responsible email marketing… for real estate professionals

I felt compelled to write this post since I have been getting SO much SPAM from real estate agents and brokers here in Georgia.

A long time ago, I used to work in the Abuse department at a large ISP, so maybe I am a little over sensitive about this, but then again, maybe the advice I am about impart can really help someone trying to do a legitimate email campaign.

I am a licensed real estate agent, and a member of the Dekalb Board of Realtors. Somewhere, someone sold their list of members to “advertisers.” I have two email addresses that I have used for real estate and either the Board of Realtors or the MLS service I subscribe to sold the list of members.

I used to take a great offensive to all the SPAM I got to my email addresses; flyers, listings, etc, that I used for my real estate endeavors. My sister-in-law is my broker and she said, “That’s just the way it is.” So I didn’t give it much thought, beyond making the email as SPAM.

But then I started to think about it, and as usual, that’s the problem.

I run my own mail server and I was getting tired of the SPAM that was coming into it that were “real estate flyers.” so I decided to explicitly put these jokers in a blacklist. I’ll name the domains I am blocking here:

# Real Estate Spam 554 Spam not tolerated here 554 Spam not tolerated here 554 Spam not tolerated here 554 Spam not tolerated here

I am running postfix so if you are familiar with it, this is the structure of the blocklist.

So, the majority of SPAM I am getting is from these domains. If you go to each domain’s website, you will see that they do not appear to be legitimate websites. Either the main page is not set up or requires a username/password to view the root documents. Legitimate emailers don’t have anything to hide.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fault the agents sending this out. Rather I blame the so-called emailers for this. It is clear, that the real estate agents that employ these bozos are either inexperienced in email marketing or lured in by there prices. I have NO DOUBT that these agents are good people with the best intentions and that these so-called email marketeers are misguiding them.

These email marketeers do include a list to unsubscribe from, but bases on their unaccessable websites, I simply don’t trust them. I am worried that if I click on the link to unsubscribe, I am only confirming my email address for more spam. I think of these guys as fly-by-night and it makes me nervous.

So by being “internet-savvy” and a real estate professional, I offer these suggestions to be an effective and Internet friendly email marketeers:

  • DO NOT let someone send emails out on your behalf. Make the effort and do it for yourself so you completely understand how the whole process works.
  • Do your homework. If you are thinking of working with an email marketeer, make sure they are on the up-n-up. A quick Google search can give you a lot of info. Be sure to check Google Groups to see if the outfit you want to work with is in the net-abuse group. If they are, move on.
  • Just because people are a member of an MLS listing service or a Realtor Board, they may not want to see your listings for a 2BR/1BA condo on the other side of town. Doesn’t it make sense that a real estate professional will already have access to the MLS listing service? Why send them SPAM?
  • Do your homework, part II. Make sure the email marketeer is legit. By offering an unsubscribe list, will that user be really unsubscribed? Or will that user just verify their email address for more Viagra and Xanax SPAM.
  • Be smart about who you are sending emails to. Are you simply just blasting your email to everyone? If you have a listing on the NW side of town, how about just blast your listing (via email) to those agents only in the NW? Does your email marketeer allow you to send to a subset of customers based on location if known?

My gut tells me that everyone is fed up with this and simply marking this sort of email as SPAM, and thus it just sort of disappears into their SPAM folder. But how effective is that? Are your readers just marking your emails as SPAM? That’s bad, right? Does your email marketeer have some way for you to gauge the return on investment for your email campaign? If not, you need to find someone who does.

With Craigslist, a free service, how can you determine how effective your email campaign is? Craigslist is FREE and people GO there to view the postings. As an effective real estate agent, you might want to post to Craiglist AND do an email campaign. How do you do it?

I think you have to use a legitmate email marketeer that gives you the tools that you need to measure your potential success, and allows you to be a good internet citizen.

