$165,000 From Free Craigslist Ads

by Dean Jackson

Dean:     Hey, everybody, it’s Dean Jackson.  I’m here today with a friend, Kurt Nilsen.  Kurt is up in Portland.  Welcome, Kurt, first of all.

Kurt:      Thank you very much, Dean.  I appreciate the opportunity to be on the call here with you.

Dean:     I shared with you that the reason that I wanted to talk with you specifically is because I’ve been watching you for the last year.  I had it in my mind here, that I wanted to kind of keep an eye on people who’ve been doing great things in 2010.  So, really doing great things in tough times.

I know that you’ve been very consistent, among the most consistent people that I’ve seen with following the Finding Buyers Program, and sending out your weekly emails.

So, what I want to kind of do is get you to share maybe some of the process and the mindset and the way that you have been applying the Finding Buyers Program.  And I think what’s very specifically interesting is that you are a lender.  I think that that shows a lot of resourcefulness, to really take a program like this, that a lot of lenders might look at and say, “Well, this is clearly for realtors,” and you’ve thought out-of-the-box.

I’d love to get your kind of experience, what led you to do this program and maybe some of the experiences that you’ve had along the way here.

Kurt:      Yeah, I’d be happy to, Dean.  When you mentioned changing times, it has been an interesting market here for the last couple of years.  I feel like if I’m adept at anything, it’s seeking out mentors and seeking out people that have got systems that work.  I’ve followed your stuff for a long time.  I’ve always admired the programs that you put out.  And when you came out with Finding Buyers here, a little over a year ago, or whatever it was, there was no hesitation on my part, to join the program and star doing what I’m doing here.

To kind of address what you’re talking about, as far as a mortgage broker, I had kind of a little bit of an ulterior motive, in that my wife is a real estate agent.  Obviously, being a lender, if there was a way for me to create more business for her, through Finding Buyers, if there was a program out there that could do that, obviously it would help my mortgage business too.

So, I kind of used her as a guinea pig, when we started the program a year ago.  And it’s really, really paid off in a big way.  I can certainly go over some of the numbers with you a little bit later, if you want to.

Dean:     I’d love that, yeah.

Kurt:      The bottom line is, as I say, we started about a year ago, and really just followed the program that you laid out.

We just began placing ads in CraigsList, in the “Real Estate For Sale By Brokers” area, the type of ads that you suggested that we do.  And it was really nothing more than offering an instant list of bank-owned homes, and also offering free ongoing weekly updates in that CraigsList ad.

So, that was the draw that gets people.  You offer something as value-driven as that, get them to just click on the link, and obviously that link takes them to the Web page that you’ve already pre-created for all of us.  They leave their name and email address, and, bingo, we have them in our system as a contact.

Dean:     Do you remember the first time that you placed your first ad with this?  There’s 3 parts to the Finding Buyers Program.  We had the first-time buyer program, the relocation guide, an the bank-owned buyer program.

So, you primarily focused on the bank-owned buyer element of this.  Right?

Kurt:      Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Dean:     Okay.  Now, do you remember when you placed your first ad and what happened, kind of like through the chronology of how it all progressed here?

Kurt:      Are you referring to our excitement level when the leads started rolling in or just kind of the…?

Dean:     Were you excited?  I didn’t want to lead the witness.  That’s why I left it up to you.  I didn’t want to put words in your mouth.  But were you excited when you got your first leads, and do you remember maybe how long between when you placed the ad and when you got your first leads, and how that all evolved?

Kurt:      Yeah, it’s still pretty clear in my mind.  It was just about exactly 13 months ago, when we began offering the bank-owned list, and the ongoing weekly updated list.  And frankly, the leads started coming in immediately.  They really do.

When my wife Shirley first began, we were only placing 2 to 4 ads a day, and we were getting sometimes 5, 6, 7, 8 leads a day coming in.  Well, I won’t jump ahead yet.

Initially, we started placing on 2 to 4 ads, and the leads started coming in right away.

