Ask your average Realtor what the best source of free leads is and you'll probably hear one of two replies:
But let's be real. In this day and age, those aren't the only methods to choose from. (And honestly, they may not work as well as they once did.
We asked leading agents and real estate coaches for their most reliable, most overlooked and craziest ideas for free lead generation with only one condition: That they worked.
Here are 17 tried and tested ideas for generating free leads that actually result in revenue.
According to the NAR, 64% of sellers found their agent through a referral from a friend, neighbor, or relative — or used an agent they had worked with before to buy or sell a home.
We asked one of Inman's top 25 best real estate coaches and CEO of BrokerageUP!, Bernice Ross what the #1 most reliable source of free leads for her clients is, and sure enough, referrals were at the top of her list.
Here's what Bernice had to say about it:
"Referrals cost you nothing—all you have to do is to stay connected with the people you know and make sure that you’re top of mind when they or someone they know decide to transact."
What could be easier (or cheaper!) than that, right?
Donna Stott of Your Coaching Matters agrees, "Repeat and no fee referrals is always the most profitable and reliable. All our clients generate 50-85% of their biz from this source. Their average income in 2017 was $353K."
Not too shabby, right?
This source of free leads obviously works best for agents with a solid list of past clients, but there's absolutely no reason why any agent who's committed to building a strong SOI can't start taking of advantage of referrals right here, right now—no matter how new they are.
Reviews are the new word of mouth, especially for millennials.
In fact, according to Consumerist, almost 70% of consumers check online reviews before making a purchase. Justin Seeby of the Graham Seeby Group has experienced the power of reviews firsthand.
The Seeby Group's review strategy has resulted in 100 transactions in 2016, and countless free leads.
But just like everything else, it's all about your level of commitment. Here's Justin on how and why reviews work for them.
"Millennials make up a third of the buying population. A millennial goes to 8 to 12 different sites before they pick up the phone and talk to an agent. What do they do when they get 8 to 12 of those sites? They read the reviews.
I watch people coming to my site in the analytics — they log in, and then they go to the review page and read every one of my agents reviews before they even pick up the phone and call. We start by educating agents that this is something that has to be forefront of their minds. The conversation on getting reviews starts on day one when you meet the client."
If you're targeting millennial buyers, or if you just want to set up a truly future-proof system for generating free leads, check out our detailed interview with Justin.
"One of the best decisions I ever made in my real estate career was to start a real estate blog," says Bill Gassett, RE/MAX Executive Realty.
Blogging is one of those free lead gen unicorns. You want to believe in them, but you're just not convinced. With blogging, your intention and commitment are everything.
Here's Bill on how and why he started his blog, Maximum Real Estate Exposure.
"Maximum Real Estate Exposure was designed to provide a wealth of knowledge to buyers and sellers to help make sound business decisions. Buyers and sellers love working with knowledgeable real estate agents. By having a recognizable blog you are able to readily show off your expertise to those who are buying or selling a home. Over the years my blog has brought a substantial amount of yearly business. In fact it is one of my top lead generators."
A blog as a top lead generator, really? Really.
That is, IF you have the drive to stick with it. As Bill himself will tell you, "Real Estate blogging is certainly not for everyone."
If you enjoy researching and writing about news and events in your community, and you can make time to post at least once per week, blogging can become a true free lead gen machine for your real estate business.
"Like anything else, it takes time and dedication. It is not a magic bullet that will bring significant amounts of business unless you put in the effort. This means you need to have exceptionally good content combined with a strong grasp of both search engine optimization, as well as solid social media promotion. Without proper digital marketing your blog will be lost in the shuffle," says Bill.
Alternatively, you could try a tool like Keeping Current Matters or CityBlast that automatically publishes blog and email content, creates downloadable guides and posts personalized updates on your social media accounts for a set monthly fee.
Another option is to hire a real estate VA with marketing or blogging experience or look for an affordable content writer and marketer on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. You'll still need to set aside time to generate relevant content ideas, proofread and promote the work but a great freelancer can significantly cut down the time you spend researching and writing, making it way easier to stick to a consistent publishing schedule.
Last but definitely not least, if you're determined to make a go of blogging, make sure you set up a drip campaign to capture and nurture any leads that come in via the blog.
Brandon Grass is a cold-calling machine.
With only two-and-a-half years of real estate experience, he's already called over 25,000 leads — resulting in 80 listings appointments in 6 months.
