If you want to succeed in real estate, the number one priority is for you to find motivated sellers and lots of them.
If you can’t do this, then the rest of this process isn't even worth talking about, because this whole game begins and ends with your ability to find sellers who will accept your low offers and play by your terms.
What's a “Motivated Seller” Anyway?
In my mind, a “motivated seller” is a property owner who is willing to do at least one of the following things:
- Sell their property for a very low price (I mean REALLY low… think somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% – 30% of market value)
- Sell their property with very flexible terms (i.e. – seller's who will basically finance the property for you, require no money down, and charge 0% interest)
Obviously, these types of sellers will have to agree to a pretty ridiculous offer. They’ll have to sell their property almost entirely on your terms and in your interests. Things that, in theory – no sane person would ever be willing to do.
If you want to make your next real estate investment a “sure thing”, you need to be in a position where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The seller, on the other hand, needs to be in a position where they are willing to lose everything and walk away from their property with very little (if anything) to show for it.
I know it sounds crazy. Heck, it might even sound impossible… but I’m going to explain exactly how I find these sellers on a regular basis and get them calling ME, asking me to buy their property for whatever price I feel like paying.
If you’re skeptical, I understand. I realize this may sound too good to be true. After all, who would ever agree to such outrageous terms like this? Are there really deals like this to be had out there? Are there actual property owners who will sell their property for next-to-nothing?
The answer is a resounding YES. Now let's talk about how you can find them!
Step 1 – Getting The List
It all starts with your ability to find a targeted list of property owners who are highly motivated to sell.
We are NOT looking for just any list of property owners. We are looking for a very specific demographic of people who (statistically speaking) are much more likely to sell their property than the average property owner.
There are several different ways to go about getting these lists, and depending on what areas of the United States you're working in, some methods can work better than others.
Option 1: Working with the County
What I'm looking for specifically is the county's delinquent tax list. This is a list that every county has, and it's an absolute GOLDMINE of information that can help you track down some of the most highly motivated sellers in a given area (for more information on how to get your hands on this list, I explain it in great detail in this blog post).
Working directly with the county has its pros and cons.
The biggest benefit is that the data is as fresh and as accurate as it will ever be because it's coming directly from the county's database in real time. This is an important point because working with current and accurate data is CRUCIAL when doing a direct mail campaign. Without it, you could end up wasting a lot of time and money on mail that doesn't reach the right people (which can be detrimental to your results in every subsequent step in this process).
The downside is that many counties can be very difficult to work with. Some of the lists these counties provide (assuming you can get them at all) can present some MAJOR hassles when it comes to sorting and organizing them. It's not impossible (and in some cases, the county's lists are fairly easy to work with), but there are definitely some counties around the country that make this a very cumbersome, time-consuming process.
Option 2: Working with a Data Provider
There are MANY different data companies that will provide these lists in a very clean, workable format. Some are expensive, others are relatively cheap. Some are very good at generating certain types of lists, others great at generating lists for other purposes. None of them are perfect in every way, but if you know what types of property owners you're looking for – there's probably a solution out there somewhere.
I put together a comprehensive comparison of several of the data services in this blog post, so be sure to check it out if you're not sure who to work with.
In the earlier years of my investing career, I worked with a company called AgentPro247 to get these lists.
These days, I use a service called DataTree.
The primary benefit of these services is that they make it relatively inexpensive to get access to these lists, and they're both a great resource for property research.
Here's a quick overview of how DataTree works:
Keep in mind – all of this information is of public record. You or I could literally look up any of these properties in a matter of minutes and find most of this basic information on the county's website.
The downside to these kinds of data services is that some of the counties (particularly, the ones in more rural areas) will have outdated and/or incomplete databases. For this reason, I've found that even though most data services are far more convenient, they aren't always the best solution in every county. With that said, where it does work, it can work wonders.
As you can probably imagine, this data is used by many different people and companies to create bulk mailings. If you've ever gotten a piece of junk mail before, chances are – they found your name and information from this kind of public information database.
Why Direct Mail Works
Most direct mail campaigns are not very effective. Why? Because a lot of direct mail marketers send out hundreds of thousands of mailers on a regular basis with very little targeting criteria. For most of these people, a 1% response rate is generally considered “successful” (and I consider it “pathetic”).
We are going to be much smarter. You see – the goal isn't to have a massive number of recipients. The goal is to have quality recipients. If we want to get a higher response rate (and thereby, make our mail campaign more worthwhile), this will only happen by obtaining a quality list.
As mentioned in the video above, DataTree allows us to pick out specific types of properties and owners on a number of different levels. By doing so, we can put together a direct mail campaign that will get a MUCH better response rate than 1% – because we're targeting the right kinds of people who need what we're offering them. On average, my response rates are usually in the 5% – 10% range (and even higher on occasion).
It is very important to have current information and the right recipients on your list. If you don't filter your list appropriately and/or if you're working with outdated information, you'll end up wasting a lot of time and money.
With this in mind, I like to target my lists based on a few key characteristics:
Property owners who live out-of-county (or out-of-state)
People who live out-of-state (and even out-of-county) tend to be much more disengaged from their investment properties. Many of these people had to move away unexpectedly and for whatever reason, they just don't care about their property. It's out-of-sight, out-of-mind. These people have a vested interest in liquidating as soon as possible because the property has become a drag on their finances.
