Go Where Others Won’t – My Direct Mail Journey

by | BiggerPockets.com

It is a terrible time to buy off of the MLS!!

I’ve put numerous offers on multiple listings with the same outcome – multiple offers.  I’m asked to submit my highest and best offer

and, in the end, the property gets bid up 10-30% over asking price.  My local market is on fire.  There is hardly any inventory and listing agents don’t even bother returning phone calls, even when I ask them to represent me so they can double-end the deal.

In my last transaction, the listing agent was representing three additional buyers – so much for that little trick, it looks like everyone else has caught on to that as well.

Next Steps:

As you may have heard on my recent interview on the BP Podcast, I believe I have another 1-3 years left before I plan to exit half of my existing portfolio.  After looking over all the data, the lack of inventory and the increased competition, I felt like I need to acquire property differently to take full advantage of the current market.  Over the past 3 years, I’ve purchased primarily from banks and the MLS.  However, now that the “deals” on the MLS are over-priced (for my business model anyway), I need to go directly to the source – the homeowner.

Starting next week, I plan to attack a set demographic of homeowners in an effort to create my own leads.  I’ve laid out my marketing campaign below:


Zip Codes:  In the sub-markets where I would like to purchase property

Equity: 30% – 100%

Owner: Absentee Owner

Sq Ft:  500-1700

Bedrooms:  2 +

Bath:  1+

Property Type:  SFH


In the first phase of the campaign, I plan to send 1,400 postcards.  I chose to go with yellow postcards primarily to keep expenses down on the front end.  I did extensive research on direct mail marketing.  This involved speaking to seasoned Realtors, talking to non-real estate related direct mailers (insurance agents, brick-and-mortar businesses, etc.) and reading several books on the topic.  I’m by no means an expert, but I believe a few of the “tweaks” I plan to implement below should result in a better response rate.

signature 2

Note:  I’ve written, “Looking forward to your call” on each postcard in red ink.

Address/Name:  I’ve also incorporated mail merge into the card so that it will include the homeowner’s name as well as the address of the property I’m targeting.


Photo:  I’ve also chosen to include an “approachable” photo of yours truly.  I’m not sure if this will hurt or help my cause.  I plan to test this by sending out the same postcard without the photo and monitoring the response rate.

photo me 2


InformalThe look and feel of the postcard is low quality.  I deliberately decided to send something that would stand out from the rest of the potential seller’s mail – i.e. glossy, professional, high-resolution, etc.


Saturation Strategy:

I had my printer print 1,400 postcards and adhere a stamp to each of them.  I will be writing my personalized message on each of these cards over the weekend.  Down the road, I plan to outsource this to another party, but I’ll be doing it myself for the first phase.

In the second phase, I plan to send out a letter on lined yellow paper that will reference the postcard.

The third phase will be another yellow letter referencing the previous one – in a very clever manner (details to come on this).

The fourth phase will be another postcard referencing the previous three mailers.

The fifth phase will be another postcard letting them know I will available should they decide to sell their home down the road.  They will be put on a separate mailing campaign and will be mailed twice a year.

Holes in the Plan and Areas for Improvement:

The first problem I see with my list is that it is more of a “shotgun” approach, meaning I have no real qualifying information that any of these homeowners are under distress.  I’m hoping to catch a burned out landlord, a homeowner who can’t afford to “fix-up” their home, or an owner looking to exit the property quickly.  Over the next few months, I will be working toward funneling future lists against additional criteria – code citations, fire damage, divorce and abandoned properties (while driving for dollars).  Though at this time, I feel that this campaign will be enough to get my feet wet.  I’m a big believer in the idea of “adjusting while in flight.”

I look forward to posting updates to the community – feel free to share your insights or thoughts below.


About Author

Arthur Garcia (Google+) Arthur is a buy and hold investor in Southern California who is buying up dozens of homes while working a full time job. Arthur acquires properties using a combination of hard money, HELOCs, partnerships and private investors.


  1. Arthur,
    I’d love to be able to give you some pointers, but I can’t. I have never tried direct mailing myself. However, I do see the eventuality looming on the horizon, so I will be very interested in hearing more about your experiences with this.

    I loved your BP podcast, by the way.

    Good luck,

    • Laurence,

      Great point. I’ve thought about trying out several zip codes to see if there is any response increase. I’m gun shy to do 1400 YL mainly because of my preconceived notions regarding which type of seller would be call a YL. Most of my target sellers own homes between 200-400K. Who knows maybe they would respond the same as someone owning a 100K home. I guess that is the point of marketing, test, test and testing some more.