I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting the MailChimp guys and i was floored by their technology, but also the length they went to, to make sure their clients are good Internet citizens. I like these guys and their tech is top notch. At my son’s school, they use Constant Contact as the email method of communication. While I really like the MailChimp guys, my personal experience says that both of these providers are on the up and up.

If you are really in the dark about this, contact me and I’d be happy to consult for you. At the very least, I can point you in the right direction towards getting the best ROI on your LEGITIMATE email campaign. Just don’t buy into these emails that claim a massive amount of coverage. The best you’ll do is have your email address added to the clients’ SPAM rules.

There is no question that an email campaign can be effective, but if you take the extra steps I mentioned here, you be ahead of 80% of the competition.

With more and more buyers going online to research, the client is going to be more and more Internet savvy. Any agent that can “speak their language” and embrace the future will be ahead of those agents who are trying to catch up.

do you even know what the T5 is, mon freue?

What a lame title. I wrestled with what to name this post. I also have a lot to write about. I am still in the job hunt mode and have a couple of promising interviews. I get the feeling, when it rains it pours and I seem to be more busy now than I was when I was employed. That’s cool, though, since I have learned so much and met so many cool folks over the last month. But, I do need to write about a couple of things outside tonight’s post.

  • Over at Guy Kawasaki’s blog, he posted the Avenue A Razorfish 2008 Digital Outlook Report. A lengthy but very informative read. Guy is great. I have a subscription Entrepreneur magazine where I first became aware of his columns. I follow him on Twitter and know people that know him. He’s one of my heros!
  • I’ve been hacking away on drupal and CSS. Cool stuff.
    • If you are interested on what I’ve been working on, you can check out the preview of the IIAM website here.

Okay, now that’s out of the way, (and I really do plan to post individually about the above points), I can get to what’s been burning, or itching in my mind.

My friends know that our family has a 2003 VW Eurovan GLS. We have three kids and the massive space the Eurovan allows is certainly something we enjoy. Here’s the history lesson. 2003 was the last year Volkswagen brought the Eurovan in the U.S.. In the rest of the world, the Eurovan is called either a Transporter or Caravelle. Our particular body style is referred to as the “T4.” After 2003, VW introduced the highly coveted T5 model everywhere but the U.S.. Here’s some links to support what I claim:

Over at, a forum where I frequent, there is much disdain that one can not buy a T5 here in the U.S.. Here in the U.S., you have the Ford F150 as the most common vehichle, but everywhere else, if you are looking for a VW T4 or T5, you’ll be surprised to see how popular and common the VW van is everywhere.

So, I was besides myself last week when I saw a T5 in person. I posted about here on the ‘vortex:

You have no idea how this made my day. I think the number of people in the U.S. that have seen a T5 on the road here can be counted on one hand. Regardless, there is no question that German engineered high efficiency vehicles are desired here.

So, I don’t think a T5 is likely here in the ‘States anytime soon, but there are some options that are on the horizon. First, Volkswagen is supposed to launch the “Tiquan” sometime in May. Rumor has it a 40 m.p.g diesel version will be available later this year. I sent an email to our local VW dealer for confirmation but haven’t heard a thing.

I like it.

VW and Chrysler did a joint venture for a minivan. Reviews are mixed. The EV purists decry this as an obscene mockery. Personally, I try to envision how our family of five will fit into it, (for example… I recently checked out the new Honda Passport and was surprised how small the interior was compared to the Eurovan).

I’ll admit I like the look of it. I’m not crazy about the Chrysler drivetrain, but we’ll see. I want a diesel something fierce so whichever comes first, I’m more likely jump on.

So, the next question most people ask me is why do I want a VW diesel so badly? I had a 1985 Mercedes 300D, affectionately named “Gunther” (if you must know, our Eurovan is named “Klaus”). For an 1985 auto to get 24+ mpg was a real treat. I have come to love the sound of diesel engine. And if my testimony isn’t enough to sway you, the last time I checked ( and I need to double check this) the VW Jetta TDI was number three right behind the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight, (both hydrids) on the EPA’s list of most efficient cars.

