Episode 13: Direct Mail Marketing 101 - Everything You Need to Know About Direct Mail Marketing for Real Estate Investors

by Doug & Andrea Van Soest | Spouses Flipping Houses

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Episode 13: Show Notes

Direct mail has been our primary source of leads for the past 4 years and can work great to get deals when you know how to use it. In today’s episode, we share a wealth of information on how to first get started with direct mail, some great services you can use to save money, as well as some simple strategies you can follow to increase your chances of getting a deal, and how to scale the entire process. If you want to start getting deals this is one episode you won’t want to miss!

Here’s a few takeaways from today’s episode:

  • The importance of Following up with your leads & how 20 follow ups with one lead resulted in an awesome deal for us!
  • How to get started with Direct Mail & Figure out who to send letters to
  • What mail piece options you can use when sending them to potential leads
  • Simple Tips to get people to open & read your letter instead of throw it away
  • Andrea shares some tips on how to word & angle your letters
  • How to send your mail pieces out to save money
  • A great place to get a great deal on Yellow Letters
  • How to capture a leads interest when you start getting calls
  • The Importance of consistency when sending mailers
  • Simple strategy for increasing your budget once you start getting deals
  • What to do with people who hang up the phone after calling you




Mail Options:


Voicemail Services


Episode 13 Transcript

Download Episode 13 Transcript

Andrea: And the most important thing about direct mail truly, truly is consistency.

Doug: Welcome back to Spouses Flipping Houses podcast. This is episode number 13, lucky number 13. Today we’re going to be talking about one of my favorite topics, direct mail. This is Direct Mail 101, Everything You Need to Know About Direct Mail Marketing. Andrea, how are you over there?

Andrea: I’m good. How are you?

Doug: I’m good, I’m good. What’s been happening this past week in our business?

Andrea:  A lot has been happening actually, but a crazy thing happened last week on Wednesday. We were out in San Bernardino, and we were getting ready to stage a house, and we got into town and were hungry and thought let’s eat first real quick, and then we’ll run stage that house and then be back in time to pick up the kids.

So, we’re actually in line at Chipotle, and the guy in front of me is on his cell phone looking at Facebook, and all of the sudden he looks up with a panicked look on his face looking around and kind of as if is anybody else seeing what I’m seeing here right now?, and he says, “Somebody is shooting people, like right around the corner.”

And everybody was like, “What? Do we leave the restaurant? What is going on right now?” So we all got on our phones, and sure enough that shooting was taking place not far from where we were. And so we weren’t really sure what to do. They were saying on the radio to get out of the area if you were nearby, and we had to go down Waterman actually which was where it was taking place to get to this house we were going to stage.

Doug: We were a little bit north of it. There wasn’t a lot of information at that time.

Andrea: Right.

Doug: We didn’t know what was going on or…

Andrea: And there had been early reports that they thought the people were contained in the building, so we thought let’s just run and stage the house really quick, and we’ll get out of town. So we get over to that house and as we’re getting in the front door, we start hearing police sirens. It was like a mile away from where we were at.

Doug: Helicopters flying around.

Andrea: Yeah. Pretty crazy.

Doug: Yeah. It was pretty surreal, and you know we didn’t know the gravity of it at that time and all of the tragedy that ensued, and our prayers are obviously going out to the victims and families, and it’s just kind of a scary time, especially when it hits this close to home.

Andrea: Yeah

Doug: Where we were.

Andrea: Because the people were literally driving around the neighborhoods right where we were.

Doug: Yeah. And this house is like what, a mile, mile and a half from where all of this happened. And we were staging it at the time, so. Interesting story about that house too actually related to direct mail, and this is just a good lesson for anyone who’s working leads of any kind in this business, follow-up. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up is so huge.

This house that we bought, and we rehabbed it and listed it this past weekend, we actually got it from direct mail. It was a direct mail lead, and I was looking at my notes this morning on that lead because we take deliberate notes every time I talk to a potential seller of a house so that way I can remind myself of everything, and we have a follow-up system.

Well, they initially called in December of 2013. So two years ago this lady called, and we touched base probably twenty times between then and July of 2015 when the time was finally right for her to sell the house, and we bought the house. And it’s going to be a great deal for us, so really exciting. And it helped her out a lot. She had gotten to that point where the city that the house was in was really bugging her about inspections and different things, and she did not want to deal with them anymore, and it was time to sell.