      Have you had any success with Yellow Letters?



  2. Arthur:
    Our favorite marketing strategy for the past 10 years has been direct mail.
    We market to neighborhoods where we want to own.
    You can purchase lists of absentee owners, non-owner occupieds, practically any group you want to target is on a list.
    I prefer neighborhoods because you never know who has a need now or in the future. I like to work with sellers who aren’t on any list. Also, they share our cards with friends and family.
    And, postcards have a long shelf life – people hold onto them.

    We marketed every home on our list every 4 weeks for about 4 years, then moved it to every 6-8 weeks. We bought 68 houses last year, all within a 9 mile radius (I don’t like to drive 🙂

    Good luck with your DM strategy. Just start and keep with it. Everything takes time to get rolling.

        • Karen, I haven’t received 1 call on the car magnets yet. This week I plan on putting an ad in a local paper whist circulation is about 30k (hoping to attract older, retiring landlords). Trying to decide whether/who to focus on mailing to. Out of state non-owner occupied was my recent thought.

        • Still no calls from my magnets. The phone number is in white on an orange background. It’s starting to get sunbleached and really hard to read. Today I saw a “In Home Hair Care” magnet on a car that was white background with black font and nothing else. It was boring but clear. I might try that in my next shot. Karen, what did your magnets look like/say?

          Also, I put a “We Buy Houses” add in a small local paper in the professional services section (about 30,000 people/businesses in a high end area receive it). My thought was that older, affluent people may want to get rid of free and clear or nearly free and clear real estate. I believe we’re going into week 3 or 4. I’ve received no calls.

          I’m considering really ramping up my direct mail but I’m not all that confident in my closing/phone skills. So, I’m not sure I should spend the dough.

    • Karen,

      Thanks for the comment and the email. I really appreciate your feedback.

      I really like your strategy of “carpeting” a farm area. I really think this is the best way to stay in front of the deal flow over the long haul. The difficulty is not knowing when the first deal is going to come in. I hate sitting around waiting, it feels very passive. As you and others have told me, over time (several months and even years) these little postcards will start to pay off. I’ve set aside ~$6K for marketing. I plan to spend roughly $600 every 6 weeks mailing to this same list.

      I HOPE that by the 3rd-4th touch, I can start to lock down a few deals. I would hate to arrive at month 10 and have spent 6K and no deals to show for it. I know “tweaking” is a big part of marketing, which is why I’ve selfishly used BP as a way to recruit professional advice without paying for it – loL!!

      Thanks again for the comment!


      • Arthur: $100 per week is extremely low so you can’t expect much with that. We spent about $1000 per week on mailings.

        For fast results, call properties listed on Craigslist. Those sellers are usually motivated and looking for solutions. We have had many students buy there quickly.

        Good luck to you!

        • Really? I would have thought $500 a month would get me something. I can probably commit to $1000 per month, but it is hard to stomach from this vantage point having not had a deal close via direct mail. I guess it is one of those things, you just have to jump and eventually things will work out. I guess this is why direct purchases are so much more profitable – no one else wants to risk their capital to find deals either.

          I’ll definitely have to think this over a but more. Regardless – your perspective and feedback is much appreciated.


  3. Thanks for this very generous share. Yes, I think the timing is better for finding motivated sellers now than when I mailed in 2008-10. I also received a Melissa Data catalogue today.

  4. Arthur, how are you tracking the photo vs. non-photo cards? Do you send at different times. mark it in a spreadsheet when it’s sent, put a special code on the card, or just ask if someone calls?

    • Hi Tiffany,

      To answer your question -they are on two different lists, each card has a different phone number. I have a master excel sheet. I know it is a bit “caveman” but I’m simply putting a “I” for each call I receive so I know which campaign I am getting the call from and which marketing piece I am getting called on.

      Secondly, I have a binder for each campaign. When a seller calls, I can put the property specs in the binder along with any additional info (title, comps, etc.) At this point, my folders are pretty empty, but I’m assuming if I keep at this for 10 months, I should have some useful date – I guess we’ll see.

      Have you every done any direct marketing? I’d love to hear your feed back.

      Thanks for commenting!!