Back up the cold outreach with one of the warmest and most personal forms of marketing out there: the Thank You Card.
"You know, as a new agent you're blindsided by a million other things. You just need to talk to a lot of people and get over the fear of cold calling. I've had over 25,000 calls so far this year and only one guy told me where to go, and not a very nice way. You move on. Because you also get so many people that love that you called and genuinely want or need something. My biggest listing this year came from a cold cold I made on January 23rd. She initially said, 'No, we're not interested.' I went by and dropped off a simple thank you card and that changed everything."
In the age of automated everything, Brandon’s all about keeping the personal touch. And at $1 per card, the ROI on this lead source can’t be beat.
"I just write a handwritten thank you card like, 'Hey Jill, great talking to you. Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to the opportunity to work with you.' And then I put my business card in there and seal it up,” says Brandon.
Yes, you read that right.
David Albanese, Broker/Owner, Albanese Realty has a policy: Never take a lead for granted.
He treats every lead like a qualified lead — and that includes leads from Craigslist.
"My most reliable source of free leads has been another source that most agents or people sometimes no longer feel is relevant or also frowned upon or thought of not to be the savviest... Craigslist. We have consistently been posting on craigslist for several years and receive countless leads every week from this source that is thought of as undesirable."
We were just as surprised as you likely are to find out that Craigslist can bring in a steady source of free leads, but some agents absolutely swear by it proving that the free lead generation strategy that works best, is always the one you can stick with.
But Craigslist can be quite the can of worms and it's important to know what to look out for. If you're just getting started sourcing free leads from Craigslist, check out Tyler Zey's complete guide on how to do it right.
Real estate's Grandaddy of Lead Conversion, Mitch Ribak is a total open house pro. We asked Mitch why agents tend to overlook open houses as a source of free leads.
Here's his reply:
"I think mainly because most agents have been programmed to think that it’s a waste of time. Like all marketing, if they do one and don’t get much out of it, they generally fall into that bucket. To me, it’s the easiest and least expensive way to get people in front of you. However, you need to have a system like everything else to make it profitable."
Systems = profits? We couldn't agree more.
Let's dive a little deeper into Mitch's winning system. Here's his best tip for bringing in free leads via open houses.
"I don’t advertise my open houses. I prefer to use lots of signs. This way if someone walks into my open house and they would like to look at property, I just close the door. You need to make sure you have every possible cross street covered with an open house sign. The more signs the better. We did a test on this last because my Agents didn’t believe me. We had 9 people come to our open house that day and 8 were from the signs."
How much business have you closed from open house leads?
In his first year in business, Mitch closed 36 sales — 28 of those deals came from open houses.
"I never stopped doing them even when I was selling 80 homes a year. It was the best and most 'right now' lead generation for me. My agents that follow my systems for open houses do great…but then they get busy and they forget how they got their business," says Mitch.
Clearly open houses is one of many free lead gen strategies that really works. IF you're able to stay focused and stick with it that is.
Want more info on how to master open houses like Mitch? Check out his free webinar video.
There's a little known content marketing tip that only the best of bloggers are known to take advantage of: Community Pages.
Bill Gassett has been using local community real estate pages consistently to become known as one of the leading go-to Realtors in his area and bring in approximately 6 to 10 clients per year. "More often than not any buyer looking to move into a new area is going to do some fairly extensive research. By setting up community pages on your website YOU become the local go to expert," he says.
Here's what makes a great community page according to Bill:
"Community pages are filled with information buyers would love to know about. Things like the quality of the schools, area attractions such as lakes and parks. Where do people do their shopping, etc. They can be filled with an endless amount of information. The best community pages are crazy detailed! Here is an example of a community page for Framingham Massachusetts. Notice how there is information on the local real estate market along with all of the best features of why someone would want to live in Framingham or for that matter buy a home here."
These kind of pages should be optimized so they come up in search for things like “Realtors Framingham Massachusetts” and “Top Real Estate agents Framingham”. Consumers who are searching in Google with terms like these are looking to hire an agent immediately!
Real estate pros like Canadian broker, Bryan Jaskolka know the power of an untapped online community like Quora.
As one of the top answerers for all things real estate, he’s getting his name, face and web link in front of thousands of online buyers every day.
With over 200 million monthly unique visitors, Quora’s Q&A entries regularly show up on Google’s page 1, and some are re-published by major sites like Forbes and Inc.
