- Sending handwritten notes starts with the people you already know, and what you know about them.
You’ve heard about the power that a handwritten note holds for real estate agents — it’s an excellent way to build relationships and keep in touch with your sphere in a meaningful, personal way. And every time you sit down to start writing one, you feel … stuck. Or impatient.
With the proliferation of smartphones and digital media, putting pen to paper may be lost art now more than ever. But that doesn’t mean it should be.
Here, three real estate professionals share how they use real words on real paper to grow their own businesses and let clients past and future know they’re paying attention. With dedication, sincerity and some pretty pens, these masters of the handwritten word turn another laborious task on the procrastination list into a simple outreach method: sign, seal, deliver.
Who do you write to?
“It helps to have a relationship with the people you’re writing to,” notes Rosemary Buerger, a broker-associate in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
However, she adds, “if you’re writing to a prospect in the neighborhood, it’s good to know a lot about the neighborhood and surrounding area.” She’s sent “cold” notes before to people in neighborhoods she knows well.
Stacie Perrault Staub, a broker-owner in Denver, uses events, articles and milestones to figure out who’s on her list for the week.
“If I host an event, then I will send a handwritten note to every single person who came to the event — or that’s at least my goal,” Staub explained. “If I go to something that someone else hosted, then I include them.”
If there were no events, then Staub says she looks for birthdays, reasons to say thank you “and anything that made an impression on me or helped me with something, even if this person didn’t realize it.” (She’s been known to send notes to Inman contributors thanking them for their thoughts, for example.)
Lynn Johnson, a broker in Raleigh, North Carolina, keeps a list of about 150 people with whom she tries to stay in constant contact — “my hard-core sphere of past clients.”
She says keeping the list small allows her to do more for the people on it — dropping off six-packs of beer or sending scratch-off tickets in the mail for St. Patrick’s Day. “I would much rather be able to do stuff like that for 150 people than send out some postcards in the mail to 1,000 people,” she said. “It goes back to authenticity and being able to know what’s going on in the 150 peoples’ lives — that’s a lot to keep up with.”
Johnson picks her list based on what she (or her clients) are doing that week. “If I am in a neighborhood and I drive by an old client’s house,” she explained, “or if I’m on Facebook and see something — I write them as they come to me in my heart.” She also uses birthdays and other life milestones (like new babies in the family) as a reason to write a note.
And she also includes a thank-you note in her post-close process — it’s on the checklist with everything else.
What do you say?
The relationship will most likely dictate the note itself. “You want to know something that’s going on in their life,” says Johnson — so she uses Facebook to keep her up-to-date on who just announced a pregnancy (so Johnson can order a onesie on Etsy) and other announcements.
Buerger also uses Facebook to keep tabs on her sphere. “I pay attention to my clients via Facebook so that I can send them a note with a Starbucks card or something and say, ‘Hey, I noticed the other day you were having a bad day; here’s a little pick-me-up. Hope you feel better!’
“Facebook is a way for us to view in other people’s lives — or what they want us to view — so they’re sharing that information with me freely,” Buerger added. “I’m going to pay attention and use that information to help them know I’m paying attention.”
That said, be considerate of your clients. If you know someone well and she has made it crystal clear that she’s thrilled about her recent divorce, then by all means send congratulations — but if you don’t know her that well, please refrain.
“Part of the benefit of the practice is thinking about each person and finding connection within the note,” Staub explained. “It’s not just a ‘thanks for coming to the party, hope to see you again soon,’ it’s a real, ‘I loved the dress you wore,’ or ‘I wanted to follow up on our conversation.'”
“I’ll typically include ‘I’ve been thinking about you; I hope that you’re doing well,'” Johnson said, “and include something we talked about.”
One thing she deliberately does not do is ask for more business in her cards. “I used to be on a team where that was the focal point — every time you made contact it was, ‘Hey, I hope you’re doing well and I’m so excited to hear about what’s going on with you — but who do you know who wants to sell or invest in real estate?'”
It can be a struggle, Johnson added, but reaching out pays off — even if you dropped a ball years back.
“When I first got into real estate, I was not very good about follow-up,” she noted. She recalled driving past a house that she sold to clients a decade ago, “so I just wrote them a handwritten note: ‘I drove by your house today. I love the bushes out front! It’s amazing you’ve been there for 10 years. It looks just gorgeous, and you’ve done so much with the exterior.'”
They called her and told her she had perfect timing, because they were looking for an investment property and wanted her to help.
“I used to be the type of person that when I would sit down, I felt like I had to have a real purpose of why I was writing a note,” she added. “But then I realized you could just send a handwritten note and say ‘Hey, I miss not being in contact with you every day. Hope you’re loving your new house. Let me know if you need anything!’ It’s literally three lines.”