      • I spent several grand in 2008-2010 with very little response and no deals. It was frustrating. I read books on it and spent lots of time on it. I guess my timing was off. Several people got mailed to 4 plus times, I think. I’ve done letters and postcards. No success but I was probably spending $500-1000/month. It’s a stretch on the cashflow when you’re trying to increase income!

  5. Chris Bounds on

    Keep us posted on your success. My first direct mail campaign was a failure (no deals), but I haven’t given up. It was a bit disorganized which I contribute to part of the failure. I’m getting ready to start my second campaign.

    • Hey Chris!

      I will definitely keep everyone in loop. Just a quick update, I received two phone calls and made 2 offers. Unfortunately, the motivation wasn’t quite as strong as I would have liked, but it was only the first round. My second batch hit this afternoon and the rest will hit early next week. Hopefully by my next post I’ll have a little more to offer by way of comments and critiques.

      BTW – you haven’t failed, you’ve only tested. Keep mailing, keep preparing, eventually the deal will come. I keep hearing 5-7 touches is the magic number, but who knows.

      What did you learn from your experience that might benefit me and anyone reading this thread?

      • Chris Bounds on

        Thanks Arthur.

        I’m still following up on several leads from my first campaign so it isn’t exactly a “failure” as I mentioned. Who knows what will happen!

        I’d say an obvious suggestion is to make sure you have a simple, easy lead management system. I do not, which adds to my inconsistency. I’m open to suggestions on that. CRM recommendations?

        Also, as other BPers have mentioned – outsourcing your mailing as quickly as possible is recommended. Right now, my Mail Merge system is pretty fast and simple to use but hand writing addresses and stuffing envelopes gets very old, very fast! It would make a good job kids if you have any. I don’t yet, but I look forward to doing it soon.

        • Great points!

          I don’t have kids, but I do have broke cousins in High School. I can probably have them write/stuff envelopes for a flat fee vs per piece. Either way, I do not want to do it – yuck!

          I’ll keep you posted. BTW – what has your response rate been?


  6. Very timely article, Arthur. I’m currently right in the middle of sending out my 3rd mailer to my first absentee owner list. Much like you, I can’t wait to outsource this as I spent 4 1/2 hours last night stuffing 182 envelopes. I’ve made numerous changes for each iteration. Here’s a quick overview of my mailers:

    – 1st mailer: Yellow letter printed in blue ink with matching #10 envelope. Both “handwritten” fonts.

    – 2nd mailer: Much shorter yellow letter printed in red with actual handwritten envelopes using a red sharpie. Envelopes are brown 6″x9″.

    – 3rd mailer: Same envelopes and sharpie, but instead of a yellow letter I’m trying a typed copy on a regular 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of copy paper.

    I’m hoping the more official/professional looking letters get a higher response rate. I’m in the Bay Area (I think I remember you mentioning you are in CA as well) and I think this market is a little more sophisticated and unresponsive to the yellow letters. I’ll have more data in a few weeks after I get all my mail out and add up my responses, but that is my gut feeling. Would love to stay in touch and bounce ideas, successes and failures off each other. Happy mailing!!

    • Hi Brandon!

      Thanks for the details comment.

      4.5 hours stuffing envelopes – yikes!! Let’s definately stay in touch. I think we have a very similar strategy, except I’m using PC instead of Yellow Letters. I’m going send a professional letter next, then a Yellow letter, then finally another PC. I’m hoping somewhere in there I’ll get the right people to read my piece.

      Have you had any bites yet?

      I hope to connect with you soon! I’ll add you on BP right now. Maybe we can talk on the phone and share best practices.


    • HI Tin,

      Yes – I will be sure to keep the BP community in the loop as I make progress. I’m posting every three weeks at this point and I think that might be enough time to share all the details that are going on in the background. I don’t think a whole lot is going to happen each week, but over a three week period it should be enough to keep the community engaged.

      What types of mailers do you use?


  7. Have you tried sending the suspects to your specifically designed web site from the mailer?
    If you are going to send out at least 5 touches then maybe they do not want to call you.
    Sounds odd huh, think about it, how many postcards or yellow sticky notes or whatever do you
    have that you plan to call that person someday. I don’t want to call you yet, but I would check you out on your website. Its how we shop and research before we buy.

    • Hi Ron,

      Regarding my website – no, I have not created a RE-specific one. I have it in the works and I plan to reference it in subsequent pieces. I wanted the first touch to be informal and obvious. The second one will be a little more formal. By the sixth touch, they will have received several versions of the same message. My hope it will appeal to the various seller types – informal, professional and everything in between.

