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Vacant Homes: The Unused Niche

Feb 27, 2017 9:34:25 AM

What's one of the most surefire ways to make sure you get listings?

Targeting niches that aren't overcrowded and face less competition.

We talk about finding niches all the time at Smart Agents. Many of them are overused and in any hot housing market, your competition heats up as well. Expireds get blown up by agents. I see stories all the time, even on the news about owners of expired getting hundreds and hundreds of calls and mail from realtors. You really have to stand out there, like we talked about here.

Vacant homes are the niche that's most often overlooked.

We spoke with an agent,  Juan from California who thrives in this niche for this exact reason. He is usually the only agent to contact the homes and has been using this method since 2006.

"Well, I like to market where other agents don't market," said Juan, an experienced agent who has been in the business for 13 years. He has built a proven system that works in this niche and is even similar to what agents at Smart Agents done in the past. It works well because of the niche it targets. 

Guess how many vacant homes sold in the last 8 months? 1. 2 million.

This is a pretty big niche and the best part is there isn't that much competition, especially compared to FSBOs or expireds, where owners are straight up bombarded. In fact, there's almost no competition for these leads. It's open game.

Even better, it works best with high-end listings. This is what it takes to go the extra mile and think outside the box. Niches that everyone misses or niches that require a little extra work are going to be the ones that gain you the most listings. Juan mainly works with luxury listings.

In the 1st quarter of 2014, the US Census Bureau showed that there were 14,231,000 vacant homes in the US. In the 3rd quarter of 2014, the US Census Bureau showed that there were 13,566,000 vacant homes in the US. That’s a decrease of 665,000 vacant homes in just 6 months. That’s a whole lot of sellers that are taking advantage of the hot market and getting rid of their vacant homes.

These homes are right in front of you.

The Census Bureau says that 10 percent of vacant homes will list in the next 12 months. Now that the market is coming back or has came back, these owners are ready to sell.They were underwater during the bust. Now that housing prices have recovered they can finally afford to sell. So they put their home on the market. We see this happen all the time.

What about landlords that are just ready to give up and get out of that business? They bought a rental property. Thought it would be easy. They’d get rich. It doesn’t always happen. Managing a rental is tough. A lot tougher than most people think. So that leads just one question. They notice the housing market. In the news. Prices are going up. Realize they could sell. Make money. Sometimes big money.

Then, you come along. Mail them a letter. Offer to help. They ask you for more information. You talk. Find out what they want.

How do you get vacant homeowners to respond to you?

You really need to be the first agent to reach out to them.

67% of Vacant home sellers said they only interviewed one Realtor before they listed their house.

This is data from the National Association of Realtors. So when you do the work and get the list of vacant homes, becoming the first realtor to contact them, you have a two in three chance of them listing with you.

This is how Juan works this market.

" It's the cost of a stamp and a couple of pages of printing. What I do is I target absentee owners in my market and I look for absentee owners who are more than 100 miles away, I don't want the local investor who just has a rental house around the corner, I want someone who's like a two-hour drive away or further," he said.

He drives through his area and random neighborhoods. Then he takes a picture of the vacant home. 

"So want I do is once a quarter, is I go by and I take a photograph of that house, then I go back and write one of my standard letters. The trick is this, on the envelope I do about a two-inch square picture of their house and then underneath I say have you seen your house lately. So I guarantee you I get 100%, 99% open rate on my letters."

These owners get the letter and are already worried or aware the house is just sitting there and wasting money. So when they get the letter in the mail with the picture of their house up. They will almost always open it. 

Plus the picture and information about the local market proves Juan has done his research.

"And you know what, they may get them and I send these out quarterly and it maybe be two years but I get calls from people, hi all right, this is what's going on with my house I want to sell it. I'm the guy that they know. I'm the guy that knows that I know their house," he said.

It's all about doing the extra work and getting the leads. 

The Direct Marketing Association's study found out that people who make less than 100k a year respond to direct mail at a 1.5 percent rate. People who make more than 100k a year respond at a 4.6 percent rate. That's a 300 percent increase. People who are over 55 respond to direct mail 25 percent more than other marketing methods.

Juan does the extra work by driving and finding them. Sometimes he looks them up in the public records.

Vacant_Homes List these homes with little competition.

 We like to use direct mail at Smart Agents and we spoke with an agent who has succeeded with this approach many times with vacant and absentee homes.

Take these steps to get going.

1.Create a list of vacant homes.

You can find these in public records. Look up vacant homes and compile a list of names and addresses.

2. Send out "guaranteed" letters that stand out and will get opened.

Use a different color than white. Don't brand it or put your face on it. Make it stand out. A branded letter is something that everyone gets. A lot. Send something different.

3. Make it a targeted letter 

Send out a targeted letter addressing vacant homes. The big thing here is to offer to help without asking for a listing. Give them advice and make them realize you are an expert on the subject. Put an easy way for them to contact you on there. Offer a squeeze page to your site and a free home value where they put in a local phone line.

What Juan does in our example when he takes a picture of their home isn't mandatory, but it's a great touch.

If you get 3 or 4 vacant listings for every 500 letters you mail out, you'll know what you'll usually get back on your investments. If you find an offer that works for each specific niche, then you can start to dominate each of them.

If you build each niche on its predictability and is reliable then they only become that much more dependable. Build them on stats, not your ego. Whether its unpaid property tax, inherited homes, expireds or FSBOs, keeping your ego out of it and only using statistics will work the best.

Another great technique is to use "sneak up letters". Don't put the name of your business on the letter. They will be intrigued and open. Then the owner will open the letter and see a picture of their house. I think that putting a picture of the vacant house on the outside will work better but each are good ideas.

Use a hook in your letters to get them read.

  1. Use the hook in the headline to grab their attention.
  2. Build on that hook in the sub-headline.
  3. Use double path readership (bold, italics, caps).
  4. Write a specific offer to help (not get their listing), to your target niche.
  5. Write a story that builds trust.



avatar_joe Joe Nickelson is a real estate professional dedicated to helping home buyers and sellers achieve their dreams of owning property, and helping real estate agents stop using the sometimes-vicious tactics that weigh on their consciences. He believes that the Smart Agents books will, quite literally, change people’s lives for the better. Check out his full bio here

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