How to Successfully Use Direct Mail In Your Real Estate Business

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There is always a lot of discussion on the BiggerPockets’ forums about direct mail and the specifics of how to make it work for your business. Direct mail campaigns can be a great way to keep your funnel full of leads. It is in fact my number one source of leads.

I have been using direct mail in two different businesses for about 20 years, so I am going to be speaking about my personal experience. My experience has been that if you don’t do long running campaigns, in most instances you are not going to be happy with the results.

There a lot of real estate investors that send out one or two mailings to a particular list, and then go looking for another list to send out a couple more mailings to. All I can say about this is that it is a big waste of money.

So what is the answer? Do I send out two letters and then stop, or do I mail to my list forever? The answer is, “it depends”. It depends on several things one of which is what type of list you are mailing to. In general, you want to set up campaigns that run over time.

Direct Mail Campaigns

Direct mail campaigns are designed to build awareness of your product or service over time. Most folks don’t buy from a business the first time they come across it. There are a lot of things that go into building brand awareness and consistency is one of them. It’s important that you are consistent, and that you have ongoing direct mail campaigns.

Frequency and Length of Campaigns

Both the frequency with which you mail and the length of the campaign will vary depending on your list. Bear in mind, that you have to have your lists scrubbed at least every 6 months. You will want to get rid of those folks that are no longer candidates for this particular list, and you will want to add in new people.

In general, I mail every 4 – 6 weeks with once a month being my target. At times you will get behind a little bit; life will get in the way. Just make it a priority to get caught up and keep going.

Absentee owners. These folks are one of my favorite niches to market to. I mail to them as long as they remain an absentee owner, and they meet my other criteria. I bought a property from someone I had been mailing to for 3 years. Think about it; 36 stamps, some paper, and a $12K payout.

Probates. I love the niche of probates too. This list should be checked quarterly to see if the property has been sold. Realistically, I don’t usually get mine done more than twice a year. If someone calls to tell me the property has been listed and it’s a property I would like to buy, I always ask if I can keep them on my list just in case “plan A” doesn’t work out. I want to be “plan B”. The most important thing to remember about probates is, often times they don’t even begin to settle the estate for a year or more.

Pre-foreclosures and Foreclosures. These folks are in a situation where the time you mail to them will be dictated by their circumstances.

Whatever niches you choose to work in, you will need a database to keep track of all these contacts. I did a post here on this site about setting up your database. You can find the link to the post here.

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.

As you can see, the money is in the long term follow up. You want to be the “last investor standing” when that person is finally a motivated seller.

Image: Cindy Cornett Seigle

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About Author

Sharon has been investing in real estate since 1998. She owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. In January of 2008 she took the leap of closing her business to become a full time real estate investor.

59 Comments

  1. Melodee Lucido on

    Sharon,

    Thank you for the excellent article. I have been using direct mail for years and it is the number one source of the deals I have done.

    It does take market understanding, perseverance and a bit of money but it’s worth everything we put into it

    I appreciate your input here at BP!
    Melodee.

  2. Brandon Turner

    Hey Sharon – you are definitely my go-to-gal on Direct Mail. I honestly have never done much with it – but need to do more. Another excellent article!

    Question though – are you more of a “postcard” person or a “letter/envelope” person?

    • Brandon –

      Until this past year I always used white letters. I still only use professional white letters for probates, but I have switched to postcards for absentee owners. I still have good results with postcards for this niche.

      A few months ago I switched to a diffferent, more colorful postcard and I am still trying to figure out if it is going to work as well as the “plainer” postcard. I am doing a test at this time.

      • Nice to hear about your switch to more “colorful” postcards, Sharon! I actually used this technique back when I was wholesaling. Some went to probate attorneys and the color of the postcard would always be a topic of conversation when I established contact. And, I think I told you about my “do-it -yourself” cutting sprees with the postcards which also was a conversation piece with folks!

        Though, the postcards to the heirs of the estate remained a neutral color. The “colorful” ones are definitely not appropriate in these cases.

        Good info here, thanks for sharing!

        p.s. Congrats on being one of the winners for the REI blog contest, you deserve it! :)

        • Rachel – At this point it is still in the testing mode. I will have a report later on about the colored post cards.

          I still use white letters for probates, but I have been toying with the idea of using a very neutral postcard for those still left after 12-15 months that would say simply “Have a house you need to sell” or something like that without mentioning the estate. Or even possibly “Do you have an unwanted house or do you know of someone….” you get the idea. It’s just something I am considering.

          I was honored to even be nominated in the blog contest. It was just a great bonus to come in second place.

          I always appreciate your feedback.

