Green checklistA lot of new real estate investors get VERY excited when they realize how powerful a direct mail campaign can be.

It’s true – finding great deals can be exponentially easier once you start communicating with the right people in the right way (and in large enough numbers).

When most proactive investors figure this out – they tend to spring into action and start sending mail all over the place in a whirlwind of excitement (that’s what I did, anyway). It’s great to see a beginner being proactive like this, but at the same time – it’s very easy to let the cart get ahead of the horse.

When you’re putting together your first direct mail campaign – there is one thing you NEED to have nailed down before you drop those mailers in the mailbox.

When the Calls Start Coming In…

The first time I sent out a direct mail campaign – I actually freaked out when the first person called me (even though they were doing exactly what I asked them to do). A flurry of thoughts went through my mind…

I eventually realized that all of these questions were coming from one simple problem… I had no idea how to lead the conversation.

Why didn’t I know how to lead the conversation? Because I didn’t know what questions to ask.

Einstein2The solution to my problem was actually quite simple. All I really needed was a basic set of instructions on what to say when the phone rang. Not a “script” per se – but something that would prompt me on how to start the conversation, what comes next and how to wrap it up. So I created a simple “checklist” to help me through each conversation.

RELATED: How to Overcome Phone Anxiety and Speak With Confidence In 3 Simple Steps

The “checklist” was just a list of all the essential questions I needed to have answered in order to make an offer (and even after the thousands of calls I’ve had over the years – I still use it to this day). It helped me a lot – and if you’re struggling with what to say when you’re talking to prospects, I would strongly suggest that you prepare a specific set of targeted questions (nothing too crazy – just the basic stuff you need to know) and use it to guide you through every conversation.

Some people are naturally gifted at “winging it” and figuring out what to say on the fly, but believe me – most people don’t work this way (especially when they’re just figuring things out for the first time). For most of us, it’s not normal to have dozens of phone conversations with complete strangers about properties we know nothing about. As a rule of thumb, if you want to have an effective and productive first phone call, you need to know what questions to ask.

Knowing What You Need To Know

So what kinds of questions should be on your phone call checklist?

First off – it depends on what kind of property you’re targeting. For example – most of the properties I buy are vacant land… so when a property owner calls me to discuss their vacant land property, this is what my checklist looks like:

Vacant Land ChecklistA lot of other investors (including myself from time to time) are looking very specifically for single-family houses. I’ve got another unique checklist for the purpose of discussing these properties:

And other investors are looking for multi-unit properties. I’ve got a checklist for those too!

Multi-Unit ChecklistNow – I’m not saying my checklists are perfect (even though they’ve done pretty well for me) but when the sellers start calling, you’d better be armed with the right questions.

RELATED: How I Find Motivated Sellers (And Get Them Calling Me)

Think about it – if you don’t thoroughly understand what you need to know, why are you asking people to respond to you in the first place?? Even if you choose to send out blind offersyou’re still going to get a lot of phone calls back, and it’s important to use these opportunities to get as many answers from the property owner as possible.

Direct mail campaigns certainly aren’t free, so don’t start shelling out money and sending mail until you know how to handle these kinds of conversations.

This is why I created these checklists – because my pea-sized brain just isn’t big enough to remember everything in the heat of the moment. These checklists have become an incredibly important aspect of my initial contact with each person and they act as a key piece of my due diligence. It doesn’t necessarily give me ALL the answers, but it does help me get started on the right foot with each caller.

The Right Information Has Many Uses

A few years into my investing career, I started to get really tired of phone calls. Even though the phone had proven to be a great way to connect with people, build rapport, and establish trust – I just didn’t have the time and energy for it.

So what did I do? I created a website – one that was designed to replace me.

Instead of asking my prospects to call me (and chew up 30+ minutes of my time with each call), I started telling them to visit my website, where they could submit all the exact same information I would have asked for over the phone.

That’s right! Instead of me verbally asking the questions and jotting down their answers in real-time, the website was able to gather all the same information without my constant involvement. Instead of ME being the bottleneck in my business, the website was able to do this aspect of my job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – asking the questions I needed to know (via a property submission form) and answering the questions they had for me (via my FAQ page).

They simply fill out a short questionnaire (which includes many of the same questions from my property checklist) and once they hit “submit”, the information is sent directly to my inbox. With this website in place, I’m able to go through each submission at my leisure – giving it a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” in a matter of seconds (not hours), which is WAY more efficient than it used to be.

