Fill Your Real Estate Pipeline using Relationship Marketing

Real estate business

When I started in real estate a decade ago, I was told by veteran real estate agents that I should door knock and cold call prospects to fill my real estate pipeline and get business.  My better judgment told me that since I hated getting cold calls and having strangers knock on my front door trying to sell me products or services, these methods didn’t make sense to me. I knew I needed to find some other effective marketing to fill my real estate pipeline.

About a year in I had had some success through a variety of sources to fill my real estate pipeline.  I hosted a neighborhood street sale and got a $1.3 listing, and I also had a few transactions from my sphere. It was a done deal, a sporadic struggle, and not consistent. Then someone told me about a relationship marketing system called SendOutCards, which many Realtors use to not only fill their real estate sales pipeline but also double or triple their income. At first, I thought how could sending custom greeting cards make a real difference. It’s just a card. I had done coaching with a company that encouraged sending 10 handwritten cards a week. I had done that and never once got an acknowledgment, let alone business. Not once.

I decided since so many Realtors were using the SendOutCards system with success, I would try it. Just 19 days after I sent my first card, I sent a Happy Spring card to an elderly woman in my neighborhood. No sales pitch, nothing about me, just wishing her a Happy Spring, because even though it was still cold, I figured she’d be anxious to get back to gardening. Not only did she call to thank me, but she also asked me to meet with her and her husband, because they had had door-knocking Realtors trying to buy their house. Of course, I sent a thank you follow-up card and a Happy 60th Anniversary card celebrating when they bought their house. That card showcased her gardens and was very personal. That resulted in a $2.5 million listing. I figured that a $56,000 commission would pay for a lot of cards.

I started sending out post cards four times a year for holidays as well as an annual comparison of sales in a condo I farmed. In my card, I mentioned I owned the building. I received a call “Chip, this is George.” I had no idea who George was, but when he said he lived on the 14th floor, I realized he was responding to my SendOutCard year-end campaign. He wanted to talk to me about the process of listing his condo. Another woman even called to thank me for including her in my mailings, something that doesn’t happen with most direct mail “postcards”.

I stopped to think about what was different from the handwritten notes. Because these greeting cards were not postcards, they arrive in an envelope looking like a birthday card, there’s a 100% open rate. I can include photos to make it personal and I can include info either giving them content valuable to them or making a connection with them personally. On top of that, I could brand the back of the card, not with some coaching company information, but with my choice of photo and my contact information, consistent with my branding. There’s a quote I like from Theodore Roosevelt: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  Sending a client a custom greeting card that is about them, not you or potential business, shows them that you care.

real estate industry

My first week as a Realtor, I did try door-knocking for a few days. I knocked on the door of an elderly woman on my street. When she realized I was a Realtor, she came out on the porch and looked me in the eye, and said “I don’t like Realtors much.” She then went on to say “A lady Realtor knocked on my door looking for business and I told her about my neighbor who was old and was planning to sell. That lady Realtor sold her house and didn’t even have the courtesy to come back and thank me”. I told her she was right, and that Realtor should have done that, but I am not “one of those Realtors”. I started sending her cards and hand-delivering newsletters. It was never more than a hello and a thank you at the door. One month her husband told me that although they enjoyed reading my newsletters they were never going to move. I assured him I was fine with that. A few years later I got a phone call from their son. His father had died, and his mother’s health was failing, and they wanted me to talk to them. He warned me they would interview several agents other than me. He ended with “But my mother does like you.” I talked to mother and son for about 20 minutes when he said “I think I can speak for my mother. We don’t need to interview anyone else. We would like you to sell her house.”  Because my marketing centered around building a relationship, she had gone from not liking Realtors to handing over the keys to her house to sell in her absence when she moved out of province.

Another acquaintance asked me to come and talk to her and her husband about the sales process for selling her house. An agent I knew had the door knocked, saying he had a motivated buyer, and she could sell with only one commission. On a $3.5 million listing, that would be a savings of $87,500. I met with her and her husband to discuss options. During our conversation, she stopped to thank me for the beautiful Christmas card I had sent. I thought to myself “Ok, this is March. Christmas was three months ago. I know I received Christmas cards, but I couldn’t identify a single card I had received.” At that point, she opened her piano bench and there was my card. She had saved it. She wanted to know about the photos I had chosen. I was amazed that my card had had such an impact. I signed the listing that day, even though it could cost her an additional $87,500. She was an insurance executive and understood the risks associated with being unrepresented. Again, relationship marketing filled my pipeline with $5.2 million in buy and sell real estate transactions.

I had a call one day from a local business suggesting we should meet to introduce ourselves and learn about each other’s businesses with an eye to exchanging referrals for potential buyers. We met and I followed up with a thank you card, which I send along with a couple of brownies as a treat. She called me and started the conversation with “You are amazing!”.  What did I do? She went on to say “I had you on my calendar to call and thank you for coming in, but today I received your card and brownies. Wow. Thank you.” That was the beginning stage of a relationship that has grown over the last five years. In that time, she has sent me over $15,000,000 in referrals and I have sent her my clients as well.

Because relationship marketing is important to me, I also make jam in the summer and mincemeat at Christmas. Both are time-consuming, but it’s something I enjoy doing. The jam costs me about $3 a jar and the mincemeat costs about $15 a jar. That seems expensive until I realized I had done 10 transactions out of 50 jars of mincemeat given away. That’s 20%. And my average transaction is about $1.5 million.

In 2021 I started looking for a house for my partner and me. We bid on one property and lost to another bidder. That was the only property that style that sold that entire year. I decided to use my SendOutCards system to create my own inventory. I sent 40 cards to the neighborhood asking if anyone was interested in selling. Exactly one month after closing date when the card was sent, we submitted an offer that was accepted. Those 40 cards cost me about $85. We not only saved $100,000 off the asking price (in what’s usually a multiple bid environment), but I made a $50,000 commission and the seller saved $50,000 because there was only one Realtor involved. Because of this purchase, we were able to list our existing property and sell it in multiple bids for an additional commission of $95,000.  Yes, I made $245,000 because I spent $85 to send 40 cards. People often ask me about the ROI of sending cards. I usually say it’s hard to put an ROI on relationships, but that 40-card campaign returned me something crazy like 288,000% ROI. I created my own inventory. And I’m now using the SendOutCards system to build relationships in my new gated community. Shortly after sending my first card campaign in this new community, I got a welcome call from a neighbor. When I heard she had broken her hip, I sent out a get-well card with a tea and scone treat package. Her thank you call included a request to start looking for a condo with one-floor living. I learned “It’s NEVER just a card”.

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Meet Chip Barkel

Chip Barkel sees his career in Real Estate as a facilitator and resource to help clients find and acquire their dream home or list their property for sale. To Barkel, being a Realtor means more than selling homes. It's about a relationship based on integrity, trust, knowledge, and expertise. Clients can be sure that Barkel will go the extra mile to give them the best possible experience when buying or selling real estate.

He has volunteered for several years at a hospice, facilitating grief workshops and chairing fundraising events. On the street where he bought his first house, the neighbors even named him the honourary Mayor of their street.

Barkel currently volunteers with Parkview Neighbourhood Garden, a volunteer market garden which grows and sells organic vegetables to the community and donates money to local food-related charities, as a member of their Steering Committee. He also manages the website and leads the social media presence for Parkview Neighbourhood Garden.