The way you teach the system is that once they respond to the CraigsList ad and put their name and email address in, we have it set up to where the prospect automatically receives the instant list of bank-owned homes, which they certainly appreciate.  Obviously, that’s what we’ve offered and that’s what we’re giving them.

And then from that point, once they put their name and their email address, they get the instant list.  And then the next day, on day one, they get another email from us that simply asks if they’d like to get your “Pinpoint Home Search.”  It asks them if they want to get a more specific list of homes that meet their needs.  And I can’t tell you the percentage of people that ask for that.  But a pretty high percentage.

From that point, it gets the agent in dialogue.

Dean:     Yeah, you’re getting them engaged.  Exactly.

Kurt:      Yeah, exactly right.  So, it was very exciting.  But since that time, I’ve kind of always thought, “Gosh, as a mortgage person, if I could kind of the rainmaker, if you will, if there was a program out there that I could use to teach to real estate agents, to help them get more leads and more buyers and more listings as well, because listings come out of this, what a killer way for me to gain the loyalty of those agents.”

So, I could probably take it a lot further than I have.  But at this point, it’s now my wife and then 3 other agents that I’m helping with this system.

Actually, in the last year, I think we’ve figured out that between my wife and the other 3 agents, there’s been almost 4,500 leads generated.

Dean:     Wow!  That’s awesome.  That’s really good.

I love the way that you were thinking with this.  You’re working with different realtors in sort of different surrounding areas, they have different target markets kind of thing?

Kurt:      Exactly right.

Dean:     Or you were just rotating the leads around?

Kurt:      No.  We’ve got 4 different agents that their specific market or the area that they kind of specialize in is different from the other 3.  It’s a little different around the country, but in our circumstance out there, each agent has been assigned a couple different multiple listing areas that they advertise for.

But it’s fantastic.  It goes back to what you had taught, is be specific in the CraigsList ad that you’re attracting people to a specific area.  I think that really seems true, that people that are a little bit further along in the process know what area they want to be in, it seems like.

Dean:     Yeah.  After about 2 or 3 times that you go to CraigsList, that’s always been my observation, that after 2 or 3 times they’re going to figure out where the search bar is up at the top, and they’re going to choose to narrow their search a little bit.  And that’s where you get an opportunity to really stand out that way.

Now, do you remember when the first transaction that you got and how fast that came, and how it actually happened?

Kurt:      Shirley, my wife, I’m trying to think of how long it took to close the transaction, but she had $5,000 in her pocket in the first 45 days.

Dean:     That’s great.

Kurt:      Yeah, it was really great.  So many cool things have happened since then.  That was just the beginning that literally made us grab each other and dance around the room in happiness.  Because we thought, “Gosh, if we can make it happen this early in the game, think about what’s going to happen a year from now!”

Now, looking back, there’s been really great things that have happened.

Anyway, in that circumstance, it was a gal named Molly.  She had been working with another agent, previously.  And she responded to the day one drip campaign, which asked, “Are you looking for a more specific list of homes?”  She answered the questions on that, and then one of the questions in that was, “Are you currently working with another agent?”  And she went on to explain that she kind of fired her other agent and needed a new one.  She already had her house picked out.

Shirley, my wife, went out and showed it to her, wrote the offer, full price, and 45 days later it was closed, $5,000.

Dean:     Isn’t that amazing?  I don’t know if you had been on any of the member calls, but we had Susan in Phoenix had placed the ad on Friday, her very first ad, showed a house to a couple on Monday, and they bought it on Tuesday.  Literally, that fast.  We’ve had story after story like that, of people getting fast action here.

I’ve always found that I think CraigsList is a kind of place that a person who is already on top of what’s going on in the MLS or on Realtor.com or wherever, that I think when they get to where they’re really kind of ready, they want to kind of go above and beyond what’s available to them on the MLS or on Realtor.com.  So, they start scouring, really, on CraigsList.

CraigsList isn’t really the first kind of place that you would think to kind of browse real estate.  I think casual browsers like the formatting and the ease of using a site like Realtor.com or using an MLS.  But I think people who are really looking for something specific are probably gravitating towards CraigsList.  Wouldn’t you say?

