Real Estate Mail Marketing: Pull the Right Strings

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In 2004, I held a mini-workshop on the topic of effective mail marketing. At the time, I had already been using my own system for several years but I needed to help the students come up with a letter of their own, otherwise most of the homeowners would have received identical letters and none of them would have been effective.

One of the students was a mother and mostly worked at home. She had a big smile as she asked me to read her letter and wanted to get my thoughts on it.

I read it fairly quickly but it took an extra 30 seconds for me to look up at her because I was horrified with what she had written.

It was awful. It was horrible. It was beyond tacky and I didn’t remember ever seeing a letter that was as bad as hers was. The letters she wanted to send would all be going to homeowners currently in foreclosure. My experience with homeowners in foreclosure has shown me that “gimmicks” and “cute, happy” type letters are not very effective.

What my student had come up with was a letter that had a 3-inch piece of string taped over the words, “Tie this string around your finger to remind yourself to call me.”

I shook my head and asked her if she was really serious about sending it out. I went on to tell her examples of what has worked before and what hasn’t. At one point I remember that I had told her that her letter was quite possibly the tackiest foreclosure letter I had seen and pleaded with her to not send it.

She was such a sport for taking my harsh critique, as it was obvious I had really hurt her feelings (I ended up calling her the next day to apologize for being insensitive).

She sent it anyway.

Out of the 100 or so she mailed out, she got over 20 replies! For those with a marketing background, I am sure you are as amazed as I was. The average response rate for pre foreclosure mailings is about _ of one percent. In other words, one reply out of 200 and her letter got an amazing 1 out of 5!

My opinions and beliefs on mail marketing changed forever after that student taught me that valuable lesson. She taught me that no matter how bad a letter may seem… Send it! If ONE person responds to an awful mailer that results in a deal…Then it was a great success!

Since then, anytime a student asks me what type of letters work best… I tell them that any letter can work. I also tell them that what doesn’t work is… Not trying!

To end on a lighter note…
That student called me a few months later and told me she had sent out a letter that included the words, “Call me because I am your Life Saver.” She had taped a single, wrapped Life Saver to each letter. I asked her how it worked and she told me that the Post Office returned every single letter because the machines at the Post Office couldn’t process them. Considering the lesson she had taught me before that…I was happy she didn’t listen to me and tried anyway.

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  1. Great article. It hits home the point that no matter how “experienced” we are in this business… we can all learn– even from beginning investors. The fact is, what works today may not work tomorrow AND what works today doesn’t mean that something else won’t work, too. For every professional letter we send that gets tossed, maybe that recipient will respond to a more down-to-earth letter that seems to come from a “small guy who can help them and won’t try to screw them like a professional might.” I think it all boils down to doing what fits your personality. After all, if what we didn’t wasn’t fun– most of us would be doing something else!

  2. Sometimes you just have to dare to be dorky. I shutter every timne someone ask me to right the word free in all caps (I’m a graphic designer), but the truth is, it does stand out better in all caps as cliche as it is, so I don’t tell people not to do it.

    As marketers we have to remember, we’re not marketing to ourselves, we’re marketing to other people. I’m fairly young, so I always try to imagine what my parents or in-laws would think is cool. It’s rarely ever something I would think is cool. But baby boomers are often my target, they’re the ones with the money and they often times respond to cheesy, cliche stuff.

  3. I made a rule for myself with foreclosure letters…
    If a new letter fails to yield a response, I will try it again.
    If it fails twice… I won’t risk a 3rd strike and I come up with a new letter.
    3 months is a long time n the foreclosure world but 2 tries is worth the effort. Like they say… “All it takes is one.”

  4. So many agents dismiss mailing of any kind. For 20 years it was the backbone of my operation. Often folks responding to a letter would tell me it was my irreverent humor that got them to pick up the phone.

    Good stuff — thanks.

  5. Being a real estate is a whole lot of responsibility! The biggest factor buys and sellers ranked highest when choosing a realtor is trust and reputation. Direct-mail marketing AKA postcard marketing is one to one so its personal and a great way to build trust with your prospect, but dont forget its all about consistency like any other Fon of advertising it takes repitition to gain trust and build rapport.


    Anthony Vito Brunetti

  6. Real Estate Resource on

    I agree to you Steven. Even if we’re a teacher it doesn’t mean that we cannot learn from a student and it doesn’t mean that we are more knowledgeable than them. There are things that someone didn’t know however someone else does and vice versa.

    You got a nice post Jim, surely we also learned from it.


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