Mar 23, 2007

Real Estate Email Marketing (The Right Way)

One of the partners here in the office was recently in the market for a new home. He found a nice listing online, filled out a contact form to setup a tour, and checked out the home with the agent representing the property. It wasn’t quite right, so he went elsewhere.  Several months later, he’s still receiving email marketing from that first agent (mostly the "I have new properties available!" variety). He never gave permission to receive email marketing. He just used a contact form to inquire about one property.

Worst of all, they never include an unsubscribe link. No, that’s not the worst. I’m in the market for a new home. I asked my partner if he thought so-and-so-dot-com would be a nice place to start. "They’re spammers" he tells me.

I myself have exchanged emails with someone I met at a meeting, who later became a real estate agent. Keep in mind that I never once asked about real estate. Now I’m suddenly on her email marketing list. Every time she has a new property to sell, I get an email (and I’m CC’d along with about a hundred of her friends). Sigh. One more email, and I swear I’m going to Reply-To-All.

We’ve seen a lot of real estate agents sign up to use MailChimp. We can break them down into two types…

A) "I want to use email as a relationship tool to help my customers (and, of course, help my sales)."

B) "I’ve gotta make my quota, or I’m screwed. So I just bought a list of emails, and I want to blast an advertisement for this new property!"

I’m sad to say that right now, the majority of agents who sign up at MailChimp fall
under Category B, and we have to politely turn away their business. Guess that’s why I’m writing this post.

Just yesterday, we turned down an agent who got very angry with us. He basically purchased a list of 4,000 prospects and wanted to "blast" an email "flyer" for some new property he was representing. What a waste of time and money. We told him that was against our terms of use, and boy he let us have it.

But here’s the thing. Part of his list consisted of about 80 people who had actually signed up at his website to receive more information about that property. Granted, they did not sign up for an email newsletter list. They were probably just expecting a one-time email response from him with pricing, availability, etc. I was about to tell him that he could contact those 80 people (because they’d surely remember him) and politely remind them of how he got their email addresses, then ask them if they’d like to receive more information now that the property was officially open for business. But before I could suggest all that, he accused me of "picking on real estate agents" and said that our human review process was letting spammers through (never mind the fact that we stopped him) and said, "Good luck with your revenue model when you finally decide to block spam." Alrighty then. I have to say that although we’re not driving a different color Porsche for each day of the week, we do quite well supporting legitimate email marketers who send permission-based email.

Don’t get me wrong. We
have nothing against acquiring a list of prospects and contacting them. It’s business. You just can’t use
MailChimp to email them
. Jeopardize your own server, please. Actually, we couldn’t recommend mass email at all for unsolicited
sales. It’s a waste of money, and you’ll end up pissing off lots of
people, and getting reported as a spammer.

Email marketing is best for maintaining a relationship with your
existing customers, as opposed to acquiring new customers. Some real estate agents
just don’t get it.

Luckily, there are some who do get it.

Here’s a nice example from MailChimp user Jodi Arnold, from John L. Scott Real Estate:


We like this because she’s maintaining a relationship with clients. It’s not some automated message from an MLS database. Jodi wrote it.

If you’re an agent, and you’ve already placed a client into a home, why on earth would that client want to hear from you anymore? How would it possibly benefit your sales to keep emailing someone who has already purchased a home, and will probably not buy another home for several more years (let alone in the same market, from you)? Referrals. Stay on someone’s good side, and they’ll tell their friends.

How do you stay on top of mind? Occasionally send them truly useful content. Look at Jodi’s email newsletter. It’s got local events, commentary on local real estate news, the always popular "my house is worth…" data, and of course her closing statement of "I appreciate referrals…"

It’s useful, it’s honest, it’s personal.

Jodi can boast a healthy sized list of local clients, a 0% unsubscribe rate, and an open rate that is double her industry average.

You might say, "this is hard work to put together content like this every single month!" You might also say, "This can get expensive fast, and what’s my ROI?"

All very good points.  There’s no way you can put together useful content that people actually want to read every single month. Not unless that’s your only job, or you have a very good team of content producers in your company. That’s why we made MailChimp a pay-per-email system, with no monthly fees. So send it every quarter. Or whenever you have time. But please—only when you have something useful to share.

I’m certainly no real estate expert, but if you think you have to spend countless hours in front of a computer to get leads (instead of in front of real people), you’re probably on the wrong track. You’ll never get the Glengarry list that way.

It’s about quality, not quantity.