Real Estate Marketing

Want to Land Deals? Better Stand Out in a Sea of Yellow Letters! Here’s How.

Expertise: Mortgages & Creative Financing, Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Commercial Real Estate, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Investing Basics, Personal Development
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I’ve gotten really into Timothy Ferris’ podcast as of late (in addition to, not instead of, the BiggerPockets Podcast, of course). And I found myself thoroughly enamored by his discussion with legendary hacker Sammy Kamkar. Not only will this podcast scare the hell out of you as they discuss ways hackers can steal all of your financial information by waiving their phone near yours (seriously), but they also had a very interesting talk on internet dating, that yes, does somehow relate to real estate investment in a roundabout way.

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Basically, Tim and Sammy had set out to find the best way to navigate the muddy waters of online dating. I have no experience with this morass, but what they said seemed to ring true. Basically, they created a bunch of fake profiles for Sammy with a variety of different pictures and information testing each one against each other.

They also created fake female profiles to see what kind of messages they would get and in turn, sent out a bunch of messages to different women to see what would get the best response. They noticed that attractive women got, well, they got a lot of messages. Hundreds, in fact.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Using Direct Mail Advertising to Grow Your Real Estate Business

But most were all the same or at least had the same title: "Hello," "You look interesting," "Want to talk?" And of course the less savory ones that I will spare you from.

So they then went about testing various email headlines to see what got the best response. They found the best response rate by far was from the header, “F*** you.”

Why? No, it’s not because it was mean. If they continued being mean in the message, they didn’t get a response. It was simply because they actually got the person to click on the message. In a swamp of hundreds of emails with the same, tedious (or gross) titles, being that one oddball that makes someone say “huh?” or “what?” is critical.

And of course we see this same dynamic at play in most media today. There are those media and political figures that just seem to be trying to stir up controversy to keep their name in the news. And now a whole cottage industry has been built around getting outraged over what someone on the other side said on social media. Then the other side gets angry over the overreaction on the other side, and the circus goes on.

Indeed, as CGP Grey noted, these sides aren’t even really arguing with each other, but instead with their own side about how outrageous the other side is. But I digress.

How This Relates to Real Estate Investment

So how does online dating and political outrage relate to real estate investment? Well, it’s simple: You have to stand out.

I was once at someone's house whom we had sent a letter to because they were behind on their mortgage. He pulled out a massive stack of letters, probably six inches thick. "These are all the letters I've gotten so far about people wanting to buy my house," he said.

It was a bit of punch in the gut. Sending a letter to someone in foreclosure makes you one of a hundred people they might call back.

Basically, when it comes to anything, but particularly getting the attention of a motivated seller, you have to stand out in some way, form or fashion. You cannot say hello and expect them to respond.

Now, please understand me: I’m not saying to write “F*** you” on your marketing letters. (Please don’t do that.) But instead, make your letter more unique. Send it in a yellow letter perhaps, or a post card. Better yet, put your letter in large manila envelope. Try a service that prints on the front of the envelope in a manner that looks handwritten, at least at first glance. Or perhaps pay someone to actually handwrite them (we have done this in the past and noticed a definite uptick in callbacks).

Related: Targeting Sellers With Direct Mail: How to Cast a Wide Net Without Losing Precision

Or maybe even go knock and talk if you’re up for it. It’s hard to ignore that.

Use Your Imagination

Whatever you do, don’t use those bulk envelopes with the transparent spot over the return address. Those things are automatically associated with either a bill or junk mail.

Or you can try to stand out by fishing where no one else is. A friend of mine has had by far his best success with mailing to properties he finds “driving for dollars." These are basically vacant properties in rough condition in good areas. He just finds them driving around town and taking notes. The reason these mailings are successful is because the owner obviously doesn't want this dilapidated home, and more importantly, there isn't any competition. He stands out by default.

And of course, this isn’t only with marketing to sellers. It can be related to networking, marketing to tenants, employees, company branding, etc. Don’t do anything that will hurt your reputation, of course. But in today’s crowded market, it is more critical than ever to find ways to stand out from the competition.

What techniques do YOU use to stand out with your marketing efforts?

Let me know with a comment!