  3. Nice, timely article Sharon. Do you find your response rates match up to those cited in the survey?

    As mentioned in the forums, I’m currently building out my list of Absentee Owners and working on the marketing copy of my letters. I think I’ve settled on using “handwritten” yellow letters for my first batch of mailings – roughly 700 Absentee Owners. I’ve also been gathering Probate leads every morning – another 50 or so leads. I’ll definitely give an update after the first batch has gone out which should hopefully be by Jan. 7th.

    • Brandon –

      I have found that the number of deals definitely goes up with subsequent mailings. These statistics were industry specific for real estate investors. I’m sure everyone gets a little different response. I have certainly bought houses with one mailing, but I have bought more down the line. Folks get a whole bunch of letters in the beginning, then they trickle off. If only takes a couple of those “later deals” to pay for the whole year of marketing.

      I will certainly be interested in your results.

  4. Great article, Sharon! It was those statistics that motivated me to keep mailing this year. I started mailing in January and got one deal in April, and then 2 deals in September, 1 in November and 1 in December. I can definitely see the difference in the drip campaign. (And, btw, all had gotten at least 2, if not 3 or 4, of my letters/postcards.)

    I’m a believer! :)

  5. Sharon, thanks for the article and bringing light to the fact that direct mail is one of the best sources of deals for real estate investing. I couldn’t agree with you more on that fact, as well as what you say about increasing response rates on multiple mailings to the same list.

    However, I must disagree when you say, “if you don’t do long running campaigns, in most instances you are not going to be happy with the results,” and “Direct mail campaigns are designed to build awareness of your product or service over time.”

    In my opinion, and the opinion of direct-response marketers such as Dan Kennedy, etc., the purpose of a direct mail campaign is to get people to respond immediately, not just build awareness of the product/service over time.

    This is the age-old difference of “image advertising” vs. “direct-response advertising.” If you’re Coca-cola or Apple computers, you can afford to spend money on image advertising. If you’re a mom and pop, or a real estate investor with limited marketing budget, you need to be focusing on direct-response.

    This is only from my own personal experience, but it is possible, and I routinely and consistently get a 10-11% response rates from first-time mailings to a new list. This is (number of people who call) divided by (number of postcards sent). This is with a little postcard, black & white printing on yellow card stock, no company names, no logos. Just a good headline, good story, good call to action, and easy response method.

    I was reading one of your other blog posts here just now:
    http://louisvillegalsrealestateblog.com/why-is-there-so-much-confusion-over-direct-mail-marketing
    Now, I do agree with you that you can’t just do one mailing and have enough leads for all year long. And direct mail campaigns should definitely be ONGOING. But one should not settle for poor response rates if better ones can be had.

    Also, if a particular mail piece does not produce a response the first time, it MAY in fact produce some response in the future, but it is not likely. If you send out an offer to somebody and they don’t respond, why would they respond to the same offer just because you sent it to him several times?

    My primary purpose for commenting here, other than perhaps starting a constructive discussion, is that I have to make people aware of these 10% response rates so that they don’t settle for <1% because they think that's what they're supposed to get.

    It's the old wisdom – whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right. So if you think that all you can get is 1% response, then that's what you'll get. If you think you can get 10% response, then that's what you'll eventually get because you'll keep working towards that goal. I want to encourage the people reading this to keep striving for better and better results in their business! Know what I mean?

    Again, thanks for the article, Sharon. It got me all riled up – in a good way! :-)

        • Melodee Lucido on

          Hey there Blair,

          I would like to know also what you are sending out to get that kind of response—please? You could just post it here. There are plenty of deals to go around; I don’t think it would hurt your biz. Sharon sent me hers. Thanks so much Sharon!
          : >

        • Hi Melodee,
          I wish I could share it, but unfortunately cannot – legal would not be happy.

          It’s not a matter of having enough deals to go around – because you’re right, there are always deals to be had. It’s just that my company is in business as a “marketing” company providing pay-per-response direct mail marketing services on a national level, and the copy we use is somewhat of a “trade secret” – it is our “competitive advantage”. I hope you can understand.

          Thanks,
          Blair

    • Hey Blair – Thanks for your comments.

      Withregards to this:

      “However, I must disagree when you say, “if you don’t do long running campaigns, in most instances you are not going to be happy with the results,” and “Direct mail campaigns are designed to build awareness of your product or service over time.”

      I was thinking specifically of absentee owners but I can tell you from experience, I have looked at probate properties where they would hold up my whole stack of my letters when I look at the property. They will typically tell me that I am the only one still contacting them and that is why they called me. They have the perception that I am a real business person because of that. The absentee owner that I bought the property from after 3 years told me specifically that she knew I was a “real business” because the rest of the folks quit contacting her.

      I will defiinitely get a lot of calls even in the beginning. But the DEALS continue to roll in with subsequent mailings. Absentee owners are often happy with their situation for a long period of time until something changes. And folks settling estates very often don’t even begin the process for one year or more. This is an aspect of the situation they are in, not the mail piece being used.

