Marketing to Absentee Owners

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There are a lot of different marketing strategies for your real estate business and if they are done properly and consistently, for the most part they all work.  Those two words “properly and consistently” are the keys to success.

If you want to market to absentee owners and your strategy is to drive around and look for vacant houses, will you find any absentee owners? Possibly.  But that is definitely not the best way to find them. The only surefire way I know of to successfully market to absentee owners, is through direct mail campaigns. They are very effective at bringing you those types of leads.

Where do I get a list of absentee owners?

There are a number of services you can subscribe to that will sell you a list of absentee owners for a fee. I have found these lists to be “OK”.  For the most part they will be pretty accurate, but you have to get used to the fact that there will be some inaccuracies. You can also get a list of absentee owners from your local tax assessor’s site. When I was using them for my list I found their information to be very accurate. The problem with their list was that the only filter I could use was zip codes. I could omit certain zip codes, but there was no other way to filter the list.

The good thing about most of the major list services is that you can set up certain parameters. For instance, you can omit certain zip codes, and you can put in that you only want homes of a certain value. This helps you to narrow your list down to homes that fit your profile; the homes that you would likely be interested in buying. For me that was always bread and butter types of homes. When I get a list I always leave out areas that are bad or are considered to be war zones. I also leave out areas that contain higher priced homes.  Homes that are near or somewhat below the median price for my area are the best leads for me.

What is the number one rule for direct mail campaigns?

Once you have your list of names, you need to set up a direct mail campaign. The important thing to remember about direct mail is that you need to mail to these folks consistently for a long period of time. You can do the mailings yourself or have them done by a mailing service, but I think most folks initially do the mailings themselves.

I have just one rule when it comes to direct mail campaigns. I mail to these folks until I buy the house, someone else buys the house, or they ask me to stop mailing to them (which almost never happens).  The only other time I take these absentee owners off my list is if I have spoken with them and there is some reason I’m certain I cannot buy the house. The property may be 100% financed, or it may be in a family trust.

If I make an offer on the house and they don’t accept my offer that just means that they are saying no at this time. It doesn’t mean they won’t say yes at some future date. I always keep these folks on my list and continue mailing to them. In fact, I tell them that I am going to keep them on the list in the event that something changes.

Direct mail campaigns to absentee owners will bring you consistent leads for your business if done properly. Next time I will talk about setting up a direct mail campaign.

About Author

Sharon Vornholt

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.


  1. Great information. “Properly and Consistently” are definitely the key factors in doing direct mail. I was suppose to start my first campaign this week using click2mail, but I will wait for your next blog on setting up the direct mail campaign.

  2. Jennifer – There are a number of different ways to set up your direct mail. Not mailing consistently is where most people fail. Your rates of success go up with each sequential mailing. Don’t get discouraged if the first couple don’t get the response you were hoping for. Just keep mailing! You will be above the crow just by hanging in there.

  3. You’ve given great advice Sharon: I just got my first deal from a campaign to absentee owners! I followed your advice from other articles and started mailing every 4-6 weeks back in January and after she got my second letter we struck a deal and will close next week (crossing fingers).

    Thanks for all the great info you share!

  4. Hi Sharon–you mention a few additional reasons why you may remove absentee owners off your list. The 1st being that the property may be 100% financed … I know that this would constitute a short sale, so not exactly a scenario where you can wholesale the deal. The 2nd being that it may be in a family trust … in this scenario, are there simply too many parties (and potentially attorneys) involved? In essence, attempting to coordinate all of these parties makes the deal too difficult and thus gets removed from your list? Would you refer a deal like this to an agent (for a fee) to potentially list the property?

    • Zachary-

      The reason I usually take them out after a few mailings is that these types of trusts are almost always the kind used for estate planning where the property passes on to another family member. They will be “family trusts’ or ‘revocable trusts” etc. Most of the time these folks will actually call me and ask to be taken out for those reasons.

      If the property were simply purchased in a trust like any investor might do, that is a different matter. If they are an absentee owner that happened to purchase the property in a trust I will still mail to them. Absentee owner investors will get tired of that situation at times and want to sell. These folks might also call to say they buy property all over the country and ask to be removed.

  5. Hi, we work with a lot of real estate professionals and investors who use our data for marketing to the absentee owners. Some of the thinks to think about when purchasing the data options are below and I hope this helps.