Kurt:      I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, there’s a funny little story that just happened recently.  Well, let me back up.

When we first started this, we were questioning, a little bit, about – how do I say it nicely – the potential quality of the CraigsList leads that were coming in.  We thought, “Oh, it’s going to be looky-loo’s and none of them are going to be serious, and none of them are going to have any money.”

Well, we quickly learned nothing could be further from the truth.

Dean:     Right.

Kurt:      Just a cool start to 2011, Shirley got an email from a couple named Carrie and Greg, and these people were cash buyers in the $500,000 range.  My wife went out and showed them 2 houses.  They made an offer on the house on Saturday, so 4 or 5 days ago, and it’s going to close next week.  They made a cash offer on a $540,000 house, and it’s going to be a $13,500 commission to my wife.

So, I’m just saying that if anybody out there thinks that CraigsList doesn’t have quality people coming to it, looking for houses, they’re sorely mistaken.  There’s some quality people out there looking on CraigsList.

Dean:     What do you think your total has been, so far, in commissions that you’ve been able to generate from the CraigsList?

Kurt:      I know exactly what it is, because I surveyed the 4 agents at the end of 2010.  The commissions that were received by the 4 agents totaled just a shade under $135,000.  As a mortgage person, I made an extra $30,000 in commissions, just from doing the loans from the agents that referred me their buyers.

Dean:     That’s fantastic.

Kurt:      It goes way deeper than that, at this point, because these agents are deeply, deeply engrained to me.  I don’t know how to say it.

Dean:     Here you are, and that’s what I love about what you’ve been able to do, is that you have the resourcefulness to really kind of see that this is something, as a lender, that you could do.  And most of the time, the challenge that I find with lenders specifically is that they think, “I’m a lender.  I need a lender lead generation program.”

The thing is that it really is one of the most valuable things that you can bring to a relationship with a realtor, is the ability to generate leads for them.

Kurt:      Yeah, that’s exactly right.  It creates kind of what I call a “chain of disconnect,” as well.

Dean:     Yeah.

Kurt:      They don’t want to leave that program.  They don’t want to leave that system, because it’s working.  And they’re not just a referral source, but what I’m really seeing is that they’re fiercely loyal to me.  They’re not just casually mentioning to their borrowers, “Oh, you need to call Kurt Nilsen.”  It’s, “This is the guy you’ve got to call.  He’s the man.”

So, it’s not a situation where, “Gee, Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, I’ve got 3 different mortgage people for you to choose from, Kurt Nilsen’s one of them.  Call him.”  It’s, “Kurt’s the guy.”

So, it’s really a neat dynamic that’s happening.

Dean:     So, that’s kind of cool.  You’ve done the $30,000 from just the direct CraigsList things, but you’ve probably also generated countless commissions in people that you’re able to help just because of the relationship and them referring their other transactions to you.

Kurt:      That’s exactly right.  The $30,000 in commissions came from just the CraigsList stuff.  But yeah, now it’s the other buyers that they’re referring to me, and that’s not even counting what’s going to happen off into the future, with the loyalty from these agents.

The other neat thing that I’m just kind of starting to get my head around in a stronger way, and this is probably for another call or conversation, but now that there’s 4,500 people, as far as leads that we have, as far as a mortgage person, these are obviously people that I can market to as well, which we do.

Digressing here a little bit, people have signed up for the instant list, but then every week they get the updated list of bank-owned homes on Wednesday, like clockwork, and then every Saturday I send them a little tickler email.  One week, it would revolve around a real estate-related question, and then on week 2 it would be more of a mortgage-related question.  So, there’s lots of opportunities here.

Dean:     That’s fantastic.  Did you notice, when you did that first transaction within the first 30 or 40 days there, that that sort of started, then, the consistent flow of it?  Has it been pretty consistent month after month, or has it come in spurts?  What kind of flow have you noticed?