Andrea: It turned out to be one of those really, really great houses. I knew it was going to sell right away, and I’ll tell you about that in a minute, but the structure of the house was just so cute. The layout was great. We didn’t really have to change a whole lot, just cosmetic paint and flooring. We did completely redo the kitchen, and that ended up looking really awesome, but it was just one of those houses where I just had a feeling.

I knew it was going to be desirable, so sure enough we staged it on Wednesday, got professional photos on Thursday and listed it on Friday. We got three over asking price offers over the weekend and have accepted one this morning, so it’s pretty exciting.

Doug: Yeah, very exciting. It doesn’t happen on every house these days. It’s a little bit more stable, but that was a hot one.

Andrea: Yeah, there’s just certain ones where you get a feeling. Like ooh, there’s a couple little funky things about this one. It might take a little longer. But that one I just knew.

Doug: It had some good features to it, a big bonus room in the back.

Andrea: Pull-through garage that was already there, so people really like little things like that.

Doug: Big lot. Lots of positives going on with that one, and it was just a good looking house too so, that was really exciting, and it really relates to what we’re going to talk about because it was a direct mail lead from the beginning.

Let’s dive into it: direct mail. One of our, like I said, one of our main sources of leads probably still our main source of leads for the past probably four years that we’ve been doing it, so let’s go ahead and dive in.

Andrea: So what is direct mail? We want to be a little more intentional about explaining things as we go along, because we’ve had a few questions lately after different episodes of people saying, “Hey, what’s a VA?” Or certain abbreviations we’ve used because it’s just so common to us we don’t want to assume that everybody knows what all of these things are.

So direct mail basically is where you are identifying a property address or a property owner, and then you’re sending them a piece of mail to let them know that you can be of service to them, and buy their house quickly, and solve some kind of a problem for them. Then they will hopefully call you; you negotiate, and you buy their house. So, how you go about doing that… there’s different ways.

Doug: So first of all you start with a list. Like, who are we going to send this letter to? And there’s lots of ways to go about that, but essentially I recommend picking an area, obviously, that you want to buy houses in, that you want to do deals in. Pick a geographical area.

And where do you get a list of houses? And there’s lots of different ways, different companies that can provide lists, but here’s a few of the ways that most people get started and ways we might recommend finding addresses to send mail to. So you can check with the title company. If you have a relationship, even if you don’t, you can usually call up a title company, and they’re very willing to give you lists of properties.

You can usually narrow that down to, based on maybe bedroom/bathroom count or the age of the home or different things like that that you really want to target, and they’ll provide you a list of houses in that area. There are some list providers out there that I’ve used in the past and other people recommend as well.

One of those is ListSource.com, probably the most common I would say, ListSource.com. PropertyRadar.com, if you’re on the West Coast, is what we currently use, one of my favorites. Sean O’Toole is an excellent resource and website there. You can get lists monthly through his service, and it’s very affordable.

RealQuest is another one that is very popular. That’s CoreLogic data, and one I heard about this morning that I’ve never used is Listability.com. I don’t know anything about it, but a credible investor mentioned that one so you can check that out as well.

Andrea: So once you’ve got your list, then you’re going to choose what kind of mail piece you want to send. There are a couple of different options here. First thing and usually the cheapest would be a postcard. So you can send out a postcard; usually it’s just text, nothing fancy. If you get into photos and glossy print and all that, you’ll totally blow your budget.

Doug: Yeah, that can get expensive.

Andrea: So I’m talking just a simple white or yellow postcard with block wording on it. That’s about it. That ranges from $0.37 to $0.50 per piece usually. The benefit to that is that people don’t even have to open it to see the message, so that can be good or bad. They might throw it right away, but generally they’ve seen it and kind of know the concept, and if that is something that’s even crossing their mind, they might hang onto that.

So then your next option would be to send them a letter. Letters are a little more expensive than postcards, usually $0.55 to anywhere to $1.10 or so, and pretty much everybody has heard of the yellow letter. It’s kind of the standard, go-to marketing thing within real estate investing.

Doug: But if you haven’t heard of the yellow letter, it’s basically a yellow-lined piece of paper with a handwritten note that is very simple, and it basically just says, “Hello. My name is so-and-so. I would like to buy your house at 123 Main St. Please give me a call, and here is my phone number.” It’s that simple, or it can get obviously more complex than that, but that’s generally known as the yellow letter.

