How I Find Motivated Sellers (And Get Them Calling Me). Step 2: Sorting The List


Depending on where you're getting your list from – organizing the data can be relatively simple, or it can be fairly complicated.

Let me explain…

When you download your list from a data service, you'll get a product that is very well-organized, right out of the box. However, lists from data services don't always provide the most current & accurate data and when you're working with stale data (i.e. – anything older than 30 – 60 days), this can definitely have a negative effect on the success of your direct mail campaign.

Don't get me wrong – I think most data services can be a GREAT tool to have at your disposal. The lists are extremely convenient to get and quite simple to sort through from the moment you download them to your computer… but on the same coin, you need to be very careful about analyzing the accuracy of the data and weighing the potential consequences of working with outdated information.

Alternatively, when you get your list directly from the county, the information is going to be VERY up-to-date (it's literally the most current data you can get because you're getting it directly from the source) and for what we're trying to do, current and accurate data is very important.

The downside to purchasing your list directly from the county is that you'll usually have to pay a higher price for it… and even more annoying, is that some county lists can come in some wildly bizarre formats that require a lot more time and mental energy to sort through.

When I first got started, I got ALL of my lists directly from the county. These lists were great because they yielded a very good response rate – but there were times when I spent the better part of an entire day organizing a single county list (which took a lot of perseverance on my part).

In its raw state, some county lists can be a total mess (but on the same coin – when you know the information is going to be accurate, it can absolutely be worth the extra time and money to purchase and sort through these lists).

If you got your list from a service like DataTree or a similar data service, the sorting process doesn't take long and isn't terribly complicated. I'll show you how it works in this video…

As you can see, most data services clearly have direct mail marketers in mind with the design of their systems – which is great for you and me!

Why Organization Is Necessary

Until we sort the information in this spreadsheet, we won't be able to upload our list to our mail service of choice and proceed with sending our mail.

Luckily, this is really just a process of elimination. It's a matter of deleting all the columns (vertical cells) and rows (horizontal cells) that are either redundant or not appropriate to have on your list.

Ultimately, the goal of sorting each list is to get all of these mailing addresses organized into 5 columns:

  • Name
  • Street Address
  • City
  • State
  • Zip Code

Since all this information already lives somewhere within this massive spreadsheet, it's just a matter of deleting the data that isn't needed.

Things To Watch Out For

As you're deciding which recipients and information to weed out of your list, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind:

Don't send mail to owner-occupied properties.

For obvious reasons, people are MUCH less likely to sell their primary residence (the roof over their head) for pennies on the dollar. We're looking for people who own properties that they're disinterested in and/or that they can't afford to keep. Given this, I suggest that you delete any owner-occupied properties (where the mailing address and the property address match) from your list.

Don't send mail to banks or large financial institutions.

It is highly unlikely you'll ever do business directly with a massive corporation like JP Morgan Chase Bank, Wells Fargo or Bank of America. Whenever I see a property owner that doesn't look like an individual owner or small company on my list, I almost always delete those recipients from my list.

Don't send duplicate mailers to the same owner.

You will almost always find certain owners (and addresses) that appear multiple times on your list. Use the sort function to put your recipients in alphabetical order (explained in the video above) so you can spot them easily and delete the duplicates. There is no reason to send 20 postcards to one recipient just because they own 20 properties. Be smart about it.

Delete any addresses that don't make sense.

You will also come across address fields that are either not formatted correctly, are missing information, or are blank altogether. If you inadvertently send mail to these addresses, they will be promptly returned to your mailbox. This is your chance to delete these entries before you waste money on them. Most mail services have safeguards in place to help you catch and delete these non-deliverable addresses before the mail goes out, but just to be safe, it's a good practice to delete these property owners from your list during this stage.

Remove any properties with a high tax balance.

If you're sorting through a delinquent tax list (this information won't be available from most data services), the list will likely include the back due tax amounts currently owed for each property. This can be very helpful information, because if a property has a GIANT delinquent tax bill (i.e. – which could easily eat up your entire profit margin), this is usually an automatic deal-killer for that property, and it's basically useless for you to contact them in the first place (because no matter how you slice it, it's not going to make you money). If you see any properties with a ridiculously high tax balance owed, it's not a bad idea to delete these recipients from the very beginning.

Remove any properties with a market value that doesn't meet your criteria.

Similar to the delinquent tax balance, many lists will also include each property's assessed value and/or market value (which is rarely the most accurate measure of a property's value, but still worth noting nonetheless). Why does this help? Because if you're only looking for properties worth $5,000 – $10,000 (just a hypothetical example), you can use this information to eliminate any properties that don't fit inside this box. If you see a property with an assessed value of $500,000 or market value of $1,000,000 – get rid of it! If you don't want (or can't afford) properties in the higher or lower spectrum, why waste your time and money sending mail to them?