Kurt:      I’ve noticed that 3 of the agents have been very consistent with the program, meaning they’re placing their ads consistently, they’re very good at their follow-up, and it’s those agents that are seeing the consistent results.  It’s as simple as if you work the program, it’s going to pay you.

The other agent, that’s been kind of hit-and-miss, and so has his income from it.

If I were to do it all over again, it would almost be a little bit of a contractual way, that, “Hey, Mr. Realtor, we’re not even going to begin this program together unless we can come to an agreement that you’re going to be consistent, because I’ve got a lot of other people that want to take advantage of this.”  It’s kind of a positioning tool, if you will.  I don’t say it to be cocky, but it’s the truth.

Dean:     I was showing Sony my in-box, my gmail, because I isolated just the email address that you send all of those emails from.  And there’s page after page.  It goes all the way back from January, like every single week there was something consistently from you in my in-box.

That kind of consistency is really what pays off.  So, you’re a real testament to that.

What would you say would be the sort of Kurt Nilsen tips to success with this program, that you’ve learned along the way?  Is there things that you would say are the secret?

Kurt:      Number one, obviously, is making sure that the ads get placed consistently.  That’s key.  We promised these people a weekly updated list from the original CraigsList ad.  It’s critical that we keep that promise.

So, like I say, be consistent with that.

The way it works for me, as a lender anyway, is that the agents are simply on a program to where they email me the updated list of bank-owned loans sometime in the pm on Tuesday, and then I send out the updated list to the prospects on Wednesday, like clockwork.  And then, those prospects are getting that list within a 4-hour window on Wednesday, every single week, come heck or high water.  That’s just the way it goes.

And it’s neat, because the prospect, a lot of times, will email us back and say things like, “Hey, Kurt and Shirley, thanks for keeping me on your list.  We’re not quite ready yet.  We really appreciate the consistency.  We’re getting a lot of value out of the list.”

So, it’s never, ever a situation where the people are emailing us and being angry, or having a mean tone.  It’s an attitude of gratefulness and thanks for continuing to provide that service to them.  That’s the critical thing, like you’ve taught me, Dean, of building that relationship through constant communication.

To get back to your question, sending the weekly updated list on time, and then throwing in a tickler email on Saturday, or whatever day you choose.

An email that’s one of our favorites, like you’ve taught me, is “Are you still looking for a home in blank community or blank town?”  That is, bar none, the most incredible dialogue-creating email I’ve ever seen.  And I struggled with that.  When you first talked about it, I thought, “Well, I need to add more verbiage to it, and I need to add more verbiage to it, and I need to say more, and I need to ask more questions.

Dean:     The natural tendency is that you think, “I’ve got to add to this.”

The fact that you want to add to it really shows why it’s so powerful, because our brains can’t stand an unsolved mystery.  So, we have to, “Why is he asking me this?  Does he know something?”  It’s not a complete thing.

So, you need to complete that loop.  I always use the analogy of if you were in line with somebody at Starbucks, and you turned to them and you asked them a question, and you just stood there, it would be very difficult for them not to answer you.  You know?

Kurt:      Yeah.  Yeah.  Exactly right.  I resisted that temptation, and I just did it like you said.  And it creates dialogue.

I can sure send you everything that we’ve done, but another one that we asked, I believe we got it from you as well, is, “Are you only interested in bank-owned homes?”  And that creates dialogue.

Dean:     We’ve got such a whole collection of them now.  But I call them short, personal, expecting-a-reply messages.  Those are the 3 elements that we’re looking for.

We’ve had a lot of success asking people, “Are you an investor or are you looking for a home to live in?”  And that gets people to respond, as well.

I’m looking in my in-box, and I see exactly your 3 tips to success here, being played out right there in my in-box.  Because sure enough, I see those weekly emails and I see the weekly short, personal, expecting-a-reply messages.  From my observation, that is why you are such a success with this program, is that you’re doing it.