Property owners who don't live at their property (absentee owners)
For obvious reasons, people are much more likely to part with an investment property than they are with their personal residence. Don't expect people to sell you the roof over their head for pennies on the dollar – it usually won't happen.
Property owners who have owned their property for ten years or longer
On occasion, I like to sort my lists with this criteria because properties that have been owned for a longer period of time have a much higher likelihood of being owned free and clear. When properties are owned free and clear, the owner has more equity to play with, which gives them more freedom to sell their property at a HUGE discount.
Property owners who have delinquent taxes
Many of these owners are at the end of their rope financially. They literally don't have the time or money to wait for a higher offer. If they don't sell the property to you, they will lose everything to tax foreclosure. Of course, you'll have to take care of the taxes once you buy it – but these delinquencies will oftentimes give you a lot of leverage to make a low-ball offer.
Properties that are in the right price range
If you're not interested in buying a million dollar property, then don't solicit people who own these properties. It's that simple. If you have the ability to screen out the properties that are clearly out of your price range to begin with, then do it! You'll only be wasting postage if you mail to property owners that you never intend to purchase from.
As you can imagine, there are many other philosophies and methods with which you can sort your lists (and I'd encourage you to test out some of your own methods as you see fit), but these are the most common sorting methods that I've seen used throughout the industry.
Direct mail certainly isn't free, but when it's done right – it works. There is no better way that I know of to reach a targeted audience in a short period of time. If you haven't tried direct mail yet – I'd encourage you to give it a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.
When Direct Mail Disappoints
From time to time, I've heard from investors who have tried this list-pulling method and they aren't gotten a good response rate.
Unfortunately, this risk is inherent in any direct mail campaign. There can be a lot of potential reasons why this happens and the success of a campaign depends on at least a few key factors:
Problem #1: The Source of Your List
It's important to realize that some counties do a very poor job of maintaining their public records (and an even worse job of making that data available for these data services to pull from). I've found this usually happens in counties that are VERY rural and sparsely populated – probably because they don't have the tax revenue to keep a solid public records system.
When a county doesn't provide good data, this means the data available from services like AgentPro247 at DataTree won't be any better. When our list data isn't current or accurate, it usually translates into a much lower response rate (because at the end of the day, our mailers aren't reaching the right people).
Luckily, some (though, not all) data services will give you the option of verifying how current the data is in their database (both AgentPro247 and DataTree will give you this option). The DataTree tutorial above explains how to verify it in DataTree's system, and this video shows how to do it in AgentPro247's system:
Generally speaking, it's not a bad idea to do a test run whenever you're trying to break into a new market.
Try sending out 100 – 200 mail pieces in the new area you're trying to work and see what kind of response rate you get, and do this BEFORE you blast out of the gate with 1,000+ mailers.
If your response rate is terrible, you should be able to quickly determine that the lists you're pulling simply aren't performing adequately in this area, and you can start diagnosing the problem (or getting your list from another source) before you invest a fortune into a campaign that is bound to fail.
Problem #2: Your Filtering Criteria
Another problem could simply be the way you are filtering your list.
- Are you filtering out the owner-occupied properties?
- How specific are you getting about the property types you're looking for?
- Have you selected the right market value of the properties you're looking for?
- Are you eliminating all the duplicates on your list?
- Are you getting rid of the properties without addresses?
- Are you filtering all the junk out of your list?
- Are you specifying the property sizes you're looking for?
I'm not exaggerating when I say – there's an INFINITE number of ways you can filter your list. The clearer you can be about the types of properties (and property owners) you don't want to send mail to, the more legitimate, targeted responses you'll get from the people you actually want to do business with.
When you blast out mail to anybody and everybody – a lot of your recipients won't be in a position where they need to sell now. This means a lot of them won't call you, and the ones who do won't be willing to play by your terms.
It all starts with specifying very clearly who you're trying to go after because those are the people you'll end up doing business with.
Here are some other potential issues that are usually less influential, but can still hurt your response rate:
- What kind of mail are you sending out (is it the optimal color, size, type, etc.)?
- What are you saying in your postcard/letter? Do your words move the recipient to respond?
- How are you fielding your responses? Are you answering calls directly, routing them to a voicemail message or directing them to a website?
- If you're routing them to a voicemail system, what does your voicemail message say?
If you're experiencing a consistently BAD response rate – it's probably because of one or more of the things listed above.
Without knowing the specifics of your situation, my initial suggestion would be to make sure you're working with current data (no more than one-month-old), try sending mail to a few different areas and/or tweak your list filtering criteria a bit (Problems #1 and #2 above).
If you think you've done everything perfectly and you're still not getting the response rate you want (and if you don't want to target a different county or state), you may have to go directly to the county to get your lists.
Getting your lists directly from the county is usually more expensive & cumbersome to do – BUT if you're finding that services like DataTree and AgentPro247 simply aren't cutting it in your area, you can usually circumvent this problem altogether if you're able to get this information directly from the county (and it's usually worth the trouble in the end).
I've got a very detailed blog post that explains exactly how to do this – you can click here to read more about it.