      Either way, you advice is spot on. My goal is to have a Website up and running by the next go around.

      Thanks for your two cents. Do you have a website like this? Just curious. I’d love to get a few ideas.


      • AG, As a loan officer I have worked with some investors that have done everything for the past 5 years. Fast forward to today. Simply: people want to check you out and get to know you way before they pick up that 500 pound telephone and call you. Trust me, your long term conversion hinges upon a web site that is designed for engagement etc. The mailing portion is only to give them the message to visit your site, that is why the old conventional methods only yield a meager 1% or less response rate. Whenever I buy something of value I go to their web site and research before I just call them out of the blue or because they mailed me a nice oversized post cards in glossy print, front and back.

    • HI Dave!

      Thanks for the comment!

      I plan to do a multi-post follow up. My goal is to outline my success and failure associated with the campaign. I have no clue if this will actually work – but at least I feel like I’m taking action. I can’t stand sitting and waiting while everything on the MLS is either overpriced or over-bid.

      Do you do any mailing in your RE business?


  8. Whats the best way to outsource this on a limited budget? I was told that on the more professional DM there was evidence that wasn’t congruent with the appearance of a personal letter (a “made in Illinois” stamp or something).

    • Hi Russell,

      There are many companies to outsource this work to. I used YellowLetters.com they have very reasonable prices and can do campaigns as small as 200 units. You may want to also check Click2Mail.com, and also check out Jerry Puckett & Micheal Coreles (BP members) here on BP.

      How many folks are trying to mail to? How much do you have to work with? I’ve found PC to the least expensive way to touch the most amount of people. Although some would argue Yellow Letters have a better response rate.


    • Hi Jeffery,

      Yes – I’ll be sure to include the total cost of my marketing materials (list, postage, and PC) on my next post.

      In case you were wondering – total postage per piece .39 cents (including postcard). The list cost me about $250.

      Have you ever done any direct mail?

  9. Chris Bounds on


    It wouldn’t let me reply to your last post.

    My response rate was in the low singles…like 2%. It’s not completely accurate though.

    – It considers 2 hits (1 letter, 1 PC)
    – It includes duplicates and Return To Senders
    – My record system to keep up with stats isn’t the best (yet)

    I think I’ve got my Excel database where I need it now. I am going to use that for MailMerge and use Struggling Investor’s lead management software for data crunching. Hopefully my 3rd – 7th mailers will show better results.

  10. Do you obtain your list for prospects from the county grand list? I know a few places that have it but for some reason I’m having difficulty locating one for where I live (NYC).

  11. Arthur,
    I’m enjoying reading through your blog. I have been doing yellow letters in SOCAL for a couple of months now. I’ve found that some neighborhoods are more responsive than others. After some testing, I decided to focus on one zip code for now and hit home owners that have equity and have owned the home for over 20 years. I’ve sent out 60 YL’s in the last week (I don’t have much time) and have received 5 calls so far.

    I’m going to monitor this blog to see how your campaign is going. I’m new to this and I’m finding that I enjoy learning about different marketing strategies.


  12. Arthur – great blog post!

    I want to tag on to what Ron said – you should offer both a website (which has a form for them to complete & submit to you) and a phone number. You will definitely have some people that want to “check it out” online before they contact you. And if your website is informative and professional, they may feel more comfortable submitting their info there rather than talking to someone on the phone.

    It’s also important to have some sort of identity – e.g., branding. Especially if you are sending different cards and/or letters over the course of the campaign. In those repeated contacts, you are building awareness which can lead to trust. Home sellers need to trust that you are a credible option/solution to their problem in order to contact you. That’s why they rarely respond to the first contact or two. Just make sure that you “brand” your pieces, have some sort of recognizable identity, so they know it is you contacting them again and not just someone else sending a random postcard,

    • Dev, good information. Branding and awareness is very powerful in creating traction in any marketing effort. We use all the elements of a qualified touch. Direct mail, email, text message, and phone calls. After we see what the response rate is then we segment the list for a better understanding of how to nurture the data going forward. We are all data managers and marketers first and sales people second.

  13. Valerie Pastore on

    Great article. I am just getting started and want to begin my first campaign. I am not very computer familiar is there a good place to start to get information on building a web site as it seems this is an important piece of the process.

