First publication: January 25, 2018

Two dozen tested tips and guidelines for
emailing a listing flyer to other real estate agents

Having analyzed the real-world results of nearly 100 million eflyers to agents, we have a front‑row opportunity to identify what does and does not work.

So we've compiled this handy reference guide to creating an eflyer that helps you cut right through the marketing fog to get agents' attention. Some of these tips are common-sense (3, 13, and 23 for example) but some of them may seem counter-intuitive or contradict well‑meaning but un‑tested email advice you've seen elsewhere (such as 6, 9, 12, and 17).

Regardless of which eflyer service you use – and there are hundreds – these tips will help you clear the 3 hurdles for email: getting your listing-related email delivered, getting it opened, and getting busy recipients to take action.

In a hurry? The "top ten" most important tips are labeled with the icon.

The first hurdle: Getting Delivered to the Inbox

Tips 1-5: How to avoid spam filters, blacklists, and other deliverability issues.

1 Insist upon an 'open rate' report

The most fundamental metric for any email campaign is the percentage of emails that are opened by the recipients (the "open rate").

So it is probably a red flag if an email service declines to provide an open rate report for your eflyer. (In fact, it's a red flag any time you are asked to invest marketing dollars without measured metrics.)

Any modern mass-email service has the technical capability to track open rates, so insist upon seeing the open rate for your eflyer.

2 Avoid single-image eflyer templates

All modern email providers, and most eflyer services, give you an option to compose an eflyer that consists of text for the description combined with some photos, and that is the right way to send an email.

An email that consists solely of one or more images (without regular text) is more likely to trigger spam filters. (Such an eflyer also has other disavantages, described below, related to significantly lower recipient interaction and lack of mobile-responsiveness.)

3 Verify your email service's 'emailer reputation'

Mass-emailers are constantly monitored for excess spam complaints or bad email practices. You don't want to hitch your marketing to a "blacklisted" service that has serious deliverability issues. So periodically verify that your email service has not been added to major email reputation blacklists, for example at:

check at Spamhaus project
check at Barracuda reputation lookup

4 Avoid 'Opportunity' in the email subject

There are a few words so commonly used in spam that they can taint your email delivery due to over-zealous spam filters. 'Opportunity' is a word that should be perfectly legit to use in real estate emails, for example in the phrase "Investor Opportunity" but, if used in the email subject it will almost certainly cause a percentage of your emails to be flagged as spam.

Using it in the flyer text is fine, but keep it out of the email subject at all costs.

5 Keep links out of the email subject, and limit them to 2 or 3

There's a perfectly natural tendency to put your virtual tour link right in the email subject, but this makes some spam filters a little more likely to trap your eflyer.

The best way to handle URLs is to

  • Keep URLs out of the email subject.
  • Use the actual URL – never use common URL-shorteners such as bit.ly or tinyurl... since they "hide" the real destination some major brokerages outright block all emails containing those urls out of concern over linking to malware.
  • In your eflyer text, limit the number of URLs to 2 or 3 (for example your website and a virtual tour).

The second hurdle: Getting Opened

Tips 6-10: How to improve the odds that busy agents who see your eflyer in their inbox will actually open it.

6 Write a detailed, descriptive email subject line

Literally nothing affects your open rate more than your email subject line, since that is what agents see in their inbox, and that is what recipients use to decide whether to click 'read it' or 'trash it'.

The email subject line sent to agents is so important it's got it's own webpage, and is somewhat different from generic advice for ordinary email:

How to write a great email subject line

7 Send from a person, not a team

Assuming your eflyer service has the capability to personalize the email sender's name (as opposed to being 'from' the flyer service's name), make it personal by using your name… recipients are more likely to open an eflyer from "John Doe" than "The Doe Team" or "XYZ Flyer Co".

8 Try to have your eflyer sent between 9am and 2pm, Monday thru Saturday

A lot of agents assume that the early bird gets the worm, but the optimal open rates occur between 9am and 2pm in the recipients' time zone.

When agents first sit down to handle their email, they typically have to wade through a ton of spam that came in overnight. You don't want your eflyer sandwiched between a form letter from a Nigerian prince and a form letter from a remote acquantance claiming to stranded without cash in a foreign country. Sending a little later improves the chances recipients will give your eflyer due attention.

Similarly, as the afternoon wears on, recipients are often scrambling to complete their to-do lists for the day and are less likely to give your eflyer the attention you hope for.

Sundays and major Holidays also see lower open rates.