What tools do you use?
Staub orders custom notecards in bulk that all of the agents in her brokerage can pick up, write in and send off.
She carries around a plastic baggie with cards, an address stamp, envelope and USPS stamps — “Right now I’m using only Wonder Woman stamps,” she said — and Sharpies, her preferred pen of choice. She likes how they stand out in the mailbox (and thicker pens help fill up a card quickly when you’re short on time or words).
Staub also likes Postagram for sending custom postcards from her phone. She recommends that agents snap a photo of the house whenever leaving a listing appointment and then send a thank-you note for the appointment. “When I was selling full-time, that was something I did all the time,” she said.
Buerger is a Hallmark Gold member, and says “they should create a special category for me at this point.” She buys birthday cards, thank-you cards, sympathy cards, “all the different scenarios you can imagine,” from Hallmark or independent sellers on Etsy, and she also uses cards branded for her brokerage.
“I just hand-wrote over 265 notes to let everybody in my sphere know that I had moved companies and why I was so excited to be there,” she said.
Buerger also doesn’t like printing address labels; she makes sure to hand-address the note. “People see labels or anything printed and they’re not likely to open it right away,” she explained, “but when they see a handwritten card or letter, they’re going to pull that out and open it — it’s my smile in the mailbox. It’s happy mail.”
She likes fine-point pens because they don’t bleed through the paper or run on the page. “Fine-point Sharpies are some of my favorite,” she said, “and I have a calligraphy pen — but I have to be careful with it because it does bleed.”
Buerger adds that Whitepages is “probably one of the best investments I have.” She works with a lot of military clients, and mostly listing clients — so they’re selling their homes and moving out of town in most cases. “It’s the easiest way to figure out where they went next, and they don’t even think anything of it.”
Johnson uses stacks of generic, colorful thank-you notes and cards; she keeps them in her car, “so if I’m just out and about or I’m dropping something off at the post office, I think about who I can write a note to.”
She’s had cards made with apples on the front for teacher appreciation, which “have stretched really far; I get a lot of compliments from the teacher,” she said.
What do you include?
Buerger was getting ready to send notecards to everyone in her sphere with kids who recently went back to school. “They’re all getting a coupon to an ice cream parlor,” she explained — Baskin-Robbins if they live out of town and the local parlor if they’re near her neighborhood — “so they can go in for a treat, and the note congratulated them on their first week.”
She also sends dinner-and-a-movie cards, gift cards to the local coffee shop — “something that says, ‘Hey, I think you need a little break,'” she added. Her daughter is making some custom stickers for her to include in her cards right now.
Johnson takes notes in her CRM about her clients’ beverage preferences so she knows what kind of beer (or wine, or non-alcoholic drink) to buy when they’re celebrating or when she just wants to drop off a gift.
Staub likes to put stickers, phone wallets or other card-friendly swag in her cards before she sends them. “I started sending out a little card with stickers saying ‘Show us your West + Main mug,’ and if you post a picture of the sticker with the hashtag #westandmainhomes, then we’ll send you some more swag.
“I had to start the hashtag from scratch so I’m trying to build up the collateral, plus I also want to see where people are sticking them,” she added. The notecards are helping!
When (and how often) do you write?
Buerger says she tries to set aside some time every day to write notes. “If I’m going to do them all through the week, it’s 30 minutes a day,” she explained. “If I sit down and do them all in one day, it takes about an hour or an hour and a half.”
She tries to find a quiet space to sit down and write, “because you do need to think about the person you’re writing to,” she noted.
Staub makes it a goal to send five handwritten cards every day, which she says she learned in Ninja Selling. “It’s something that I learned 10 years ago and it’s the one thing that I’ve been able to stick to,” she said.
“If I find myself with a few minutes at the kids’ lacrosse practice or sitting in the pickup line at school, I’ll knock out a few,” she added — keeping them in a baggie in her purse is useful for those moments.
Johnson doesn’t aim for a set number, but she does make sure she’s writing notes as her day dictates. “There are times when I sit down and do five or six handwritten notes,” she said, “but for me I’ve found it’s a little too forced because I was writing the same thing to all five people. I was doing it to mark it off a list instead of doing it because I felt like it was what I wanted to do.”
Who helps you?
“For a while I had someone doing them for me because I felt like I was too busy — and that was a big bomb for me,” Staub revealed. She found that delegating the notes made it impossible for her to personalize them.
Johnson has her kids help with dropping off items with clients, but she handles the notes herself.
“Really it’s just all about the consistency and forcing yourself into the habit of doing it,” Staub said. “Once you do that, you start missing it when you don’t do it.”