Andrea: Yeah, so there’s a few important things with sending a letter, and it just kind of goes along with the psychology of direct mail, and that is the fact that if it is handwritten, it is so much more likely to be opened, the address on the envelope as well as the letter on the inside. People are much more likely to read it if it is handwritten, for whatever reason.

Even if they don’t know who it’s coming from on the return address, they’re just curious if it looks like it’s from a person.

Doug: Who wrote me a letter?

Andrea: Yeah, and the other thing is the stamp. You want an actual, live stamp, and the funkier the better. We try to get Disney stamps, or I always ask if I can see what they have, and I’ll take the weirdest ones.

Doug: We’ll take the biggest, brightest…

Andrea: Nothing offensives, but yeah, bright and colorful. It just works. People are much more likely to open a letter with a live stamp as opposed to one with those corporate, bulk stamp-looking things that they just kind of know it’s from…

Doug: Kind of a bulk mail thing.

Andrea: —from a corporation or something like that. So you can do printed letters and you can print the envelopes. It’ll be so much easier for you. You can crank those out really fast. There will be some people that will open them; I’m sure. But they’re just not as effective. It’s kind of proven that it’s just not.

But the one thing I would say, whether you do a post card or a letter, doesn’t really matter. Just pick something and go with it, and don’t get too hung up on your wording and what you’re going to write. Just write something. You can tweak it and adjust it as you go. The most important thing is that you sell them on the fact that you’re going to be a benefit to them, and you want to help them.

And as long as that is genuinely what your intentions are, it’s going to come across, and people will appreciate that, and they’ll be more likely to give you a call. But don’t get hung up on exactly word-for-word. It’s really not that important.

Doug: Yeah. Like you said, I loved what you said about how it can be tweaked later.

Andrea: Yes.

Doug: Just get your message out there that you’re willing to buy houses, and you’re looking for houses, and you know you can change it and test it later on. But the important thing is to just start sending it with the message. Oh and make sure you have the right phone number by the way.

Andrea: Oh yeah, we’ve done that. That’s a very expensive mistake.

Doug: Speaking from experience, you don’t want to put the wrong phone number on these mailers, double or triple-check that.

Andrea: Yes.

Doug: The next step would be to send these mail pieces out. So there’s a couple of different options there. If you’re on a super tight budget, and you’re just kind of getting started, and you want to test this out, which is totally normal and exactly what we did when we first started, you can do this yourself. You can pop-in Netflix, do some binge-watching of some old seasons of Lost, and start hand-writing.

Get your pencil sharpened, actually your pen, and start hand-writing these letters sitting in front of the couch at night and driving yourself nuts.

Andrea: You will drive yourself nuts.

Doug: You can do that. You can absolutely do that though, and you will save some labor costs doing that. It’s still going to cost you for the stamps; it’s still going to cost you for the envelopes and what not, but it will be cost-effective. But if you’re doing this on a really small scale, you can try that and do that.

I would recommend not doing that if you’re really going to take this serious and actually hire a mail house. Or, well there are a couple options there, you can hire someone locally in your own business. There are plenty of people out there who will, for not a lot of cost, do this for you, hand-address envelopes, hand-write letters. That would be far superior than doing it yourself. So that’s one option.

But the most common way, and if you’re going to be doing it in a larger volume, would be to get a mail house service to do this for you. There are a lot of services out there, and we’ve used quite a few of them, but my absolute favorite if you’re going to be doing yellow letters is YellowLetterHQ.com. It’s a friend of mine, Todd; he’s out of San Diego, and he’s got the best deal around by far for sending out yellow letters.

I think it’s $0.55 per letter right now to send out, so you can’t even do it that cheap on your own sitting in front of your house, and it does have a live stamp on it, and he can explain the whole process to you and what the letter looks like. You can customize it, so give him a shout-out and check that out if you’re going to be doing yellow letters.

Another service that we used to use and still use on occasion for postcards is Click2Mail.com. They’ve recently kind of changed their format, and it’s a little bit tricky to figure out, but once you kind of get the process down and get your templates built in there, it becomes easier, and you can mail merge in a list, and make these postcards, and send them out with a few clicks after a while.

That’s one service, but there are a ton more out there, and those are just the ones we’ve used that we’re most familiar with.

Andrea: So then once you’ve sent out letters, you’re going to then start taking calls. Calls are hopefully going to start coming in, and at that point, you’ve got two options. You can answer the calls live, or you can send them to a voicemail service, and you can call them right back. So, answering them live is the most recommended thing to do, not always the easiest, but it will produce the most results if you’re able to do it.