      The seller that isn’t motivated today, may become very motivated in the future. Time and circumstances change all things. I know that the Kennedy Glazer folks are experts at what they do. But I think that marketing to probates and absentee owners is a different animal.

      Thanks for stopping by.
      Sharon

      • Hi Sharon,
        Yes, excellent comments – I definitely agree. I think you probably have a lot more experience at this than I do, but we are on the same page.

        Love it!

  6. Melodee Lucido on

    Sharon,
    I went to your blog because I have enjoyed the value you add to this forum. I will be a loyal follower.

    I am letting you know that the optin form is not showing up correctly; you may want to check it.
    The “gift” shows but the optin frames are barely visible.

    Thank you for all you bring to investors everywhere.
    Happy holidays!
    Melodee

  7. Melodee Lucido on

    Hmmmm, I clicked on Blair’s name because maybe we might be colleagues here but it just went to a landing page for a mailing system.

    I thought with a well expressed post like she put here that she was a member here.

    • Hey Melodee,
      I’m a member of BP, but not sure how to get that linked to my profile or how all that works.

      Maybe you can search for my profile or something?

        • You can find my company profile on here, to which my personal profile is linked.

          I don’t want to mention the company name here – this is Sharon’s stage. But the name on my comments here is linked to our company site.

          Sorry to be so cryptic, just trying to respect!

    • Gary –

      Yes I do. I say something like, “You can either call me at xxx-xxxx or fill out the convenient form on my website at >>>>>>>, and I will return a call to you. Please let me know when it would be a good time to call.” Folks like to have options, and some people are very shy about calling. I also give them my email address if they prefer to send the intormation that way.

      • Thanks Sharon my web site is my next marketing project. Would you post a link to your site you use in your marketing?

  8. Melodee Lucido on

    Blair,
    I could be way off base here but it seems you took a great thread and interjected a hijacking move to get people to enlist in your service. I don’t see any respect what-so-ever in your cryptic posts.

    Sharon was posting for the betterment of the community and to help others as opposed to your posts being self promoting . . and sneaky.

    If I ever found out who you were I wouldn’t do business with you.

    Sharon, this has been a great thread that helped many. I will continue to enjoy your newsletter and thank you for the gifts from your blog ; >

    Happy Sunday,
    Melodee

    • Hi Mel,
      I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I did wrong. I thought I was adding to the discussion. I gave props to Sharon multiple times, I never mentioned the name of my service, I provided an extra link to Sharon’s blog, I provided useful information from my years of experience, I emailed multiple times directly with another reader providing even more specific information which she very much appreciated, and I encouraged others to better their response rates. I don’t hide who I am, you can read all about me on my website.

      The only thing I can think of that I might have done wrong was making my name link to my website – the comment form asked for my website address so I gave it, I didn’t realize it would make a link like that. I’ve taken that off now just in case that was it. I’m sorry.

      I’m sorry I couldn’t share my postcard copy. I get the impression that that’s what you’re upset about. Unfortunately I just can’t share it. Again, I’m really sorry about that. I have a feeling, though, that even if I had shared it, I would have gotten in trouble for sharing it and “hijacking” this thread even more. I feel like I can’t do anything right on here.

      I really want to know – what could I have done better or differently?

      Thanks, Mel.

      • Melodee Lucido on

        Blair,

        I wasn’t upset that you didn’t share your marketing materials here for me to view.
        Some do share what works for them and some don’t. I’ve gotten lots of marketing samples over the years from people that know what they’re talking about.

        I am always open to learning more and that’s why I asked. I honor that you aren’t in a position to do that.

        For me it’s about being a contribution in what we’re sharing. You made some big claims and then couldn’t share more without people putting out money. I spend plenty of money to make my biz successful. I also will help others any chance I get without asking anything back.

        Sharon is hugely generous, which you’ll see if you view her blogs and newsletter. She is a big hearted, very experienced contribution to everyone. We would do well to follow her example.

        Happy holidays,
        Melodee

    • Sharon, I’m really sorry if what Mel has said is true. That was not my intent, and I apologize for that. I don’t know what I did wrong. I’m sorry. Sometimes these online forums make me feel like I can’t do anything right. I’m all ears if it matters to anyone else enough for them to chime in. Thanks.

  9. Mr. Blair Halver, and Ms. Sharon Vornholt, have added value to this article and the discussion. Period.

    I am also glad everyone here has taken the time to post and thus contributed value to this article whether directly, or indirectly.

