Real Estate Marketing

Having Good Lists Is Essential For Success with Direct Mail

Expertise: Real Estate Marketing, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Real Estate Investing Basics, Real Estate News & Commentary, Personal Development, Business Management, Real Estate Wholesaling, Landlording & Rental Properties
145 Articles Written
direct mail investor marketing

Marketing your real estate business is vital to your success. If direct mail is one of your chosen strategies, there are some things that can really make or break you when it comes to success. Having a good list is one of those things.

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You Must Have a Good List

It’s not good enough to have a bunch of people that are homeowners on your list. What if they are free and clear houses you might ask? Does owning a free and clear house make them a motivated seller? Not really.

I know there are folks out there that have used this list in the past with success. When home values were climbing every year, a lot of real estate investors would pay close to full price for a pretty house and then just put someone in it using a lease option and wait for the value to go up. You really can’t do that anymore because you don’t know if that house will be worth more or less this time next year.

Buying Your Investor Marketing List

There are a number of lists you can purchase from one of the list brokers. You can also set up parameters so that you only get very specific homeowners on your list. When you are purchasing a list, you have to be clear on exactly who you want on that list. In most cases, you can get pretty specific. For instance, if you were to order a list of absentee owners you could set up your criteria from the list broker like this.

I only want houses that:

  • Have a value of $50,000- $200,000
  • Have 50% equity or more
  • Are not in these particular zip codes (list them)

If your list broker doesn’t have that last zip code parameter, once you get the list you can pull out the zip codes (bad areas and war zones) yourself. The numbers I have listed above will change depending on where you are located, but that is basically how you go about getting a very targeted list.

How Do I Choose A List That Is Likely To Have Motivated Sellers?

That’s easy for me. I like probates and absentee owners. I don’t have to purchase a list of probates, because they are listed in the newspaper here. But I know that they are available for purchase in some areas.


My probate list has a whole lot of people on it that have a house they are almost certainly going to sell. This is a house they have inherited and most likely don’t want. What do they want? They only want the CASH that is sitting in the house.

Does that mean that person on my list will be a motivated seller? Probably so, but they won’t necessarily want to take what an investor will offer for the house; at least not in the beginning. I bought several houses last year from folks that listed the property initially. But when it didn’t sell after a lengthy time, they eventually became very motivated sellers.

Absentee Owners

I love absentee owners. You can purchase a list of people that own property in your city, but live in another city. Having these folks on your list doesn’t mean they are all motivated TODAY. It does mean that if you keep mailing to them long enough there is a real good chance they will become motivated to sell at some point in time. Many of these absentee owners will go right along for a couple of years and everything will be fine. Then all at once, their tenant will do thousands of dollars in damage to the property, or it will be vandalized while it’s vacant, and suddenly they will be very motivated to sell.

Take some time and really think about exactly who you want to market to before you order a list or send out that first letter.

Photo: John Morgan

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.

    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Perfect post. HUGE difference between a list and a good list. A good list targets the sellers YOU want to buy from so, when the phone rings, you know you’re interested.
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Yes it is HUGE Karen. It’s so much better to learn that from somehting like a blog post, rather than the “hard way”. I guess we have all learned a few things the hard way haven’t we?
    Zachary Clough
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Great post Sharon! I’ve been putting together my own list homeowners with an Order of Notice filed on their property. I extract the data directly from my local Registry of Deeds website and compile it into a spreadsheet. Using mail merge, I then print the letters so that it has a touch of personalization scattered throughout the letter. I’m still trying to conquer the fear of talking on the phone with sellers, but I’m hoping that will subside with time.
    Shane in Tx
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Don’t sweat the phone work if you’re a “nice guy”. It’s easy to relate to their issues & why they want/need to sell. If they don’t, or if they’re mad, get over it and move on down the road. If you don’t consider yourself a “nice guy”, or you have a take-it-or-leave-it type of attitude, I bet you can find someone to handle your phone work very reasonably. Don’t let your fear be a crutch. If you like people, it’s easy and you’ll do well. If you don’t, hire someone who does 🙂 Either way, don’t wait. You HAVE to be willing & able to take calls.
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Well said Shane. Zachary – After a while, the words just kind of spill out automatically. You are only terrified the first few times. LOL
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    You know what Zach, you just have to do it. Practice makes perfect. Just be yourself and act confidently. I have some forms over on my blog that I also posted here on BP at one time. One of those forms is a seller information form. Check the forms section on this site. I still use it after all this time when I talk to sellers. It ensures that I ask the same questions each time as well as to remember to ask everything. Those first calls are the hardest, but just remember that they are the path to cash.
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Informative write-up, Sharon! It’s interesting to see the types of lists that have worked for you. Back when I was wholesaling, I signed up for the foreclosure list but soon found everyone used those lists as well. Being that I enjoy working in the field, I remember knocking on these folks’ doors and they would show me the piles and piles of mail/postcards they received from all kinds of people such as investors, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, etc. Many of them never went through the piles or contacted the folks who sent them. It was actually the people who contacted them directly via voice and/or in person did they open the lines of communication. I think it’s human nature to communicate with people in person and/or through the telephone. Sure, we have other ways of communicating now with technology (i.e. email, text msg, etc) but there’s nothing quite like hearing someone’s voice and/or meeting them in person via a human connection. I think having marketing out there is great and all. But, when it comes down to it – these folks really do want to talk to a human person. So, when they do take the time to call – it’s definitely an advantage to actually answer the phone so they can hear a live person. If not, it’s less likely they will call again and may move on to working with someone who they can talk to. Both the categories of lists you use are excellent! I’ve had success in both areas. I like that you narrow your list to only two categories so it’s more targeted and focused. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied almost 7 years ago
    Thanks for your comments Rachel. I think particularly in your niche, that works very well. In general, probates don’t respond to cold calls; at least that is what I have found. I completely agree that when you speak to a seller personally, you can begin to build rapport which is much more likely to result in a deal. Like you, I also think it is very important that your phone is answered. I never could really figure out why people would go to the trouble and the expense to do a mailing, and then didn’t answer the phone when it rings.
    Replied over 6 years ago
    I was downloading a list of pre-forclosures with more then 30% equity. I was wondering if the 100% free and clear owners are in a bad enough position to be motivated sellers? Reply Report comment
    Replied over 6 years ago
    I was downloading a list of pre-forclosures with more then 30% equity. I was wondering if the 100% free and clear owners are in a bad enough position to be motivated sellers?
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Adam – You need really need to be looking for more like 40 percent equity. People with 100% equity are in a great position; they own their house free and clear. Unless something happens in their life, they are usually not motivated at all. Sharon
    Dustin Peyser
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Hello, I have created a very particular mailing list which I was unable to purchase elsewhere. It is perfect for Realtors and real estate investors and is San Diego County focused. There are 1,965 addresses total containing 85 sub-categories. Selling by sub category if fell would be most beneficial. Please contact me to discuss further. Thank you! Dustin
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great Post. Processed/filtered list is very valuable. As it can save time, marketing costs and effort. One example.. probate records and probate records with Real Estate. Not all probates records have associated real estate. 1. List A with 100 probates records filed at the county clerk office 2. List B with 30 probates records with real estate ( above 100 records processed to weed out records without Real estate) Needless to say List B is more valuable for real estate investor/professional. Another key diffentiator is freshness of data. You want to be first to contact the prospect.
    Sharon Vornholt from Goshen, KY
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Having a good list is the secret to direct mail campaigns that work. Thanks for your input Atchut. Sharon