Doug: It will be the most effective.

Andrea: The reason you want to do this, or one of the pros, is that the seller is usually the hottest when they are first calling you. In their mind, they’re ready so they’re calling you. You don’t want to get back to them if you can answer the call right then because they might not call anybody else. They may go with you because you picked up the phone. So, if you can do that, that’s the most recommended thing.

The cons to answering the calls live is that you need to be available at all hours to be answering your phone. So if you’re doing this long-term and trying to grow your business, it’s not sustainable because it will wear you out. So eventually you’re going to need to hire somebody to take these calls for you.

If you are taking them yourself, you know, you’re going to be out picking up your kids from school or doing whatever it is that you do, so you’re going to end up writing down notes on post-it cards, on a napkin—

Doug: It gets crazy.

Andrea: —managing all of that can get pretty nuts. So that’s one of the cons to answering live if you’re doing it yourself. So then there’s a voicemail service, which is actually what we do right now, although we are about to hire somebody in-house to start answering the phone live as well. But right now we have it set up for our calls to go to a voicemail service.

So the calls come in; they go directly to a voice message that the person can listen to and hear more information about what we can do for them, how we can help them; they leave a message, and then one of our sales team members calls them back as quickly as possible.

Doug: There are actually two schools of thought on this too, and we’ve tried both. There’s the message that just says, “Hey, this is Doug. Thanks for calling. I’m out, so leave me a message, and I’ll call you back.” Just kind of like it’s your cell phone, and almost like they’re calling you personally on your cell phone.

The other school of thought, which we’ve used both of these, is you give a long message where you’re giving lots of information about what you do, about who’s a good fit for how we buy houses and whatnot, and that’s sort of used as a screening process in and of itself. So if people listen to it and go, oh well, this isn’t for me, you may be saving yourself the time of talking to them later. So that’s kind of two schools of thought, but we’re, like Andrea said, converting to just answering everything live, and we can determine as we talk to them whether it’s a good fit or not.

Andrea: Right. But the benefit to a voicemail service, if you choose to go with that, is that you can capture all of the phone numbers. So that’s really a great thing, and the voice messages can be saved and referenced later. For example, we have some hilarious voice messages that we’re probably going to play on our next episode.

So the next benefit to a voicemail service is the fact that these calls that are coming in can integrate directly into your lead software system, and for us that’s Podio. So it can automatically populate right into there; tasks pop-up to call the people back or certain reminders; it can keep your organization and lead-management—

Doug: Well-organized.

Andrea: —really well organized, so that can be a great thing. The negatives or cons to voicemail services are the fact that you are not answering live, so you will have lots of hang-ups, and you’ve got to figure out what to do with those. And it can be really difficult to call the person back because for one, they may have already called somebody else and you’ve lost them. For two, maybe they’ve lost their motivation, and you didn’t capture them right away when they were motivated. So those are the negatives.

If you do decide to do voicemail service, it can be good. I know I just made it sound really bad, but it can be a good thing.

Doug: I mean that’s what we’ve used for the last four years, so it works.

Andrea: Yeah, your options for that are Google Voice, which is free but very limited. Then if you’re willing to spend a little bit of money, you can use CallRail.com or RingCentral.com.

Doug: We currently use CallRail.com. We’ve been using it for about six months, and we really like it. There’s a lot of other ones out there, but those are kind of the main ones. And then the last step, I mean you get the calls coming in, you’ve talked to the people, and then the last step is to get the deal.

So you talk with the seller; you talk with this person who has called in. Go out and inspect the house if you can, or in some cases you’re just negotiating on the phone. And we’re going to get into that whole topic of working with sellers and talking with them in a future episode. It’s a whole topic in itself, but essentially you want to analyze the property and then make an offer.

Very important step is making the offer. If you don’t make offers, you’re not going to buy a house. I mean it’s pretty simple, but a lot of people don’t. Maybe they’re afraid they’re going to offend the seller or think they’re never going to accept their offer, but for whatever reason they’re not making offers.

If someone calls in and they’re at all interested in selling, make them an offer and put your contact information at the bottom of the offer— that’s another little tip there because they might hang on to that. They might keep that and put it in a file somewhere, put it on their fridge. Who knows? And down the road when they’re ready, if your contact info is on there, they can call you back and say, “Hey, are you still interested in buying my house?” That does happen.

Andrea: We’ve even had contracts sent back, offers mailed back to us weeks or months later with their signature, like okay, ready to go.