I’d like to close out by including a few pics of the T5 and our T4.

It should be noted that I bought new, black wheels for our van so it looks even more tougher than it does in the picture.

one too many cabanossi

Yesterday, Valentine’s day, was a good day. After I dropped off the twins at pre-school, I wanted to find the German butcher and bakery near our house. We had been going to one European butcher nearby that we loved. In fact, it’s just like I remember growing up in Chicago. Patak Meats in Austell is unbelieveable. If you haven’t been you got to. Now, rumor has it the ex-butcher from Patak went to open his own place, called Weinerz. Our German friends said they prefered it to Patak so I have been wanting to check it out.

So, I found it. I stopped by Bernhard’s, the Germany bakery and picked up a loaf of German Sourdough Rye bread. The loaf weighed about 5lbs. Then I went over to the butcher and picked up some cabanossis, German ham, and a couple of beer brautwursts. I spent less than $10.

Then to top off the German morning I was having, I went to Aldi’s to pick up some other stuff. I got home, gave my wife her roses, and we both ate cabanossi’s and had a ham sandwich with some mustard; what a great way to start the day.

But I digress. I have been spending most of my time over the last few days becoming something of Drupal expert. I have volunteered to be the webmaster for our son’s school’s website. The website has potential to be a very effective portal. The PTO, teachers, and administration want to be able to post items to the site and have blogs. I looked at Joomla for awhile and finally I happened to see Drupal mentioned somewhere. The more I read about it the more I was convinced this could provide the solution I was looking for.

The last few days, I’ve been getting into theming Drupal. I modified an existing theme using mostly some heavy CSS. Remember when I said I learn best when I have a project? So, I was surprised to see how much I’ve learned about CSS in the last three days. Being obsessed and not having a job helps, but I have learned tons. I also found a whole bunch of great resources, but not just on CSS but also web design and XHTML. It’s been a great time.

When I was in art school, I love typography. When I was in art school, it was before computers were common place. When I was in art school, the Mac Quadra 800 just came out and was over $5k. But I still loved type and type faces. I was really good at kerning and even today, I like to do my own kerning in Photoshop. So one of the things I am really excited about is doing interesting things with type utilizing CSS. I think this is going to be very exiting for me.

In my reading of SEO one of the things that is recommended against it using images for content. To put it another way, if you have text in an image, that text will not be indexed by the search engines.

In my mind, using CSS will allow me to do some of the things I enjoyed about type in the print media, but have it rendered in a web browser.

My stomach still hurts after finishing off that last cabanossi; I don’t eat like that very often.

be a savvy shopper

I like to think I am a “savvy shopper.” What I mean is, I like to find a deal… but nothing cheeses me off more than being taken advantage of… or the thought of being taken advantage of.

When I was in college, I worked for a large “big box” retailer when they first came to Atlanta. I had felt like I had sold my soul to the devil. It was awful. What I really hated, was being instructed to push “extended warranties” to anyone. “Keep a stack of the extended warranties in your back pocket… If you see someone looking at a VCR try to get them to sign up…” or “I’ll give everyone a $50 gift card if you sell five extended warranties today!” Like I said, it was awful. Now everyone knows a couple of people who have really benefited or were thankful they got the extended warranty… I’m not posting about extended warranties, folks, if you love ’em or hate ’em, I could care less.

But I think I realized one of my character faults. I think I am pretty savvy, certainly not naive when it comes to all sorts of things, but…

While I’ve been on the job hunt, I posted a portion of my resume on various job boards. In my online job profiles, I use a Grandcentral number to I can screen my calls. From my profiles on these boards, I get probably about five or six “offers” about being an insurance salesman… oh wait, a FULL COMMISSIONED insurance salesman. I mark those as spam. And then, probably about three times a day, I get emails that start as:

Dear Jeffrey ,

Recently I viewed your resume online, and I felt you would be an excellent candidate for an opening we are trying to fill based on your technology background. A brief job description about the [ENTER GENERIC IT JOB TITLE HERE] job is included.

