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Creating Successful Direct Mail Campaigns for Real Estate Investing

by Sharon Vornholt on April 23, 2012 · 40 comments

  

Direct mail campaigns can be a great way to keep your funnel full of leads. I have said many times before, that direct mail is my number one source of leads. But there are some basics concepts that you need to follow in order for it to work for you.

Direct Mail Basics

One of the biggest mistakes that I see real estate investors make is to send out just a few mailings and then throw in the towel. These are called “campaigns” for a reason. It’s very important to understand that your response rates will go up with subsequent mailings. Some people will look at your mail piece for a year or more before they call you. You want to be the one that is still mailing to these folks when they finally become motivated. Remember that time and circumstances change all things.  This is especially true for absentee owners.

Response Rates

A study done by the Sales and Marketing Executives International a few years ago resulted in some impressive statistics. The number of deals derived from direct mail campaigns look something like this:

  • After the 1st Contact:                    2%
  • After the 2nd Contact:                    4%
  • After the 3rd Contact:                    6%
  • After the 4th Contact:                    10%
  • After the 5th Contact:                    81%

The study went on to say that 90% of the people gave up after the 3rd contact.  If you want to be one of the 10% who stick it out and close 81% of the deals, you must have a system for doing this.  Without some type of system, it will never get done.

Lists and Letters

Before you can send a letter, you need a list. There are a number of places you can purchase your lists. One of them is listsource.com.

Some states have programs set up where you can purchase a list of probates that these folks say are accurate. Those types of lists are not available where I live, so I can’t speak about those. In my area we can get a list of all of the previous month’s probates from the newspaper. They are always published at the same time, so I know exactly when they will be available. I know that in some areas these are online, and in some towns you actually have to go to the courthouse to pull these records. You can find out the procedure for your area just by calling the probate court in your city.

Your local PVA or tax assessor’s office will provide a list of absentee owners for a fee if you choose not to use a list service. I had good luck with the accuracy of my local PVA, but I wasn’t able to filter that list.

What Type of Mail Piece Should I Send?

Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to letters verses postcards. Until about a year ago, I had only used letters. I decided to give postcards a try just for absentee owners, and they seem to work fine for this group of people. I generally get about a 3%-6% response. The postcards are yellow by the way.

I only use white letters for probates, and I always hand address all of my envelopes. If you send yellow letters or postcards to these folks they will be offended and upset. When working with probates always be mindful of their situation and act accordingly.

I know lots of folks that use yellow letters. I don’t happen to be a fan of these. For one thing, I like to be different. And, I always want to appear to be a reputable business. The other thing I don’t like about these letters is that they are just too “general”. Sure, you get a lot of calls just by writing “I want to buy your house. Call me at 000-000-0000”.  But do you really want to speak to a whole bunch of unmotivated sellers? I prefer to use a more targeted mail piece whether I am mailing to probates, absentee owners or some other group of folks.

I also think it gives you an advantage to personalize these mail pieces and use 1st class stamps. Some people say that say brightly colored stamps help get letters opened. All of my letters have my company letterhead at the top, and they have the individual’s name, address and the property address about which I am contacting them.  I personally don’t use those colored, odd sized envelopes. They are just too much trouble if you are doing a large mailing.

Last but not least, the frequency of your mailings is also very important. I mail to my contacts every 4 to 6 weeks.  If you space these mailings out too far apart, some other real estate investor will be there when the seller finally decides to sell. Next time I will go over some mailing services that you can use to help with your direct mail campaigns. I will also tell you about the database I use, how I keep my contacts organized and my direct mail campaigns on track.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Parker April 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

Great article Sharon. I am very much looking forward to your next article discussing the database you use.

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Sharon Vornholt April 23, 2012 at 8:01 am

Thanks Gary. I hope this information helps with your direct mail campaigns.

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Karen Rittenhouse April 23, 2012 at 9:58 am

Sharon: Fantastic post! We are fanatics about direct mail for getting leads; good leads, regular leads, steady leads, constant leads!

One thing I’d add about postcards (my personal favorite) is that they typically get a better response rate because people know what it is the minute they pull it out of the mailbox. Letters get a lower response rate because they don’t always get opened. I certainly don’t open all the envelopes I receive in the mail.

But, variety is necessary, so we do mix up our marketing. Not only do you want to be seen again and again by the same contact to generate a response, but not everyone responds to the same stimuli. Some prefer a brief message, some like to read a lot of detail; some respond to letters, some won’t open them; some call signs on cars, some would never dream of doing that!

So, like you say, be consistent. Don’t stop.

