• Shannon

Nail expired real estate listings

I just got finished with a marathon research session for a national client. He wants an in-depth treatment of how to write letters to homeowners with expired listings.

I must’ve watched at least five hours of video – agents who tape themselves while making cold expired-listing calls.

I can't figure out what is worse: that these agents all used identical scripts or that they thought what they were saying was so groundbreaking they needed to make a video of themselves doing it.

I also don’t know which trainer or coach is handing this script out like candy (it sounds like a Ferry script, but I can’t be sure), but it’s pretty pathetic.

Having been the “victim” of these cold calls a couple of years ago, I gotta tell you:

Stop it. Just. Please. Stop. It.

“I’m just calling to see when you’re going to be interviewing agents for the job of selling your home.”


Does this script, in the hands of thousands of agents, in any way raise the bar in real estate?

Does that sentence in any way – even remotely – tell me that this agent relates to my situation? What he will do for me? What’s in it for ME?

No. It does just the opposite. Like a slimy used-car salesperson, this agent just jumps right into the reason for his call – and it’s all about what’s in it for HIM.

My research also took me to at least 25 articles from the so-called real estate experts on how to write letters to these folks.

One agent popped into an online thread at Trulia about expired listing letters and claimed to have a program that is “crushing it.” He offered to send it to anyone who wants it.

Every single post after this agent’s was from other agents begging him to send them his program.

I write for several agents in the large Midwest city this agent hails from and I’d never heard of him, so I did a bit of checking.

No website, either for himself or for the brokerage. A Facebook page for the brokerage with only one post – from 2014. And, yes, he is a licensed agent.

Lacking even the basics of a real estate business, I am beyond doubtful that he is “crushing it” at anything. He is all but invisible in a huge market with thousands of other agents.

Yet, here are the sheep-pretending-to-be-real-estate-marketing-professionals all clamoring for the items he sends to expired listings.

With no proof that it works.

With no proof of who he is and what kind of production he has.

Sadly, this search for the free, quick fix is common among agents.

In an industry where so many good agents have to claw and scratch to get noticed above the din of all the other agents in town clamoring for business, one of the highest-ranked searches when it comes to expired listings is:

“expired listing letter templates”


It’s like “scripts.”

How in the hell do you expect to stand out from the crowd when you use the same letter or the same words on the phone as thousands of other agents? Do you honestly think that any particular homeowner isn’t getting duplicate letters, duplicate calls?

Listen, a real estate listing agent has to be, above all else, an ace marketer. If you can’t come up with a unique marketing letter to a potential client, maybe you’re in the wrong business.

If you can’t afford to hire someone to come up with that letter, you are definitely in the wrong business.

Any professional, in any business, who sits there like a baby bird with its mouth open waiting to be fed a marketing tactic is pathetic.

Yes, that sounds harsh and, thankfully, it doesn’t apply to any of the agents I work for and with.

How to approach your unique expired listing letter

First, don’t assume, as so many of the template letter writers do, that the homeowner is “angry” or “frustrated.” You don’t know why the listing expired. You don’t have any idea how this person is feeling.

You can guess. But you don’t know for sure. And how embarrassing for you if your guess is wrong?

Maybe he or she is elated that the home didn’t sell. Maybe the agent is his Aunt Maggie and he could never be angry with her. Maybe she’s chalking the failure of the home sale up to the market and feels it’s nobody’s fault.

Go in with guns blazing, telling the homeowner that you know exactly how he feels and that “there are only three reasons a home fails to sell,” is beyond arrogant.

The goal of the first letter you write is to set an appointment to meet with the homeowner to find out exactly what happened. Only when you know can you provide a solution. Guesses don’t count.

And, yes, you should empathize. But, empathize with what you actually know is happening:

this homeowner is being beat to crap by real estate agents trying to get a listing

And, yeah, you want the listing too, but you aren’t about to add to the cacophony and annoyances of being called all day, every day by people spouting the same “scripts,” offering the same solutions without knowing what the problem is.

And this, my friend, is what you should say in your letter.

In your own words, start by saying you understand that he’s being beat up by real estate agents who all say the same thing, give the same promises and assume to know how he’s feeling.