An exception to the 9am-to-2pm guidelines is when you are announcing a same-day event such as a broker open house (which always tend to get very good readership), in which case sending a little earlier works fine.

9 Don't try to 'nudge' agents the way you would prospects

Phrases like "Won't last!" and "Hurry!" in the email subject – perhaps permissible when marketing to prospective buyers – tend to backfire when emass-emailing agents.

By and large, agents pride themselves on knowing their market well enough to judge for themselves how 'hot' a listing is, and trying to push them to a premature conclusion tends to invite a lower open rate and action rate.

10 Similarly, save the 'sales questions' for prospects, not fellow agents

Instead of asking agents "Looking for a main floor master?" or "Love poolside entertaining?" your eflyer to fellow agents will perform better if you just come right out and state "main floor master" or "in-ground pool with entertainer's patio" among the features in your email subject.

The sole exception is if your eflyer template supports a clickable poll question feature. As described in another tip below, that is a superb place to ask a sales question that highlights 2 or 3 key features.

The final hurdle: Getting Recipients to Act

Tips 11-24: How to get follow-through that helps you sell faster.

11 Show the curb view, show the interior, and add feature/benefit photo captions

It is a red flag to many recipients if an eflyer omits either the curb view photo or an interior room photo. If either one is missing, a measurable percentage of recipients assume you are hiding something that their buyer would find objectionable and will trash your flyer immediately. (The sole exception seems to be coming-soon flyers announcing an upcoming listing.)

And as advertising copywriters have known for decades, photo captions are among the first things people scan when looking at an ad, so if your eflyer template supports adding captions to photos be sure to take advantage of it.

A great photo caption does not simply state the obvious ("Kitchen") it calls out important features or benefits such as "New stainless appliances and new Cherry cabinetry".

12 Scrupulously avoid email subject exaggeration and hyperbole

Regardless of your good intent, if an agent feels you exaggerated the email subject to get them to open your flyer, they'll immediately hit the trash button.

Agents naturally dislike feeling misled or tricked by an email subject, and they absolutely expect an eflyer email subject to accurately announce the most recent news.

The two most common areas where sending agents inadvertently shoot flyer effectiveness in the foot are announcing price changes, and announcing new listings.

Price change announcement etiquette

  • If your price change is more than a few days old, don't announce "New Price" in the email subject. (If it happened a week ago, it's no longer "new news" in terms of agents' email expectations.)
  • If the most recent price change was $10K but the cumulative change over the past few months was $30K, then the (most recent) $10K change is what agents expect the email subject to announce. It's fine to mention the cumulative price change in the flyer text, but the email subject needs to convey the "new news."
  • Avoid adjectives like "huge price improvement" because one agent's "huge" drop is another agent's "ho-hum" drop, so if the price change was large, be specific (for example "Reduced 10K!").

Just listed announcement etiquette

  • To agents opening your eflyer, "new" means 3 days or less. As a general rule we start to see agent backlash from "new listing" flyers if the property has been on the market more than 3 days.
  • A de-list/re-list is not "new". From measuring complaints, we know that agents actively resent a marketing email that claims a delisted/relisted property is a new listing, unless it's been off the market for at least 60 days. The NAR also refers to minimum off-market periods ranging from 45 days to 6 months required by various local MLS "before it can count as new" on this realtor.com webpage. Similarly, bankrate.com mentions here "increasingly, a true relisting is defined as having a 90-day gap between the time the property goes off the market and when it comes back."

13 Mention upcoming events 'above the fold'

Since recipients are looking for the "news" in your eflyer, you don't want to bury it at the end of the flyer. A lot of recipients won't read that far.

Our research shows the optimal way to announce an event (for maximum open rate) is to refer to the event date in the email subject, and feature the event's date and time and description in the first few inches of the opened eflyer, what newspapers call "above the fold."

14 Mobile-friendly matters. (A lot.)

The easier it is to read your flyer on a mobile device (without recipients having to pinch/zoom/scroll to read text) the more effective your eflyer will be.

We've monitored the percentage of agents who use mobile devices to view eflyers for several years, and not surprisingly the percentage has increased every year to over 50% in many markets.

It is therefore critical to use a mobile-responsive eflyer template (where the eflyer layout and font sizes self-adapt to the size of screen being used to view the eflyer).

15 Offer agents an unbranded eflyer to forward to their clients

Many agents are reluctant to forward a flyer to their clients if it displays your contact info.