Andrew Syrios has been investing in real estate for over a decade and is a partner with Stewardship Investments, LLC along with his brother Phillip ...
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    Tammy Vitale Investor from Lusby, Maryland
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    This is interesting to me because not 3 minutes before I read this, my husband was opening one handwritten envelope and one that was meant to look like handwriting. You might add to your suggestions that folks write more than, “Hello, I”m _____, I want to buy your house at _____.” At least the other one was personable tho why, if someone wants to buy my house, they want me to provide pictures, I don’t undestand. Notice the letters are to my husband while *I* am the investor and handle all our houses. This particular house (both letters) seems to have captured attention for some reason. We get yellow letters *all the time* these days. We bought it 2 years ago, fixed it up and it is doing well for us. It has been painted on the outside, has a fairly new roof, yard is kept nice so, other than we are “absent” landlords (actually, my son lives in the area and manages all of my houses for me), I can’t figure out why the attraction. Further the suggestion that we do this “without real estate agents”, since I am a real estate agent, does nothing to forward the cause (the from the longer more personal letter). I understand yellow letters are scattershot and I am not the demographic although I (or rather my husband) am now a target. I guess what I’m saying is that there are a lot of folks following the above suggestions, and I would like to suggest handwritten and/or esp fake handwritten is not longer outside the box enough. And “yellow” letters (the first “Hello, I’m……. fake handwritten on yellow lined paper) no longer enough to stand out.
    Curt Smith Rental Property Investor from Clarkston, GA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Being a direct marketure and yellow letter trainer in the local REIA I completely agree. Our rentals get stacks of post cards obviously by the wording by over testosteroned 20 somethings with way too much money for marketing. Irritating messages. What we train to new investors is hand written letters and envelopes. Yes this does not scale but the response rate can be 5% somethings better. This source of vacant properties with or without equity is ok. Sellers are still wanting too much (zestimate) or what the rehabbed seller got down the street. True hand written gets the call over irritating post cards hands down. I know of one service (forgot name) that has a room full of hand writing machines writing REI marketing letters. LOL But what this post misses is that 99% of the success of a direct marketing campaign is in the quality of the list, not so much the message or how it’s packaged. If you are mailing a crapy list (every door for an extreme example) you are wasting your time frustrating over wording or handwritten or not!!!!!!!! Even mailing absentee AND vacant is NOT good enough to have the sellers calling you begging you to take their wrecks for pennies. You need to add in critical mass stress for the seller. IE Vacant AND late in taxes AND a divorce… All three of these can be purchased or fetched from the local court house but no one has packaged all this up into a click here and pay $500 for 50 leads with all three stress factors. If such a list where available and the seller would sell it ONLY to YOU, then it probably would be worth $10 an address. – delinquent taxes – divorce and the house is vacant – code violations OR eviction AND the house is vacant You get the picture. JMHO
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, MO
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I agree completely, although I think that’s in addition to rather than instead of thing, as you’d probably agree. Handwritten, or handwritten looking, letters is at this point, it’s the bare minimum, but it’s certainly better than a form letter. But like the example of driving for dollars, much of your success is just like you said, the quality of your list and avoiding as much of the competition as possible.
    Daniel Nolan from Longwood, Florida
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Curt, I created a list of SFR absentee owners whose homes were at least 12 years old minimum 1000 sq ft, 2+ berms from the county records according to zip codes and mailed yellow letters with red faux hand writing. Got got great response fishing in areas others did not. Most all callers wanted me thither make them an offer or remove them from my list. I also use a well known answering service to get this far. The number of desperate callers however, are very far and few between. Is it possible to get a such drilled down specific lists that you referred to from County records? I didn’t realise you could get Vacants, Divorced, Evicted and or Code Violations or combinations of such. Love to learn more about your success . Thanks! Dan, Orlando Fl
    Matt McConkey Rental Property Investor from Scottsdale, AZ
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Curt, you nailed it. My full time gig is running a print/design/marketing company who is curtailing their focus toward direct response mail. All our months of studying goes to show that the best way to cultivate great leads is with data. DATA DATA DATA. Keep sending to absentee owners, good luck on that. Yes, you’ll get some leads, they could turn into a deal or two, but you’re going to GRIND hard to get the numbers where you need. You’ve got to find the true motivated sellers and Curt’s list is by far what we use for our mailings and the numbers don’t lie.
    Cody L. Rental Property Investor from San Diego, Ca
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I used to get a TON of those flyers. “We want to buy your property!”. Yeah, sure you do. “We’re real buyers”. Yeah, sure you are. I’d contact them and say “give me 2 examples of multifamily you’ve bought in this submarket”. Crickets. Thought so. But I’d also tell them “Look, my property isn’t for you. I get your business model. Blast out 10,000 letters. Hope to get a few that reply. From that, a few that might entertain selling. Go under contract for $.70 on the dollar. Blast the deal out to your ‘wholeseller network’ and hope to find a real buyer. Collect an assignment fee.” But, I’d tell them that I’m a buyer. And if they actually DO get a reply to any of their letters, let me know. While they may need it to be .70 cents on the dollar to make it work, I’d be willing to pay more. So if a deal doesn’t work for them, it might work for me. So send me the deal, if I like it, I’m happy to pay you a finders fee. I’ve said that to about 10 of those letter blasters. Know how many I’ve heard back from? None. I mean, based on how many of those things I’d get I have to assume it works. But then again, it could be people that went to some seminar on ‘how to make money on real estate with nothing down’ so each month there is some other n00b trying the same tactic.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, MO
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    They have never worked for us when sending to other active investors (which we only sent to by accideny) but we’ve had success with distressed homeowners and some absentee