Plus, it’s completely free.
All you need is an email address and you’re in. Start by looking for questions that have been asked repeatedly. If a question has been asked a few times, chances are the answers (both on Quora and Google) aren’t that great.
Ever take every cushion off your couch hunting for your glasses, only to realize they're on top of your head?
Sometimes the most obvious things are hidden in plain sight.
Both Donna Stott and Bernice Ross agree: The simple name badge is one of those things.
Here's a great tip and real-world story from Bernice:
"An often overlooked way to generate leads is to wear your name badge or company wear such as a hat or polo shirt. When people ask, 'Oh, you’re in real estate—how’s the market?' Be prepared with a concise answer about how much inventory is on the market, how much prices are increasing or declining, and offer to send them a free report on their property. Agents can use RPR to gather this data quickly and of course, you need their contact information to send them the report. One woman who worked for Coldwell Banker got a CB t-shirt for her dog — people constantly stopped to talk about real estate with her."
If you get an extra one for your dog, even better!
There are those who shake their fists at FSBOs and there are those who go out and convert them into free sources of multiple millions in revenue.
You can guess which group top Inman real estate coach and the other half of Your Coaching Matters, Mike Stott belongs to. Mike points to FSBOs as one of the best and most reliable sources of free leads out there. "Literally millions in commissions!" can be made according to Mike.
The trick as usual is to start the conversation by listening and offering some value. Remember, there is a good chance this seller has been burned by an agent before, and that's why they're attempting to go it alone.
Start the conversation by asking why they're selling. Take time to listen, get to know their motivations and build a personal connection. Offer advice or insight on the market wherever relevant. Once you feel like you've truly heard them and offered them some genuinely helpful info, ask if they want any help finding a buyer.
They might turn you down flat the first time. That's ok. Ask if you can check back in on them in a few weeks then add them to your CRM for simple, friendly follow up. Sometimes it can take a few quiet weeks (or months) in the market before they come around to the idea of working with you.
For rent by owners, FSBOs, calling expireds and nurturing your SOI are all classic (and classically overlooked!) ways to bring in tons of free leads.
But sometimes what matters most isn't which lead source you choose, but how you choose to approach those leads.
According to real estate coach Mike Stott the best way to bring in more free leads is to simply:
"Ask questions - How can I help your business? What does your perfect client look like?"
Mike advises his agents to "Focus on providing service and coming from a spirit of contribution - the leads will come."
As we mentioned, Broker/Owner David Albanese isn't afraid to take free leads where he can find them, including local swap meets and flea markets.
David points out that, "The craziest ideas for lead generation are sometimes the least wanted or the most frowned upon or things that people might thing don't work. We do frequent swap meets and flea markets. It totally works even though many agents feel it's an undesirable type of method."
David also brings in free leads via Zillow FSBO, calling expired listings and of course, Craigslist but there's something to be said for getting out there and networking with real people.
Remember, when it comes to free lead gen, it doesn't matter what's popular. All that matters is that it works for your unique real estate business.
You didn't think we were going to leave social media off the list, did you?
Depending on how you approach it, social media can either be a major time suck or a brilliant way of nurturing your connections.
Salt Lake City Realtor® and Founder of Search Salt Lake, Dustin Brohm is an ace at working social media for free leads (yes, even Snapchat).
Here's his awesome advice for using your social media to nurture your SOI without feeling salesy or sleazy:
"Your sphere of influence is still an extremely overlooked source of business. The key is to not bombard your network with boring, worthless “asks” for business. Instead, you should simply be reminding your network that you’re a real estate agent, and that you’re a local expert. Posting on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat is a great way to do that, as long as you’re providing something of value to your network (education, humor, etc), along with the occasional humblebrag if you receive an award, or some recognition for something. I’m talking maybe once a month, or less. But if done tactfully, those humblebrags help your network see that you’re good at what you do."
You heard it from the pro. Relax and have fun on social media. It's the best way to bring in free leads.
While we're not about to retract that last piece of advice, sometimes it does pay off to go a little rogue with your marketing.
Here's a great story from coach, Bernice Ross:
"The most innovative idea I ever heard came from Frances Flynn Thorsen. She had a house that was zoned for commercial that was located in an area where there were a lot of attorneys. She created a marketing piece that looked as if the attorney she was sending it to was being served in a lawsuit. The strategy generated leads and she sold the property."