Ideally, your eflyer service sends a branded version of your eflyer to agents (with your contact info), but gives those recipients an easy way to forward an unbranded version to their own clients.

For flyers where the sending agent has disabled the offer to forward an unbranded flyer, we see an average drop of 35% in eflyer forwarding to recipients' clients.

Be sure the template for the unbranded version of your eflyer still attributes your brokerage as the listing office.

16 Keep it local to keep it relevant

Sending an eflyer to agents hundreds of miles from the subject property has two significant downsides: it has probably worse odds than buying a lottery ticket (and costs a lot more than a dollar), and it deeply irritates the majority of recipients who simply have no interest in an email for an out-of-market property.

In fact, the out-of-market spam complaint rate from agents is so pronounced that you will probably notice that the same eflyer services that will blast to out-of-market agents also decline to provide a delivery report. And that could mean that their list has gotten so "spammed out" because they annoyed busy agents with irrelevant emails that their deliverability rates are no longer competitive.

Based on our testing, the "sweet spot" for distributing your eflyer is targeting agents 10 to 20 miles from the subject property, and 35 to 40 miles is probably the maximum you should consider.

17 The older the listing, the bigger the 'news' needs to be

Agents look for "news" in their inbox, and therefore dislike having a months-old listing pushed into their inbox unless the eflyer is announcing meaningful news.

If your listing has been on the market over six months, local agents with relevant buyers have undoubtably already seen it many times in the MLS, so the eflyer needs to be announcing truly significant news (such as a 3% price drop yesterday).

Even in markets where the typical time to sell comparable properties is quite long, after six months all relevant agents have already seen the listing, so the criteria for spamminess is whether or not the eflyer is presenting news that truly justifies taking another look.

18 Use a Poll question (if supported)

If the eflyer service you use offers a clickable poll question, it can be a great way to collect RSVPs for a broker open.

And even if you do not have an upcoming event, you can use the poll question feature to highlight the 2 or 3 most attractive features of your listing.

For example the poll question "Is your buyer looking for a pool and a main floor master?" may not get many clicks, per se, but it prominently re-states your listing's value proposition.

19 Not on MLS? Mention the commission.

It is not surprising that some of the best-performing eflyers are "coming soon" and "pocket listing" announcements. After all, those magic words in the email subject tell recipients this is news they haven't seen on the MLS (yet).

However, the flip side of that coin is that for a non-MLS listing the forward-copy-to-client rate can drop nearly in half if the flyer does not explicitly call out the buyer agent commission percentage.

This falloff in forwarding applies primarily to pocket listings. We infer from this data that many agents need assurance their commission will meet reasonable expectations before they bring their clients.

20 Add a clickable link to your virtual tour

Besides the deliverability issues noted above, another reason to avoid a single-image eflyer template is to facilitate clickable links in the flyer. The vast majority of agents simply will not re-type a URL to view your tour, but if all they have to do is click a link our data shows that agents will often take a glance before forwarding your eflyer to relevant clients.

21 Add an interactive map

If your eflyer template supports it, adding an interactive map to your eflyer is an easy way to boost the eflyer interaction among both agents and potential buyers.

22 Don't over-brand yourself in your listing eflyer

The type of marketing you do to brand yourself to potential clients is fundamentally different from the marketing you do to interest other agents in your listing.

When mass-emailing other agents, you will want to omit your long list of credentials and your clever tagline, to keep the emphasis on what a fine listing it is as opposed to what a fine agent you are.

We don't know if it is because some recipients feel threatened by your stronger self-branding, but we've measured slightly higher opt-out rates on eflyers where the listing agent's profile goes beyond the basics of a name, company, photo, logo, website link, contact phone, contact email, and license credentials.

23 Post it on Facebook et al

This is pretty obvious, but even if you don't yet have a million friends be sure to post your eflyer onto your Facebook wall. Most if not all eflyer services provide a web link suitable for Facebook and other social media, which provides some free "extra reach" for your eflyer marketing.

24 Always include a call to action

If you're announcing a weekday broker open, the call to action is to add wording specifically to invite them to join you. If you are providing snacks, be sure to mention that. If your eflyer template supports a poll question for RSVPs, the best wording avoids seeking a firm commitment, for example "Might you join me Thursday for light snacks?"

If you're announcing a weekend open house, your call to action might explicitly reassure recipients that you will respect client agency if they decide to send their client.

Even if you have no upcoming event, your call to action might be to assure recipients the home is "on lockbox and easy to show."

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