  10. For Melodee, Blair and everyone else who took the time to respond:

    I am not upset by any of this discussion. I post on this site with the intention of giving value. And I certainly respect other opionions. With that being said; like a lot of other people I will one day soon have a product to sell on my site. I have spent many years learning this business, and I think it is reasonable for anyone to charge for some of their knowledge if that is what they want to do. Regardless of that, I firmly believe that you should always be there to help other investors succeed, and be ready to give away great content. That is what is so great about this site; we can all learn from each other.

    We never reach the point that we “know it all”. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar in Atlanta in October with a marketing expert as the two day speaker. This particular lady charges $1000 monthly for her individual coaching. But guess what? She just got back from a weekend session with HER COACH. I don’t know anyone that is successful that doesn’t continue to learn, and continue to invest money in themselves.

  11. Hello Sharon, how many times in a year do you usually mail out a marketing blast? I’ve heard once a month, but that seems a bit much. Thanks for the great article.

  12. Stephanie Sierota on

    I know the blog post is older, but do you still have the link for setting up the database? There is no current link on the blog.

    thanks!

    • The link is on my blog. You can’t put a link in here. But anyone can get the free software from The Struggling Investor site. I’m not sure if this is allowed or not (to put that here).

      Sharon

    • There are no silly questions. The list companies can do through and check for changes, deletions and updates for instance on an absentee owner list.

      For probates, at least in my area, you have to look at each contact individual person in your database and compare ownership on the PVA (tax assessor’s site). It’s a real chore!

      Sharon

  13. Hello Sharon, I enjoy reading your articles. The question I have is that right now I send out between 100-200 postcards per month due to a very little marketing budget would you suggest I keep doing this until I get a deal or would you suggest finding some other alternatives so that I am able to get more marketing done ?

  14. Hello Sharon, my niche is absentee owners, I got a list of about 350 names, that is what I can afford at this time until I do a deal. I got my list from listsource. At this present time I try to send out between 200 and 300 letters per month but sometimes life happens, so I can’t say that this happens all the time even though I know I need to make it a habit of doing this every month. My budget now is about $100-$150 per month. I use craigslist also for my marketing and I am looking to get started using flyers in one of my other farm areas seeming as how I have more time than money.

    • Perry – If you are doing letters for absentee owners, you could probably do a postcard (that someone else would send for you) for about the same cost. And you would be outsourcing the whole thing so it would actually get done.

      Send me an email when you get a chance. Sharon

  15. Marilynn Martin on

    Nice read. It’s always happy to hear people talking about success of direct mail marketing, cos most of time all I am hearing is, direct mail thing is dead, it is going down and all. I use direct mail service, in which I get some help from Troi Mailing Services in Ontario, and I’ve found good results so far. Personally, I prefer them cos they’ve got their own individuality. When someone gets a postcard or a mail, not the emails, they tend to get more attracted to them. I try to make these mails to be more personal so that consumers feel special. It is also cos nowadays people are more into emails and other online communication, and indirectly it helps out these offline methods. When a postcard or a personal mail is received there will be a special feel of intimacy and naturally the response rate will be higher. The most important thing you need in direct mailing is a genuine character, it will naturally attract more people.

  16. Marilynn-

    Direct mail has never been dead. It has always been my best source of leads.

    You have to set up ongoing campaigns and mail regularty. If you plan to mail just a handful of times, then you are definitely throwing money down the drain. Most folks do just that, and the rest of us are happy as can be when they stop mailing, throw up their hands and yell. “this doesn’t work”.

    It does work month after month. Thanks for your comments..

  17. Hi Sharon – I enjoyed your articles about using direct-mail marketing to grow a real estate business. I am developing a data base for marketing to cash buyers/investors. I am wondering if you designed your data base or use a vendors software. I am especially interested in how to manage the follow up of the initial mailing for at least 6 times. Thank you.
    Bob Withers
    Huntington, WV

  18. Bob – I use Act. It is not designed specifically for real estate investors, but it was pretty much all that was around at that time. I manage the timing of the mailings the old fashioned way; on paper. I have a form that I use to keep track of it.

    Sharon

  19. Hi Sharon , I enjoy reading the blogs and the interaction between investors and of course the willingness to share information , its huge help for others.
    I wonder if someone is willing to share creative postcard description that has been working successfully to approach Probate Owners . My concern is how to keep things personally and touchy , without hurting the feeling of the family members .

    • Tamir –

      I never use postcards for probates – ever. I believe that it is insensitive to market to folks in that way that have had a death. If you are looking for postcard copy, check out the postcards at yellowletters.com. They are very reasonable and you can get a sample packet from them.

      Sharon

  20. Aloha Sharon,

    This is an excellent article. Even though it’s 18 months old, the information is still very relevant. I found it’s quite difficult to find the actual statics and the quality of information you brought to light. Most articles repeat the same information (list your contact information, call to action, make it interesting, etc). Thank you for the information.

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