Or this:

Dear Jeffrey ,

After reading your online resume, I feel your technical/science background may make you a solid candidate for an opening we’re trying to fill. I’ve provided some basic information about the [ENTER GENERIC IT JOB TITLE HERE].

The email goes on and offers some enticing facts about salary and benefits. And there is a link to an “online profile” to fill out that has some crazy URL that has my email in the URL. So by simply clicking on the URL I have verified my email address… and a quick Google search would indicate by filling out the “online profile” I would just open myself up to more harassment.

Before you say, “Hey Pabian, this is more of your solarflare, conspiracy mumbo-jumbo, isn’t it?” or before you ask me if I am wearing a tin-foil hat, let me show you the most recent domains sent to me, using either one of the above emails:


Update 03.01.2008:  I updated the list from 10 listings to 17.  I’ll continue to update as the emails come in.

And that’s what’s left in my trash box which goes back a week. And I don’t want to mark these as SPAM as legitimate offers might get filters.

So tonight… I get a call from a potential employer about a job I am actually really excited about. But there was this gnawing feeling in the back of my head. Something about it raised a red flag and I feel I am about to be sold an “extended warranty.” I got so paranoid, I started to regret my acceptance of an interview. Sweat started to bead on my forehead, the muscle in my right shoulder started to twitch…

Utimately, after checking around, I decided that I don’t need to worry. Lately, I’ve been more surprised by keeping an open mind, so now I am looking forward to my “interview” late next week. But in the meantime, if you need some life insurance… give me a call.

Ruby, SEO, and CSS… or how I spent my time off…

If you have been following along, you’ll know that I’ve been out of work since October.  I’ve been really busy, though.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with my children and my wife.  I’ve worked on projects around the house, (I made a bench out of scrap lumber), played around with technology (getting around to all those software updates I’ve been putting off), and I’ve been hitting the books.  Oh yeah, I’ve been doing some consulting on the side, too.

One of the things I really wanted to sink my teeth into was the whole Ruby on Rails things.   It’s been a while since I did any heavy lifting in Perl or even shell scripts for that matter.  I used to be into PHP before version five, but with most things, if you don’t use ’em, you loseWeight Exercise them.  Now, it’s not completely wasted.  I can open a script in Perl and PHP and quickly figure out what’s going on and make changes to suit my needs, but writing something from scratch really made the rusty gears turn and cobwebs fall away.

One of my biggest challenges is coming up with a project to do.  There are so many “solutions in a box” out there by fantastically smart people released as Open Source.   It’s an easy temptation not to reinvent the wheel.  Okay, so back to Ruby on Rails.  I bought a book, that turned out to be pretty crappy.  Except I didn’t know it was crappy, I thought I was too dense to grasp it.  Then I had a friend explain the whole MVC framework.  A light bulb went off and I began to understand concepts that I hadn’t seen before.  The book was still a crappy book, but now I had better direction in trying to find a book that I would personally find useful.  I did.  I found two both by the Pragmatic Programmer series. They got to me.  I understood it.  And while I lack sheer experience, I know enough to be dangerous.  I know where to look in a reference to do what I want.  I also know how to search for answers based on my questions, (sometime you got to know how to ask).

In a completely unrelated conversation with a new friend, we were talking about web design.  He said, “Oh yeah… we use CSS for everything.  You know, instead of using tables and frames like they used to in the old days.” Like in the “old days?”  Was I really living in the old days?  HTML was one of the first languages I had learned.  I think that was around version 3.2 and I had one of those “Teach Yourself HTML” books.  And while I wouldn’t consider myself a complete master, I had chops.  But… this comment made me rethink myself… What did he mean “instead of tables and frames?”  I stopped using frames years ago.. but tables?  I used them all the time.  What on earth did he mean?  I became obsessed.  Now, I knew about CSS and how to change colors and fonts and alignments… but what was this… what sort of wizardry was he talking about.