    • Valerie, I can suggest “connected investors” thing – they give you the opportunity to have a decent buying and selling sites on their platform and with their template – even if you are non-paying member. It’s good for a beginning and you can channel there your intended-to-be motivated sellers…

  14. Great article Arthur which prompted some very informative comments. In the comments there was talk of branding one’s self which I have never paid much attention to. This last Saturday I attended a local REIA’s seminar on marketing. When discussing branding the presenter told he had luck with getting his logo printed on stickers and placing them on all of his letters and post cards. I had never herd of this so I thought I would pass along.

  15. Arthur,
    Nice article and comments. I’m just getting started with investing concentrating on wholesaling and with time buying rental homes. My first campaign had mixed results. I sent 200 yellow PC to buyers and had a 5-7% response rate. Also sent 400 yellow letters to absentee owners; response rate was terrible, few calls but nothing I could follow up on.
    I plan to send out my 2nd campaign in the next week or two after doing some research. Thinking of using PCs for my absentee mailing to reduce cost and also limit to only out of state owners. Btw, I include my website in my mailings http://www.solanbuyers.com. Hope I’m not crossing the line listing my website.

    All the best on your campaigns! Thanks for sharing. Look forward to learning and exchanging ideas on BP.

    • Now that you are doing the right thing by rotating them to your web site. Now you need to add a call to action on your site. The home page must capture the visitor, I clicked your site and clicked out within 5 seconds. hmmm…

  16. I’m curious: Does anyone think that homeowners really look at a red or blue “handwritten” font on a yellow letter and think, “gee they wrote me a personal letter!”. Anyone that has ever used Word or an ink-jet printer probably has a pretty good idea of how that all works. It just seems that there is a lot of energy spent on this “trying to look small/personal” idea, and I’m not certain that it is a killer strategy for RE investing. I can see how handwritten envelopes might increase the open rate, but if that was YOU opening that envelope, wouldn’t you be a little ticked off to find that it is NOT a personal letter (despite the “handwritten” font inside). This could be your first impression with a homeowner, and it could turn them off if they feel that you are not sincere. If you are successful at “tricking” them into calling you. I’m guessing they think you’re willing to pay full retail for their house, because – after all – you are someone that it really interested in it and hand-wrote a letter to them, right?

    If you just want to buy a house or two a year, that “handwritten” stuff is probably fine. But if you are looking to buy/fix/hold/flip multiple houses every month, at some point I think you need to look at this like a real business and stop trying to trick people into calling you. Sooner or later the truth comes out… (i.e., like when you offer a “wholesale” price to someone after tricking them into thinking you were a “retail” buyer…).

    Just my 2 cents. I have a strong bias against any form of deception, no matter how subtle.

    • Dev,

      Although your post is 100% contrary to everything I have read thus far for mailings, I can’t argue with your logic. Your statements on the subject make a lot of sense. Do you recommend postcards instead? Can you pass along some info on what sort of pieces have proven the most effective based on your past experience?

      • Yes, we do like postcards because they work well with our brand strategy, the cost is lower (about 1/2 letters) and the message can be easily consumed. You won’t get as many calls from postcards (with a good message), but the quality of the leads can be better. If you PM or email me I’ll refer you to some of our more productive postcards.

        I just don’t want people to feel “tricked”. When they call us, they are expecting to get a discounted offer because we are a business, not a couple that wants to “$BUY$” their house. 😉

        • Amy C.

          Hello Dev,
          I really like your approach. I am a marketer in the healthcare arena during the day, and have always approached my customers/potential customers with honesty and integrity and it usually pays off in spades, though it may take a bit more time. People in general are not stupid and hate feeling duped or that they have been taken advantage of somehow.

          If you are comfortable, would you please share some of your postcard examples as quite frankly my head is spinning as to how to start with the direct mail campaign.

          Thank you so much!


    • Yeah, those handwritten notes remind me of strangers who call me by my first name because they think they have thus created a “personal” relationship with me that will motivate me to buy whatever they are selling.

  17. Arthur,

    What’s going on, you have us all on the edge of our seats?


    I don’t agree, the main object is to get them to call you, that means do whatever it takes have them call you or check out your website. Once they do, then it’s all up to your sales ability. They might get up set, but just keep sending because one day that up set person might need you and if you stop the next person will get the deal.

Leave A Reply

Pair a profile with your post!

Create a Free Account


Log In Here