Thanks for your post.

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Sharon Vornholt April 23, 2012 at 11:18 am

Hi Karen –

I tried postcards a few years ago in my area with dismal results. This time when I tried them for absentee owners, everything had changed and the results were excellent. There are a number of advantages to using postcards including exactly what you said; they know immediately what you want. They are also more cost effective. The one place I never use them is for probates. Like you, I like to mix things up. But if I had to pick just one marketing strategy, it would definitely be direct mail.

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Bruce May April 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Sharon, thanks for your great tips. I’ve been doing direct mail for the past couple years, but I’m not consistent and realize that I need to be if I expect results.

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Sharon Vornholt April 30, 2012 at 6:40 am

Consistency is the key Bruce whatever your timing is.

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Bob Davidson April 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Sharon,

First thank you for taking the time to be a very active participant here. Your ideas are a big help to me. Question; on April 18th you replied to a post and said to stop by your blog. What is the web address of your blog. Thanks.

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Sharon Vornholt April 30, 2012 at 6:42 am

Bob – I can’t put that link here, but if you look under my picture on the main page, it is listed there. Thanks for stopping by.

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Shawn April 30, 2012 at 10:38 am

HI Sharon, Thank you for the information, I am looking forward to your information on your database system and how you keep everything straight. I work in Excel but it is very labor intensive. How do you do it?…. keep track of who gets what mailing when?

Thanks,

Shawn

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Sharon Vornholt April 30, 2012 at 11:04 am

Shawn –

I couldn’t do it without my ACT database. If you set it up correctly, it works very well. There is a free trial of ACT on their site. You can certainly put your contacts into Excel, but it is impossible to automate your mailings without a database.

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RuLea April 30, 2012 at 11:07 am

Thanks for the article Sharon! I enjoy reading them as well as watching your videos. I’ve sifted through many “guru” videos and article, and I must say I like your approach. I look forward to your next articles!

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Sharon Vornholt April 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Rulea –

Thanks so much for your comments. I am certainly not a “guru”, so the videos are just two real estate investors talking; not some slick production. I am glad you find the information valuable. Thanks for checking out my blog!

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Bob Davidson April 30, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Sharon,

Do you have an opinion on which is the best day, or days, to schedule your mailings to arrive for best response? I’ve heard different views from mail on Saturday so the piece arrives Mon or Tue; to mail on Thursday so it arrives for the weekend. Thanks,
Bob

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Sharon Vornholt May 1, 2012 at 6:16 am

I don’t know if there is a definitive answer Bob, but I generally schedule mine to arrive on Tuesday – Thursday when possible. I think people are less likely to respond if they get them on a weekend or on Monday when they are busier. That’s just my personal opinion.

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Mike Guess April 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm

In your helpful article above you mention “local PVA” and I have not a clue what this TLA means. Could you please elaborate?

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Sharon Vornholt May 1, 2012 at 6:22 am

Mike – the “PVA” is the Property Valuation Administration” or the tax assessors site for property values.

In my area, you can join by paying a monthly fee of $25.00. Even though the values are generally inflated, you can get an idea of what homes in that area are selling for. I use this every time I get a call on a house.

Just Google “PVA your county, your state” and it will come up.

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Ziv Magen May 1, 2012 at 1:45 am

Great post, can’t believe I only got to it now :)
Will bring those tips to our emailing campaigns, hope you don’t mind – they work just as well there.

And I agree, deals come with repeated contact. With email, you’ll even get confirmation of this sometimes, with little messages like “seriously considering, keep sending” etc that let you know you’re on the right track. :)

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Sharon Vornholt May 1, 2012 at 9:02 am

Ziv –

I agree completely. Direct mail can be a little like “dating”. Often it takes a little while to get to know the other person, and to build that trust. You kind of do a little dance back and forth before moving forward.

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Tim Herriage May 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm

This is on point. I love the response rates by contact times. People need to understand that marking is a campaign, not a single battle. Lack of consistency seems to be the leading cause to failure in my opinion

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Sharon Vornholt May 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Tim –
Consistency really is the key. You will get calls from those initial mailings, but your percentage of deals will go up with subsequent mailings. There have been so many times that a seller has told me that I am the only one still mailing them when they are finally motivated to sell.

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Tim Herriage May 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

I call it a trigger event. I always ask investors, did you buy a Red Bull the first time you saw it?

Specifically with absentee owners, they are only likely to call when they need you. You just have to keep you message in front of them to reap the long term benefits.

Again, great article with solid advice. Well done!

