The phone rings. You pick up.

“Hello?”

Silence that lasts just a little too long. You recognize it. It’s the lag between you answering the call and a computer connecting you to a prerecorded message. So what do you do?

Click. You hang up.

Robocalls. They’re like telemarketers on steroids. In 2018, an estimated 47 billion robocalls blighted landlines and cellphones alike all around the country. This number comes from the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who spoke in favor of a new bipartisan bill aiming to curb these calls. Yes, you read that right. Bipartisan. The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (points for clarity) received unanimous House support. In a land divided, rage over mild inconvenience still brings us together. Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?

Anyway. What do robocalls and real estate law have to do with each other?

Through RE/MAX, Brian Hayhurst had his property listed for sale in a private broker database. Unfortunately, the listing expired before a sale could be made. Even more unfortunately, Hayhurst immediately started getting robocalls from Keller Williams Realty – a competitor of RE/MAX – trying to convince him to relist his property through their agency. Hayhurst, whose number has been on the National Do Not Call Registry for over 15 years, didn’t appreciate the solicitations. At all.

Hayhurst’s chosen representation, The Law Offices of Stefan Coleman, specializes in class action lawsuits about privacy rights, unfair business practices, and telephone consumer protection, all of which are relevant to the suit against Keller Williams. From Coleman’s own site’s explanation of class action suits (and the site’s URL is classaction.ws, so they’re pretty confident): “what many consumers don’t realize is that for many businesses, they intentionally pick (..) areas where you are most likely not to object to increase their bottom line.”

That’s just it: most people might have ignored some annoying calls. It’s as easy as hanging up, and the risk/return for Keller Williams must have seemed small – a little bit of bad blood from people who resent robocalls, but an upsurge in clients who may not have considered them otherwise. However: never underestimate the power of anger and the appeal of a juicy pay-out. The lead plaintiff in a class action usually gets extra cash, and on top of the damages Hayhurst is already seeking, it could add up to a decent sum.

This is a suit that comes at a very bad time for Keller Williams. Remember the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (SBRA) from above? It’d basically consolidate existing laws signed by Bushes Sr. and Jr., the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (1991) and the Do-Not-Call Acts (2003 and 2007). The SBRA would basically build on these bills to make cell-blocking easier and to force carriers to use call authentication protocols SHAKEN/STIR (today’s blog is full of great names), which would help users tell a genuine call from an autodial with a note in the caller ID.

The SBRA isn’t the only bill on the table dealing with these issues, either – the Senate’s TRACED Act, which is waiting for a vote in the House, is another bipartisan initiative, seeking to make prosecuting robocallers easier. Clearly, robocall legislation is in the air and public opinion is even stronger than usual.

On top of that, there’s also the topic from last week’s blog, Moehrl v. NAR, another class action suit that Keller Williams is involved in that’s generating bad press for the industry. The suit alleges antitrust behavior from the biggest names in real estate, and implies a lot of callousness from these agencies towards clients. Hayhurst’s suit, where supposedly secure information was bought and sold behind the scenes – by a direct competitor of the agency Hayhurst used, no less – only fuels the fire and does make it look like agencies work together against the general public. This isn’t the way to keep clients, not in today’s market.

Hayhurst’s case is like a perfect storm, and Keller Williams is sitting on the porch slowly watching it head their way. This year and the ones to come are shaping up to be problematic for some of the industry’s main players, and there’s going to be a lot to learn from how the cases are handled… and how they turn out.