Doug: Yeah, and we never even spoke with them. We just, in some cases, have sent an offer. So that’s not the norm, but it does happen, so definitely send an offer out. And then if it’s not accepted initially, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, very important. As I mentioned at the beginning of this show, the way we got this property in San Bernardino was a series of following up with that particular property owner.

I don’t know the percentages, but I’d say a third, maybe even 40 percent of properties we buy come from follow-ups. They don’t come from the initial contact, so that’s a huge amount. So follow-up is very important, and you need to have systems for that. But that is also another podcast episode someday.

Get the contract signed however that comes, and do it all over again. Rinse and repeat.

Andrea: Yeah, and the most important thing about direct mail truly, truly is consistency. So if you think you’re just going to scrape together all of the money you cans scrape together and send out 5,000 mailers and hope this is really going to just be the thing that triggers your business, it’s not.

You may get a deal or two, but if you want to set yourself up for success, you need to be consistent. So spread that money out, determine how many mailers you can send out monthly, and do it that way because you need to be keeping yourself in front of these people consistently.

Doug: Right. Studies show people that are much smarter than us, I think it’s your name has to get in front of the average person five to seven times before they will respond to that call to action. So sending it one time, you may get lucky or get somebody on the right day, but it’s not going to be that breakthrough in your business that you’re looking for.

If you’re going to do direct mail, even on a small scale, I recommend committing to it at least six to twelve months, six months at a minimum.

Andrea: Yeah and for each list you’re sending them a series of postcards and letters. It’s not just a one-time thing.

Doug: I didn’t even mention that, but you know, you want to consistently send these people things, anywhere from every month to every two months, maybe every three months. Whatever it is, continue to send out mailers so that your name is in front of them, and they begin to recognize you and subconsciously they know, oh this guy is legitimate. He’s continuing to try to contact me, and that might be someone I want to work with.

Consistency is very, very important. And then as you do some deals, as you start to make some money with projects you’ve purchased from direct mail, then increase your budget. Put a percentage of those profits back into marketing so that grows a little bit. And it’s just this cycle that feeds on itself, so then you can send out more letters. And just like anything it will bring more deals, and then you increase your budget some more. So that’s how we recommend doing it. But definitely give it a good period of time to try it out.

Andrea: And some of our best tips are call back the hang-ups. So if you do use a voicemail service or if you don’t and there are calls that you missed, call them back or send them a text message.

Doug: Yeah, texting is another thing. A lot of people prefer, myself included, love to communicate via text these days.

Andrea: It’s less threatening, and they may be more likely to respond.

Doug: And not everybody has a cell phone, so you may get an error that it was not a cell phone, but you’ll at least know. Try to text them; try to leave a voice message back; try different things to get back to those people who hung up the phone when they called you.

So that is Direct Mail 101 in a nutshell. Hope you got a lot of info from that.

Andrea: If you have any other questions, or if there are any other resources we can try to provide, or specific questions, please feel free to send us an email. We like this stuff. We like talking about it, and we’d be happy to answer your questions.

Doug: Actually, you can just get on our website and go to the “Contact Us” section and send us an email right through there. And that’s SpousesFlippingHouses.com. Hit the “Contact Us” tab and shoot us a message. We’d love to hear back from you, and don’t forget to head on over to iTunes if you haven’t. Please do so and leave us a rating and review.

It really helps our ranking on iTunes. It helps to get the word out and helps our podcast to be found by more people. It really, really does, so we appreciate any feedback you can give us.

Also, if you haven’t already, head over to our website and get our two free gifts that are available for a limited time. We are going to be changing those gifts up. We’re talking about that this week, not sure which ones are going away or if both of them are going away or if just one, but go to our website.

For now, you can get the “How to Analyze a Deal Like an Appraiser” video course that I made, and you can get the e-book on 11 Tips to Working Successfully with Your Spouse that Andrea wrote, so get those free over at SpousesFlippingHouses.com. I think that’s it.

Andrea: Yeah, I just want to put in a little plug though for our next episode. We are working on something that I hope will work out. If it does, I think it’s hilarious. Certain things in this business can be negative sometimes, and you have to find a way to deal with that, and kind of have fun in the process and make light of it. So we’re going to show you how we do that, and I think it’s hysterical.

Doug: A little teaser. So come on back next week, and until then, I just hope everybody has a great week. We will talk to you soon.

Andrea: Talk to you later.

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