The Return to Handwritten Notes in Real Estate

Inboxes are inundated, and many people are overwhelmed by the notifications on their devices. Want to reach your audience? Try a handwritten note instead.
Mature white man with brown hair writing on a piece of paper

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In a world where communication is largely done on a screen, it might be difficult to gauge whether a tried-and-true business standby—handwritten notes—actually works.

For years, Ben Graham, leader of the Graham Group Real Estate at Infinity & Associates Real Estate in Chandler, Ariz., sent old-school direct mail and letters to potential clients with standard No. 10 envelopes.

He says it was likely rare that anyone opened those mailers, as he didn’t get much feedback.

A few years ago, however, he came to the realization that handwritten notes—rather than printed mailers and marketing materials—work. He now averages three cards per day but uses a handwriting service to save time and effort in his busy life as a real estate professional.

He’d had a client interested in buying an empty lot that bordered their property, but the client couldn’t figure out how to contact the owner of the lot. Graham did some digging and found contact information for the owner, and he decided to send an unassuming, handwritten letter.

The handwritten card explained to the owner that Graham had a buyer interested in the land. The owner did open the note, and though it took a while, the deal went through.

The reality is that as a society, we’re overwhelmed by electronic communication, to the point where we tend to ignore it all together.  

Research from Mailchimp, a well-known email marketing platform shows that only 20% of all emails sent are opened. Handwritten notes, however, are nearly always opened because they’ve become such a novelty. The 2020 Household Diary study produced by the Postal Regulatory Commission estimates that households receive an average of 21 pieces of handwritten mail per year.

In short, if you’re looking for a fresh marketing effort because others are falling short, it might be time to pull out pen and paper. Though he says it’s hard to quantify whether it’s the handwritten notes that turn into referrals, Graham says he knows his efforts are appreciated.

“Many times, I get notes that tell me I was the only one that actually sent them a birthday card.”

Using Tech to Ease the Burden

Graham averages about three handwritten notes per day. To make this kind of volume manageable and to keep costs low, he uses a note writing service called Handwrytten. He says he uses the service for business and personal correspondence and spends about $3.50 on each card.

Graham focuses on sending specific kinds of handwritten correspondence:

  • Birthday, wedding anniversary and home anniversary cards
  • Thank yous
  • Welcome-to-the-neighborhood cards
  • “Nice to meet you” cards

Phoenix-based Handwrytten provides customers with many options for customization. Graham has the company stick his business card in with the written note. He has his signature on file with the company, and he can customize the envelope with his logo.

Handwrytten CEO, David Wachs, says the demand for this kind of service is strong, and even stronger in the real estate industry.

“At this point, out of our 100,000 clients, 30,000 to 40,000 are real estate professionals, whether they have a direct relationship with us or a middleman company that works with us,” says Wachs.

Though Handwrytten’s cards and letters aren’t exactly handwritten, they look and feel just like a true pen-and-paper note, which is the important thing. Since agents have such a range of customization options, Handwrytten’s service does exude a genuine personal touch for the receiver.

“Being able to stand out and stay on top of mind through handwritten notes that get magnetized on the refrigerator might be the way to go. It’s about playing the long game, and it’s an investment.”

Wachs says the business has around 175 robots producing the notes, and he’s constantly working on improving the software to make things look even more authentic.

Whether an agent decides to use a service or write out each card individually, Wachs says “just do it.”

Making Handwritten Notes Part of Company Culture

When Stacie Staub’s son graduated from high school last year, he sat down and wrote thank you cards to everyone who gave him a gift. She says she had no idea at the time that he’d done so.

“I started getting pictures of the notes and texts from people,” says the co-founder and CEO of West + Maine Homes in Denver, Colo. “That meant so much when people said that I raised the kid right. I love that he did it. Its’s a testimony on how few handwritten notes people get and how they are valued.”

She knows that clients and business partners feel the same way when they receive a personalized, handwritten card or note from a real estate professional.

Staub says handwritten notes are embedded in the company culture. She encourages the 500 agents she manages to write two notes a day to their clients and colleagues. The brokerage stocks a variety of cards and envelopes in each office and regularly rotates in new selections. They even have training events centered on the subject.

Last year, three of the brokerage’s Colorado offices launched a new holiday card series with workshops and a Friendsgiving dinner.

“We encouraged them to have a couple cocktails and get those Christmas cards written. They did it right there. It just makes it more fun, and it turns into a little peer pressure,” she says.

If agents are struggling with who to send a note to or what to write, Staub advises them to scroll through their social media feeds. Who had a loss? Who had a baby? Use social media to pinpoint life events and go from there.

“It’s a motivator to keep informed and know what pain and change people are going through, and actively recognize the needs in people,” she says.

The Power of Personal Connection

Staub believes that when the effort in writing a note and sending it off oneself is powerful. She says there is “something about that energy that brings energy back to you in that relationship.”

Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs, founder and president of Polished, a communications and professional development company in St. Louis, believes handwritten notes not only distinguish someone from the rest of the pack, but they also show a person’s civility, sense of respect, gratitude and warmth.

“In today’s digital world, pen and paper become more personal and will leave a favorable impression,” she says.

She tells many of her business clients that handwritten notes are a powerful tool. The nice gesture will bring a smile to the recipient and show that they matter.

“Sure, it’s quicker, faster, and easier to whip out your phone and send a text or email. But it doesn’t have the same impact,” she says.

Here are Imbs’ best tips for writing sincere handwritten notes and letters:

  1. Don’t wait. Do it right away or at least within the first three days after meeting with a potential client.
  2. Don’t overthink. Don’t get caught up on how to write it. Be yourself. Comment on something that touched you or just that you enjoyed while in the company of the person.
  3. Don’t worry about penmanship. People get too caught up showing off their handwriting. Many will feel like it’s a privilege to receive a personalized note. Penmanship matters little (so long as it’s legible!)