Let them know that you understand that they feel like their home is dead meat and is being circled by a flock of vultures

Apologize for your colleagues' behavior (this sets you apart from them) and explain that some will go to any lengths to make a buck.

Then, admit that you’d like the listing too, if and when he or she decides to sell. But you can’t begin to offer a solution until you understand what happened with the previous listing. You refuse to treat them and their home in the cookie-cutter fashion that other agents will.

If you have a particularly awesome testimonial that speaks to your ability to sell expired listings, include it in big, bold print.

“Anita Deal took over my listing after it had been listed with another local real estate agent for six months. She suggested a few easy changes to the home and amped up the marketing and my home sold within one week of listing with her.” George Smith, Smallville, SD.

Tip: Studies show that people distrust any review that doesn’t include the first and last name of the reviewer. Don’t be the agent they distrust. If your testimonial doesn’t include first AND last name, trash it.

Remember Whoopi Goldberg's Oda Mae Brown in "Ghost?" Trashing an awesome testimonial is like Oda Mae trying to give that $4 million check to the nuns. "Let go. . .let go!"

It's hard. It hurts, but it must be done.

If you don’t have a testimonial, resist the urge to lay down your resume or any stats you think are particularly impressive.

You want an appointment and the way to get one is by being human and by being empathic.

Now, I'm not going to give you a template. But I will give you an idea. . .a feeling, really, of how to approach this homeowner in a letter.

It's up to you. . .or your writer . . .to take it from there.

How not to approach the expired listing letter

On a popular website devoted to helping small businesses, an agent and “Real Estate Sales and Marketing Analyst,” offers up an article that includes several examples of expired listing letters “that work.”

Letter number two is my second favorite. It begins “Dear Homeowner.”

Not bothering to look up the homeowner’s name is THE way to show the homeowner you’re a thorough professional, right?

But the best one of the bunch is the one where the agent explains that he offers “clients a different, unique approach to getting their home sold despite the market conditions.”

And, what does he do that’s so “unique” and so “different?” Here it is, in a nutshell:

  • “the effective use of the internet to maximize exposure for your home”

  • a CMA

  • an MLS listing

  • virtual tour

  • and a bunch of other stuff that every single listing agent on the planet offers.

Then, there’s the company that promises to make you a top selling agent. They, too, have a sample expired listing letter, but they call it a “Pre-Listing Package.”

The creator lists the seven items to include in the package and more than half of them are agent-centered.

They include a personal marketing brochure, a resume, a “brief biography” and press clippings.

All about YOU. Just what a homeowner looking to sell a house wants, right? No solutions, no promises, just all about the agent.

Should I visit the homeowner with the expired listing?

Then, there’s the advice on a Trulia thread from an agent who suggests agents should always visit the expired listing homeowner.

He describes the conversation you should have right up to what he calls his “big closing question,” the “money maker.”

He tells the homeowner that he never had a chance to visit the home while it was listed. “ … would it be okay if I had a quick peek at it right now?”

Oh. Yes. He. Did.

As a homeowner, my question when he asked to look at my home would be: If you’re the neighborhood expert and a mega-agent, why didn’t you look at my home during the 90 days it was listed? Then I would impolitely slam the door in his face.

NEVER admit that during the three months (or however long) the home was on the market you didn’t attend the broker open, never previewed the home, never went to an open house there or never showed it to a client.

That just makes you look beyond lame

It also makes me wonder why you’re in real estate.

And, PLEASE don’t take the advice I saw on two different websites to drop off a roll of paper towels to the expired listing homeowner along with a letter detailing “absorption rate.”

Two different real estate advice givers thought this idea was cool

THAT is beyond scary

I can’t stop shaking my head over that one. Words fail me. And, I’m a writer.

Should you visit the homeowner? Sure, if you want to truly cement the idea that real estate agents are vultures or sharks. Predators. (There ya go. The writer comes up with a better word.)

The one indisputable fact about expired listings? You will have a ton o’ competition when pursuing them. But, your competition will be, for the most part, lame.

This should make it easy pickings for the agent who can manage to come off as human, as empathic and professional.

Those three qualities alone will set you apart from the bottom feeders you’ll be in competition against.

And, if words fail you. . .reach out, I’m here.

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