Sometimes it pays to think outside the box (or, zone in this case) and do what you've got to do to grab the attention of your local market. Don't be afraid to get creative.
The level of "craziness" of this free lead gen idea is debatable.
Some die-hards in Facebook groups will claim this is the best way to get free leads, but you have to wonder, do they actually get out there and do it?
According to coach Donna Stott, they should.
Here's her tip:
"Knock on doors in a neighborhood where you have a qualified buyer that wants to buy and say'“Quick question: do you want to sell your house? My buyer wants to buy here. Not sure? Talk to the Family and call me tomorrow. Yes. It worked."
Sometimes you just never get, until you ask. While it may seem old school, knocking on doors is still a proven way to get free leads. If you've got the guts, go for it.
“If you focus on service like we do, the volume’s gonna come.”
Ron Howard closed 470+ transactions with zero hard-sell tactics.
The broker/owner of Baltimore-based Ron Howard & Associates reached the #1 spot in his market, simply by connecting with the community.
“Serving the community and throwing great social events creates an amazing amount of people that want to reciprocate by working with you,” says Ron.
Granted, not all agents and teams will be able to throw the kind of epic events Ron and his team do, but the fundamentals can be applied to any real estate business of any size.
All of Ron’s agents have to be involved in at least one non-profit. Ron himself has been on the board of 5. Rather than passing out business cards, the agents on Ron’s team build their spheres through charity and service.
“You’re meeting people in your community who want to do good. It’s not really service to transaction, it’s service to relationship. We want to build a network that people actually want to be a part of,” he explains.
In Ron’s view, you shouldn’t have to chase your SOI, you just have to build great relationships.
Gary Ashton is the Owner and CEO of the #1 RE/MAX Team in Tennessee and the world.
He’s also the guy people like big name bankers, pro sports coaches and members of The Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Soccer Club go to for advice on the best local schools, restaurants and of course, real estate.
So, yeah. When it comes to luxury real estate, Gary knows his stuff.
But he didn’t get there overnight. Gary’s massive success in luxury real estate came from his commitment to becoming THE go-to expert in his community.
"As real estate develops, knowledge is what makes agents more valuable to buyers. Buyers don't want to spend time learning. As an agent, you're the catalyst — the connector between the buyer and their new community. It's your job to open that door and make it as easy as possible for them to walk through it."
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
You've now got a ton of great ideas for generating free real estate leads. But wait!
Before you run off, we want to give you one last piece of advice. When done right free lead gen can bring in a ton of revenue for your real estate business, but if you go into it with the wrong intention, it can backfire horribly.
Here's a story from Broker/Owner Dustin Brohm about a free lead gen idea that totally bombed:
(Go ahead, lean in.)
"I’m about to tell you about a terrible idea for lead gen. TERRIBLE!
No, I did not do this personally, but know someone who did.
Don’t do this: Go to a friends wedding, and “sponsor” the gift bags for guests… and put your damn business cards, branded pens, and other absurd, unimpressive swag in the gift bags! Do not put out signs around the gift bag table promoting you and your business.
Why not? Well, how would you like it if you went to a wedding and were bombarded with advertisements from some random business? You’re hijacking your friends wedding in an effort to get more business. But what you’re really doing is pissing people off and ensuring that they’d never hire you in a million years. How tacky and inappropriate. Hell, next time maybe you should sponsor the punch bowl at a funeral!"
Leads can get pricey and real estate is a high pressure business, but the moral of this story is to ALWAYS check yourself before attempting to grab up some free leads.
These leads might not cost money, but you better be giving something meaningful and valuable in return.
It's a point coach Donna Stott emphasizes to all her clients, "Most reliable source [of free leads] for our clients is giving great service and then implementing a great Database/CRM Plan with regular contact in a variety of ways."
According to Donna, it all starts with great service.
Here are a few more ideas of free lead gen must-have and nice-to-haves. How many of these are you already using? Which ones would be the easiest to integrate with your current lead management system?
Partner with a lender and attorney
Use landing pages + Drip email sequence
Volunteer, speak at, or attend free community events
Start a blog
Contribute to articles, podcasts and publications
Connect on social media
At the end of the day, if you try to attend every bake sale and monthly meetup in your county, you'll only end up spreading yourself too thin.
No matter how crazy or uncommon, focus on the free lead gen activities that can be easily integrated into your current lead management system.
From there, all you really need is a fresh stack of business cards.