Kurt:      Yeah.  And you know, I would be remiss without mentioning the seriousness of the agents that are taking advantage of this.  And this may be the most important thing that I say.  But I watch my wife, because she sits 10 feet from me in the office, I watch the way she works with systems, and there’s not necessarily any secret to it, but it’s the way that she gets back to the people that have responded to her; meaning that if we asked a question, “Are you still looking for a home in blank,” and the prospect emails back and says, “Yes,” then she doesn’t just send them a short little snip-it.  She’s very friendly.  “Hi, thanks for getting back to us.  We’ll be here when you’re ready.”  How do I put it?

Dean:     I get it.  I think that I know what you’re trying to say, because my observation of it is that when people generate leads, I think it really starts from your baseline or your default attitude about it.  There’s really 2 attitudes you can take.  And number one is that you can have the attitude that people who respond are not 5-star prospects until they prove that they are; or you can have the default attitude that the people who respond are 5-star prospects until they prove that they aren’t.  And you treat them like they are a 5-star prospect.

That’s really the winning formula.  Because when you look at it, if you take 10 leads and you just look at those email addresses, you can’t tell which one of those 10 are 5-star prospects just by looking at their email address.

But we know, for sure, that out of those 10 there are 5-star prospects in there.  There are people who are going to buy a home.

The best course of action we can have is to treat everybody like they’re the one, like they are the one who’s going to buy.  And that sounds exactly like what Shirley does.  Her attitude is that these people really want my help, and I’m here to help them, and we’re going to be able to work together.

And sure enough, it ends up that you are able to work together.

Kurt:      Bingo.  You absolutely hit the nail on the head.  I’ve heard you articulate that before, and I certainly couldn’t have said it better myself.  But that is the reason that the agents are successful with this program, is they’re treating these people with respect, just like they’re 5-star prospects, unless they prove themselves differently.

Dean:     Yeah.  That’s awesome.  I think, like you said, that’s kind of the big first obstacle that people have to overcome, is any preconceived notion that they might have about the quality of people that you’re getting on CraigsList.  You said that that was kind of your initial thought, but you were open enough to try it and to see, and to discover for yourself exactly what happens.

Kurt:      Yeah, exactly right, Dean.

Dean:     So, what are your big plans for moving forward in 2011 here?  Are you going to stay the course and continue on?

Kurt:      I’m going to stay the course, I’m going to expand, I’m going to add another 3 or 4 different agents with some different areas that are available out here, that we haven’t tapped into yet; areas that there’s a lot of property moving.

The other thing that I’m really beginning to learn more about, at least from my mortgage business, is I’ve done some different things regarding the home loan reports and a few different ideas in that respect.

For myself personally, and maybe I didn’t give it enough time, I wasn’t able to make the home loan report work for me like I wanted it to work, in that it seemed like I couldn’t get out of email dialogue with people.

But if I were able to find a way, or when I found a way, to get people to communicate with me on the telephone, it was basically a done deal.

So, I created a little PowerPoint video presentation, 3 or 4 minutes long, where essentially I’m kind of doing a Jing screen cast.  It’s not me doing a video of myself, it’s basically a PowerPoint slide with my friendly picture on there, and then the prospect hears me talking about what I call my express home loan pre-approval service.

And basically, what I’m marketing is I go into a little explanation over essentially what is a 10-minute, quick-and-easy, over-the-phone pre-approval conversation, where I articulate to them in my little video that it’s going to be low-key, that there’s not going to be any pressure.  They can kind of tell, by my voice, that I’m a friendly guy.  It just kind of brings me out from behind the wall of the email.

Dean:     Yeah, makes you a real person, right.

Kurt:      Yeah, exactly.  That’s been a lot more successful for me, as far as getting people to call me on the telephone, because they kind of get to know me a little bit better.

But I’m going to be doing more of that, and more actual maybe videos, and sending out video tips about the mortgage world or about the pre-approval process.  And I want to just get out there with the videos and, again, do whatever I can to come out from behind the email wall.  And I would say that anytime a realtor or a mortgage person can incorporate those types of things into this program that you’ve already put together for us, the better off we’re going to be.