RELATED: How I Find Motivated Sellers (and Get Them Calling Me). Step 1: Getting the List

RELATED: How I Find Motivated Sellers (and Get Them Calling Me). Step 3: Sending the Mail

Take Your Time

The instructional video above goes through this process pretty quickly (because I've done this many, many times). If this is your first time sorting through a list, take your time. Go slow and get familiar with the process. It's important to avoid mistakes, especially if this is your first time. When your list is well-organized, you're going to get a much better response, and a better response rate will give you a stronger sense of confidence and motivation to keep pressing forward and getting your first (or next) deal in the bag!

About the author

Seth Williams is a land investor and residential income property owner, with hundreds of closed transactions and nearly a decade of experience in the commercial real estate banking industry. He is also the Founder of REtipster.com - a real estate investing blog that offers real world guidance for part-time real estate investors.

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  1. Bill says:

    Seth,

    I purchase similar list for my marketing. If I’m interested in doing land investing do you try to find lists that are targeted as such? When I mail my letters I get a bunch of calls and out of all the calls I fielded only one person had land and it was secondary to the home he needed to sell.

    Seems like your going to get a lot of calls from distressed homeowners and it will take a ton of calls to get that one land lead. What are your thoughts?

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Bill,

      Depending on what your intentions are – calls on homes aren’t necessarily a bad thing either (especially for wholesaling), but if you’re specifically looking for land, you can definitely narrow your list down to only the parcels that are identified by the county as “residential vacant land”. You just have to look through the list specification criteria.

  2. Rosemarie Ledogar says:

    The Agent 24/7 site doesn’t work and appears to be some kind of front. I tried to sign up and it wouldn’t allow me to enter my info, the videos don’t work and the page is askew.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Rosemarie – I’m not sure what you’re seeing, but I just checked and it seems to be working fine for me. Perhaps it’s your browser?

  3. Harry says:

    Hey Seth/Everyone,

    Just a quick tip, not sure if you know if already. When you’re merging the two columns for Unit Number, you can use the “Concatenate” function in Excel to automatically do it for you. In a new column, type “=concatenate(,)”. May save a few minutes.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Harry – that’s a great tip, thanks for sharing! Where were you when I first started doing this 6 years ago?!

  4. Trevor says:

    Hi Seth, watching you edit your list, it doesn’t look like there is a colum for one address. Shoudn’t there be 2 addresses for absentee owner’s.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Trevor – I’m not sure if I fully understand your question.

      For the end product (the final excel file that we upload to Click2Mail), we only want to see one column for the street address. We don’t need to see the property addresses in this list, because they would get confused with the owner’s mailing address (the destination where we want to postcards to go).

      If you’re looking for the property address vs. the mailing address – you can find these columns marked at the top as “PropertyAddress” and “MailAddress”.

      Does that make sense?

      1. Trevor says:

        When you are editing your absentee list, you’ve got mailing addresses of the property owners that you are going to mail to. If we can’t put the subject property address on the sheet, how are the absentee owners going to know what property we talking about?

        1. Seth Williams says:

          For most of them, it will be pretty obvious (they know which properties they own). And if they aren’t sure, they’ll just ask you to clarify which ones you’re referring to (if anything – they might even have multiple properties that they’d like to sell you).

          I’ve never found it necessary to specifically state which property I’m talking about. The simple fact that they own property (ANY property) is usually enough.

  5. Chris Clark says:

    Seth, I’m going through this exact process with my list and about to go through your affiliate link for Click2Mail. Thanks for the great information. It’s really helpful to watch your videos, and saves a lot of time with quick questions that come up through the process. Thanks! Chris

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Awesome, glad to hear it – thanks for letting me know Chris!

  6. Mike says:

    Hi Seth,

    I find it hard to believe why someone would sell their home for pennies on the dollar just because they’re too lazy to have a RE Agent sell it. But, I’ll take your word for it. There comes a million questions in my mind regarding the property (if there are issues with the structure, are there rentors?, etc). Also, you mentioned your “company” cut you a check. Are you selling the house or is your company taking it off your hands? Thank you,

    Mike

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Mike, I’m not sure I understand your question – what “company” are you referring to? I don’t recall saying this anywhere. In most cases, I am buying these properties outright (in the name of my LLC) and then I list them until they sell. Nobody cuts me a check until the property is actually sold.

      Also, most of the properties I buy are vacant land (which eliminates a lot of the complications you’re referring to – because there are no tenants or structures to worry about). When I do come across houses, I only make offers on them if I’m planning to:

      a. Buy them outright with the intent of rehabbing them into a rental property.
      b. Wholesale them to another investor.
      (and both of these situations are pretty few are far between)

      Does that make sense? Let me know if I can clarify this better for you.

      1. Mike says:

        Okay. I appreciate the response as I know you’re busy. It makes more sense that you’re buying Land and either developing it or flipping it. However, for someone to sell their property for pennies on the dollar seems baffling. Thank you for your response and for your blog.

        -Mike

        1. Seth Williams says:

          I agree – it is baffling to reasonable folks like you and me… but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands “unreasonable” people out there who will do it in a heartbeat. Every society in the world has a small segment of “crazies” who just don’t care about their property. The key is to simply find them and give them an easy out. Make it easy for them to say “Yes” and you’ll open the doors to a new world of opportunity.