    * Decide if you want to marketing to in state our out of state absentee owners. This can be an important option especially if you are targeting vacation home, investment property or rentals.
    * Make sure you can request the complete mailing and property addresses to compare the differences.
    * Ask for phones and consider a follow up call to increase responses
    * Last but not least make sure that you request the exact criteria and filters that you want Don’t assume anything will be included or excluded with your data order unless you specifically request it. Some common mistakes can include unwanted property types, corp owned/trustee owned properties. If you are not sure ask for advice a good sales representative will want to make sure you get it right .

    • Daniel –

      I agree with you. I only market to out of STATE absentee owners. KY is not a giant state like Texas for instance. Most folks in this state wouldn’t have a problem driving here to take care of a property, so I don’t include other counties in my state in my data. I’m sure I’m missing a couple of folks, but there were thousands of people that own property a county (or a few counties) away.

      I always put in my filters especially where price is concerned. I also want to omit certain zip codes as well.

  6. Can you discuss a bit how you go about filtering the calls that you receive?

    I just sent out my second mailing to absentee owners. I’ve gotten a good percentage of responses, but almost all wanted top dollar/were low motivation. (I do have one that sounds motivated, but she told me to check back in around May-June.)


    • Brian –

      The secret is to just keep mailing. Make notes on what they tell you so that you can refer back to them when they call you back. Many of these non motivated sellers will become motivated down the line. Keep these folks on your list. For the lady that said check back around mid May, here’s what I would do; send her a thank you note immediately with your business card. Thank her for taking the time to speak with you. Tell her that you would like to come see the house. Try to get an appointment. Then send her another letter in about 2 weeks to see if she how she is coming along with the process. You might want to follow up with a call. After that, just keep mailing to her.

      I bought a house a couple of months ago from a fellow that I had been mailing to for 15 months. This particular one happend to be a probate.He listed the property, and he called me when the house had been on the market for about 6 months. He was still under the “illusion” that he could get a full retail price for a house that hadn’t been updated in 35 years. (It still had knotty pine paneling.)

      I just spoke with him for a while, and he was stuck on his price. I wished him luck selling the house, and I asked his permission to keep in on my list in case anything changed in the future. (They will almost always agree to that.)

      He called me back with the house had been listed for 15 months, and he asked if I remembered him. I told him that I did; he owned the house on Virginia. He said that they hadn’t had a single offer. I very patiently explained that the house needed a complete update, and that today’s first time buyers didn’t want to buy a house that needed a lot of work. I told him that in most cases not only did they not have the extra cash, but they didn’t have the time. Both people work in most families these days.

      I went over the costs to do that update ( I looked back at his file), and in the end he just wanted the house off his plate. He accepted my original offer that was $30,000 less (on an ARV of $89,000) than what the realtor had it listed for. At this point, he was pretty mad at the Realtor. The house was just listed for way too much money for a fixer upper, and he felt like he had spent a lot of money paying taxes, utilites, mowing the grass etc.

      Just be patient, tell them you wish them luck, and be the one investor that is still mailing them down the road. And yes, like the saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs in the process. In the end, it’s a numbers game.

  7. I marketed to them for a couple of years without even a single call. Most of those folks have these trusts set up for estate planning. That is different than a trust that an investor would set up to buy a property. You can tell these are investors most of the time by the way they look. It might say “123 Main Land Trust” for instance.

  8. Hi Sharon, I am trying to figure out a budget for my mail marketing campaign. Can you give us some guidelines on what sort of response rate we should expect from our mailings, and how many of those we can expect to actually buy from?

    • Hugh –

      That is hard to say. Somewhere from 3% to 6% is considered to be standard. But there are a lot of variables such as how good your mail pieces are, how good your list is and just how long you mail to the prospects. I have done some posts here and more recently on my blog where there are some statistics about that. The longer you mail, the more DEALS you will close. Your response rate goes up with subsequent mailings.


  9. Hi
    I read everyone’s responses regarding direct marketing to absentee owners.
    My problem is I do not know what to tell them for direct action.
    does anyone has a sample or they can share what they have done since we do not work in the same area.

    • Vida –

      There is a lot to learn where direct mail is concerned. It’s not just as simple as having the right letter. I would recommend that you read everything you can find here on BP on marketing and direct mail. There are a lot of articles on those subjects.


  10. Would these absentee owner leads be best to present for both seller and buyer or to whom? Reading about this has me interested to maybe start learning about. For me, it\’s mostly because of my plan to present my renovated home out to the market and sell it for a high price. The thing that has me somewhat stuck is me not knowing how to present it online or even in paper.

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