A Time and a Place for Everything

Now don’t get me wrong – there are definitely some situations when the phone is a FAR better communication tool than a website. I’ve also found that in this initial “information-gathering stage”, it’s less about how the questions are asked and more about getting the questions answered quickly, so I don’t have to waste time on deals that will never come to fruition.

Want To Get The Exact Checklists I Use?

Knowing what to ask your prospects is pretty simple. You just need to take a few minutes and think about it.

  • What kind of information will you need to know in order to make an educated offer?
  • What kinds of things will you need to research before you’re ready to close the transaction?
  • What kinds of thing would cause you to say “YES, I want to buy!” or “HECK NO!” and run the other way? Figure out what those things are and ask about them!

That being said – I do understand the dilemma for new investors. When you’re starting from scratch, the relevant questions aren’t always obvious and there can be all sorts of hidden issues that don’t rear their ugly faces until after they’ve become a problem. So if you’re looking for a quick solution on how to handle this – I’d love to help you out…

Note: I only send emails to my list when they’re particularly relevant and important – so don’t worry, signing up for this email list will NOT result in piles of junk emails in your inbox.

Also keep in mind – if you want to fully automate your “information-gathering” process, be sure to check out my detailed blog post on How to Create a Buying Website (you might be surprised – it’s easier than you’d think). Best of luck!

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About the author

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

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  1. Greg says:

    I think it seemed sort of obvious when I saw your post, but I have been “Winging it” most of the time due to working full time outside of real estate. This has involved calling people from places I am not able to prepare much for, like airports, lunchrooms, parks, parking lots, retail stores, etc. I think the list would also help keep my leads better organized, which is an area i struggle with due to the lack of privacy and time i have during the day. I’ll definitely take your advice and start carrying a few of these with me.

    if they are so thanks for the wake up.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Greg,

      I hear you – I used to do the same thing until I figured out how helpful it can be to go into a conversation with “guns loaded” so to speak. I’m glad you found this post helpful!

  2. Dave Fritch says:

    Thanks for always providing such valuable and relevant content. “Scripting” is exactly what I’ve been working on the past few days. I’m not getting the deals I need by taking a casual approach. Negotiations are sloppy, nerve wracking and I feel like I’m leaving money on the table. I’m going to have someone in a secretarial role go through the questionnaire with the seller and then set a 15 minute phone appointment with them a few days later. She will frame it as such that I am very busy and they need them to be in a quiet place where they can focus with all the decision makers present. She will offer an option of choice. ” Mr. Dave makes purchases on Thursdays. Is 11:15 or 2:45 better for you? ”
    Then I have a scripted process I’m building that’s based on some psychology I learned mostly from my outside sales days and from the book “Pitch Anything”. Essentially it will come down to the last few minutes on the phone where there mindset is framed in a way that makes it highly attractive for them to accept a low cash offer. That’s the theory anyway.
    Hope all is well for you!

    1. Seth Williams says:

      That’s a great idea Dave – sounds like you’re getting the hang of this! You’re spot on though, it usually does take a lot of calls and “stumbling over yourself” before you can really get comfortable with your ideal conversation and flow (I know it took me many months). You’re great on the phone though, seriously. If anyone can do it, I know you can!

  3. Mary says:

    Thanks for sharing. Very good article. For buying, selling, or renting a house.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Thanks Mary!

  4. Tuan says:

    Hi Seth,
    I read from the article in your blog about just asking 2 questions in order to save tome when sellers call you after you sent direct mail. I believe one of them is whether sellers are willing to sell the property for 10-40% of the MV. In this blog, you have a check list. In which case you use the checklist and in which case you use a short version before you dig more into valuation?

    Thank you

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Tuan – that’s a great question, as the two approaches are quite different.

      I think it ultimately depends on your time. If you’re just starting out and you have plenty of time to build up your business – then talk to everyone! Ask the questions you need to know and pursue every deal you can.

      On the other hand, if you’ve got a huge pipeline of leads coming in every day and you have the luxury of cherry-picking the best deals, then just get to the point with people. Don’t feel like you need to be everyone’s best friend – just find the answer to the REAL question asap (and the only real question is – will they sell to you at the price you need?).

      Does that make sense?

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