  7. Steve says:

    Hey Seth,

    I just wanted to say thank you for all the work you’ve put into this blog. I received my first list directly from a local county today and I’ll be sorting and send mailers by next week. Unfortunately, my county includes ALL properties and doesn’t indicate if they have a house on them or not so sorting will probably take awhile.

    It’s taken a fair amount of time and a little bit of an investment to get to this point (setting up an LLC, buying your (incredibly helpful) content, setting up my buying website and phone screening, buying the list, etc.) so I’m really hoping to get a property out of the first campaign to recoup funds. Regardless, it’s been a really interesting and educational process so far so the time and money has already been well spent. Thank you and please keep it up!

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Thanks Steve! And way to go with getting your first list (that alone is an achievement, believe me)!

      The first time through this entire process takes a lot of endurance, because there are a lot of unknowns and new things to figure out along the way, but keep at it. When you get to the point where you’re more familiar with what you’re doing, it will get a lot smoother and easier to do deals from start-to-finish.

  8. Gabe says:

    Seth,
    Sending out my 1st mailer today using your materials and following your steps. Excited about seeing how this process works. I’m combining out-of-town owners and a delinquent tax list for select areas. I read above in this post that you advised against sending to owner-occupants. I completely understand why. My question is does that hold true for people on the delinquent tax list also? Maybe 75% of my delinquent tax list is owner occupied. With regard to the tax delinquent portion of my list, would your thought be to cull those out and only send to those that are both out-of-town and delinquent on their RE taxes?

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Gabe – the only way to know for sure would be to test the waters here (which is something I haven’t even tried yet). Don’t be afraid to give it a whirl with a couple hundred owner occupied, delinquent tax properties and see what kind of response you get. I’m sure the response rate on these will be less, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. You’ll never know for sure until you try!

  9. Ryan says:

    Who is everyone using to send direct mailers? Can anyone suggest a company that can do this for me? Also, is there a company that can make it look like a handwritten note?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Ryan, I’ve always used Click2Mail for mine. As for the hand-written letters, you could try YellowLetters.com (I’ve never used them, but I’ve heard good things).

  10. Gyl says:

    Hi Seth,

    I just got a county list. However it only has defaulted property number, Parcel number, Name, Amount.

    I literally have no more information other than that.

    Would you happen to have any suggestions on finding the information for these properties in a more efficient manner than searching each parcel individually?

    Really appreciate all your help so far.

    Gyl

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Gyl – whenever I request lists from the county, I send a very detailed, written request that specifies exactly what I need to see in the list (and what format the list needs to come in). This helps eliminate any misunderstandings about what I’m expecting from them.

      At this point, you could contact the county again and ask them to re-pull the list for you INCLUDING each property owner’s mailing address (because you’ll definitely need those in order to move forward)… but in the future, you can just be very clear about what you need to see in the list before they send it to you.

      By the way – I include all of these details in the full version of this blog post.

      I hope that helps. Good luck!

      1. Claudia says:

        Hi, you said that it is advisable to delete the people who are owning to much in property taxes. I was wondering, what amount you are considering to be to high.

        1. Seth Williams says:

          Hi Claudia, it’s kind of a relative thing. How much money do you have in your budget to spend? If you see an amount that clearly exceeds this (or comes close), delete them. There isn’t a precise formula I can give you that will make perfect sense in every scenario, but if you see any huge balances that you think will eat up all the profit margin in a deal (or if you just don’t have that kind of money to play with), it should be pretty easy to spot them and get rid of them.

          It’s not something you have to get perfect… it’s just another way to avoid wasting postage on deals that will never happen anyway.

  11. DJ says:

    This information was very helpful.
    I look forward to learning more.

  12. Ali says:

    Signed up for Webinar and looking forward. I sourced 3 county tax lists and have a very basic but taxing (pardon the pun) question. You note that a list should be fresh – the idea that getting a nice up to date list is preferable and I get that. So when I’m looking at the county list I see records as old as 1998. And they seem to still have an outstanding tax balance. My big question is, how do they still own the property after such a long time in arrears? In addition, given the freshness of the list, should
    I be scrubbing out any records pre 2017? Or do you bucket everyone in there?

    1. Hi Ali, good question. I think this is something that happens in a few states out there (but not most of them). I’m not an expert on how this works, but from what I’ve gathered, I think some states will basically allow properties to go delinquent until the delinquent amount exceeds the property’s assessed value (which means the balance can become VERY large before the property is taken by the county). I’m not sure what kinds of additional fees get tacked onto the delinquent balance in these cases, but I would imagine it’s pretty reasonable to assume that for our purposes (getting properties for 10% – 30% of market value), it generally doesn’t make sense to pursue properties that have this old of a tax balance owing. I would probably eliminate anything that is older than a couple of years. Of course, I’m sure there can be exceptions to this rule, but that’s what I typically adhere to.

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