Shirley and I have noticed, even in the last month, where we put a little link on the bank-owned list of homes that says, “Click here to meet Kurt and Shirley,” and we each do a 30-second – again, it’s not a video of us – audio, and shows our picture on the screen of, “Hi, thanks for joining Shirley’s list of bank-owned homes.  We look forward to helping you in your home-buying search.  We’ll be here when you’re ready.  Feel free,” and whatever.  It’s just a way to connect with these people at a little deeper level.

Dean:     Fantastic idea.  I like that a lot.  That’s a nice innovation.  Do you notice or have a way of knowing if people are going to that page to watch you or to listen?

Kurt:      Yeah.  I haven’t tracked the statistics.  But with the GetResponse program, it’s got a way that you can take a look at your performance statistics and see who’s clicking on the link.

Dean:     Good for you.  That’s a great innovation.  I like that a lot.

Kurt:      Thank you.  It’s all Dean Jackson.  I’m willing to do anything else that you’ve got going out there.  So, let’s say I’ve just been following your stuff.  I’ll tell you, I don’t even remember what the investment for your Finding Buyers Program was.

Dean:     $349.

Kurt:      Yeah, one time.

Dean:     Right.  Yeah.

Kurt:      That’s a screaming deal.

Dean:     People ask me, a lot.  They say, “Why do you do it just for $349, like one time?  Why don’t you just charge a monthly fee for it?”  And I do exactly the same thing with the Getting Listings Program.

I know that getting listings and finding buyers are the 2 core things that people need, if you’re going to be successful in real estate.  I know how to do those things.  I’ve got 2 programs that help people do them.  And from the very beginning on this, I wanted to set it up so that people are investing in something that they’re going to have as an asset throughout their career.

We have people who have been doing the Getting Listings Program now for 6 years, and now people who start out with it and maybe take a break from it, but it’s always something that they can come back to.  And I wanted to have it so that once you’re a member of that, that you’re always a member.  There’s nobody out there saying, “Oh yeah, I was a Getting Listings member, but I stopped that.”  Our membership grows every month, because we just continue to embrace all the new people.

A lot of times, people are thrilled.  I just got some emails today from people who have started again.  They took a couple of years off of getting listings, and they’ve gone back and started mailing out, and already are getting results.

That’s why I do that.  I really want to build that great community.

Kurt:      Yeah, very smart.  I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate you coming up with these programs.  It’s been just a heck of a boon to my business and the other 4 agents that I’m working with.

The other thing is when we started doing this, I don’t want to be negative, but there were some down times.  People were feeling pretty low about what was going on with the market.  And I can’t tell you what this program has done for us, as far as shifting our mindset about the market, and our attitude, and just the way we feel about moving forward.  There’s a tremendous amount of value in just having a great attitude about what you’re getting up and doing every day.

Dean:     And you know what?  I don’t know that we didn’t gloss over it, but the fact that you generated all of these leads for free, once you’re placing the ads.  It’s not that you’re spending a lot of money to generate all of these leads.  You’re placing the ads, and the as are generating the leads.

Kurt:      That’s exactly right.  I’ve looked back at $165,000 in income created in 2010 from your program.  Let me do the math here, real quick.  That looks to be…

Dean:     I should charge you more money.

Kurt:      That’s a 450:1 ratio on return on investment, it looks like, to me.

Dean:     There we go.  That’s awesome.  Well, Kurt, I thank you so much for sharing.  I think you’re going to be a big encouragement for a lot of people, to do something, take some action, and know that it’s all going to work out for them.

Kurt:      Absolutely.  The program works.  Thanks, again, for everything that you’ve created, Dean.  And I’ll be in touch.

Dean:     Thanks a lot, Kurt.

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Susan January 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Great article Dean and Kurt!
If anyone doubted the money making results of your program this should convince them.

I know of a REALTOR who is very consistent w/his ad placing and has over 2,800 leads on his list.

Seems to me he is building a database that is going to put money on his table for the next 5 years.

Susan in sunny, AZ

Brian January 28, 2011 at 5:55 am

Yes – It’s not just about the instant results today either – It’s also about building the list for years to come.

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