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Sharon Vornholt May 2, 2012 at 9:57 am

Thanks Tim.

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Mike May 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm

This article is extremely helpful. I agree that using a direct mailing campaign can be one of the most effective forms of marketing.

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Sharon Vornhoot May 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Mike –

Direct mail is hands down my best source of leads. I have used it in both of my businesses with great results. Do you invest in real estate currently?

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Sheldon Katz May 16, 2012 at 9:38 am

Direct mail marketing seems to be a very effective marketing strategy. While many marketers nowadays rely on the internet, there is relatively less competition for direct mail marketing. If done properly, as you explained, this type of marketing technique can be a great advantage to marketers who are looking to hook new leads and increase sales efficiently.

Thank you for sharing your tips, Sharon. This is the type of article that I was looking for.

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SHaron Vornholt September 4, 2012 at 8:12 am

Sheldon –

Direct mail has always been my #1 source of leads. If campaigns are done consistently to a targeted list, it is very successful. Most folks simply give up too soon.

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Sharon Vornholt May 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Sheldon – Direct mail is about the only way to reach absentee owners and probates. Direct mail marketing works great for real estate!

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Bryan K September 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Very good information Sharon. How long would you mail someone for before you stop? Do you give leads more than just a phone number to contact you? New to Wholesaling I’m always looking for ideas and ways to get a marketing edge because most of what I do is Direct Mail.

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SHaron Vornholt September 4, 2012 at 8:10 am

Bryan –

I keep mailing to absentee owners for as long as they own the house except those that I have talked to and determined the house does not meet my buying criteria, and those that ask to be removed.

Where probates are concerned, I use the same criteria as above. These houses will typically be sold in 18 months to 2 years, where the absentee owner homes will often stay in the mailing for many years.

Basically I only quit mailing a contact that has a house I am interested in buying if I buy the house, someone else buys the house or they ask to be removed.

In addition to your phone number, you would want to have some type of website with a simple contact form on it. That info should go on your mail piece too.

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Glenn Schworm September 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Hi Sharon,

Good information, we have had success without DM but we now realize to go to the next level we will need to incorporate it into our business. Do you recommend doing it in house vs.hiring an outside company to handle all of the mailings? It seems as though it would get quite cumbersome as the lists grew each month/year. I am curious of your opinion.

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SHaron Vornholt September 18, 2012 at 8:53 am

Glenn –

I did it in house for years, and it is a huge job. If you can outsource it, I would highly recommend that. If you want to email me, I can give you a top notch resource to use. Direct mail is by far, my best source of leads.

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Glenn Schworm September 18, 2012 at 9:26 am

Hi Sharon,

Thank you for the reply. I sent you an email, not sure if I had the right address, did you receive it?

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SHaron Vornholt September 18, 2012 at 9:50 am

Yes. You should have a reply by now.

Glenn Schworm September 18, 2012 at 10:08 am

I have been checking my email and even spam folders, nothing received???

Ayo September 26, 2012 at 1:14 am

Please, how many pieces of mail do you mail out every month? In other words, how big is your mailing list and how many deals do you close monthly from your direct marketing efforts?

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Sharon Vornholt September 26, 2012 at 7:03 am

Ayo – I send out about 1700-2000 pieces a month. Closings vary.

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Sam Abbitt February 15, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Thanks for the great post. You mentioned in your article that Listsource is a place to buy lists, however, when comparing prices for absentee owner lists I found that Listsource charges several times more per lead than some of the other websites. Why is this? Do you have any advice on where the best lists can be purchased? How much should I expect to pay for an absentee list with the specifications you have shared with us in your blog posts?

Thanks again,
Sam

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Sharon Vornholt February 16, 2014 at 11:40 am

Sam –

It depends on the list. If you are getting a standard type of list, then they are pretty cheap. But when you get into things like % of equity and home values, then you move into a different pricing structure. But when you add these parameters in you get a much higher quality list.

If you are looking for a AO list with these parameters I would suggest you go through Michael Quarles’ company yellowletters.com for your list. He gets that from Listsource but it is quite a bit cheaper than what Listsource will sell you the same list for. I don’t remember the exact cost, but it was quite a bit cheaper. They will give you a quote. I personally won’t mail AO’s with my criteria. You get too many leads with no equity, and too many low end properties.

Sharon

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Richard May 24, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Hi Sharon,
great post thank you for sharing.How many different letters do you send probates?
Is there some place we can get a copy of your series of letters to the probates?
Thank you,

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Sharon Vornholt May 25, 2014 at 7:03 pm

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