Seriously, I became obsessed.  I tried to read all I could on CSS.  I found more crappy books.  Nothing gave me the answers I wanted.  Until, that is, I found the O’reilly book and that changed my life.  I got it, it was clear… crazy and zen-like webpages polluted my mind.  I can’t wait to get into some hight-art CSS’ing.  I have found what I was looking for… the missing piece in my webdesign toolbox!

This is all very exciting for you, I am sure.   If you manage to stay on this page, then you are in for a real treat.  One day, when I was the bookstore, a guy came up to me and asked if I knew anything about the Internet.  I smiled sheepishly and said something like, “Yeah, I know a little about it…”  It turned out, he was a contractor, like a handyman-type of contractor and he had a website.  He was interested in SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  His “web guy” didn’t know anything about it, so he decided to take matters in his own hands.   We talked for a while and I tried to recommend him a book.  I found one, leafed through it and said it looked pretty good.  He asked if I had a card, and I said I didn’t and we parted ways.  I was worried I had given him a bum steer so I looked up the book on Amazon and I was surpised to see it was one of the highest rated books on SEO.  I felt good that I gave him some decent advice.

Since then, in my job search, I’ve seen posting after posting for “SEO Experts” so I figured this would be a skill I should learn about.  I was able to find the recommended book at the library and I just started reading it.  You know, I thought I knew a lot about that, but I was very happy to see  that I had lots more to learn.   I’ve enjoyed this book and am going to make some changes to my website, (as it is, I wasn’t far off.  When I view my stats for my website, I was surprised to see how highly I rank in the search engines for topics covered here!).   Am I an expert yet? No, I’m not.. but I think I know a heck of a lot more than a lot of people… read on…

Another thing I have been enjoying, is that I took over my son’s school’s website.  I didn’t do the initial design, which is very good and using CSS, but I did have to get up to speed on it and understand someone else’s code.  I got in the habit of using Subversion to keep whatever I am working on.  The few websites I have been working on, are all stored in my Subversion repository.   I make my edits and then upload my new pages, and then commit everything to subversion.

Now, to gain some additional features, we are moving the school’s website to a new hosting provider, and the new provider allows ssh/shell access.  I’ve used this before, but I had one of those “A-ha!” moments.  If I have shell on the server, why can’t I use subversion to publish my changes on the site?  Sure enough, it works!  It works like this:

  • I have a separate SVN server.  On my laptop, I keep a local copy.  I make all edits on my laptop, verify my changes, (since my laptop is LAM(R|P)), upload my changes to the remote site via FTP, and then commit my changes to SVN.

Since the new provider  has SSH access, I just realized my life is so much easier.

  • I make sure I have the latest revision on my laptop. I make my changes, test them, and commit to my SVN server.
  • On my new webhosting provider, I SSH in and change to my site’s DIR and run “svn update” and viola! Site updated!

Okay, I am sure there are a ton of people doing this and I didn’t make any sort of breakthrough discovery.  But, this IS cool, since I am midway in migrating between providers.  It does make my life easier.

I also got into CMS (content management systems).  I have committed to moving the schools website to a CMS system since so many parties need to updates specific sections.  But that’s another topic entirely and I am going to have to do some hand-holding on this one.

Oh, and I did mention I was doing some consulting.  I enjoy it.  I’ve made some people really happy with my contributions.  So much in fact, my wife and I are in the baby steps of starting a business.  I think for right now, it is on the back burner until I find a steady job; we need benefits.

My final point on is that my experience is somewhat unique.  I worked with some of the smartest and creative people I have ever met in my life.   I’ve been inspired by them and learned from them, but back in the day, I did some hump-busting, too.   In my time off, I’ve discovered that my sweet spot is some balance between creativity, technology, and problem solving.  That’s what I like.

And in case you are interested, I am listening to “Ian Brown” right now.  He’s great!