorbed with your cell phone—reading messages and hammering out replies. Let clients know at the outset if you’re anticipating an important message that will require your immediate attention. Otherwise, turn your ringtone off and reply to messages when the meeting’s over.

Set limits. When you encourage others to text you, you’re implying that you’ll always be ready to take their message—and customers often expect a quick response. You may want to establish hours you’ll be available.

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