Real estate leads: 17 free (or almost free) lead gen ideas

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Looking for a source of free real estate leads? Join the club. Today, the cost of a real estate lead can vary greatly, ranging from $11.60 up to a whopping $1,200 per lead.

The good news is cold calling and door knocking are no longer the default options for free lead gen. From digital real estate advertising to laser-targeted emails to clients, there are now more ways than ever to generate cost-effective leads for your business.

Because the game of real estate? It’s changed.

The agents and teams that continue driving success — even in the face of shaky markets and increased lead costs — will be those who develop clear and creative strategies for finding, generating and nurturing a healthy database of sales-ready leads.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at some of the latest tried-and-tested ideas for generating real estate leads that result in real revenue. Some of these tactics require a small up-front investment, and all of them require you to put in the work to make them perform. But once they're set up, you can enjoy a steady stream of free real estate leads for the long run.


How to build streams of (almost) free real estate leads:

  1. Networking and referrals
  2. The neighbor’s Sphere of Influence
  3. Phone duty
  4. Real estate video marketing
  5. Reviews
  6. Blogging, SEO and inbound
  7. Niche sites
  8. Targeted postcards and mailers
  9. Open houses
  10. Wear your own swag
  11. For Sale By Owners (FSBOs)
  12. For Rent By Owners (FRBOs) and expired listings
  13. Social media humblebrag
  14. Instagram
  15. Circle prospecting
  16. Community events
  17. Become a community resource

1. Networking and referrals

Today 63% of sellers find their agent through a referral from a friend, neighbor, or relative — or use an agent they worked with before. 

With the right approach to nurturing your SOI, that agent can be you.

Emily Smith and her team at Wemert Group Realty in Orlando, Florida are living examples of the power of a strong past client and referrals strategy. 

“Many times our clients form great relationships with their agent and their Client Care Coordinator. We believe that if you go through an experience with someone on the buy side, and now you’re selling your house, being able to leverage those original relationships keeps trust and helps to care for our clients in the best of ways. This also leads to increased repeat referral business.”

The results speak for themselves. Emily and the team at Wemert Group Realty have been known to secure up to $283 million with a 40% repeat referral rate based on this shared philosophy.

63% of sellers find their agent through a referral from a friend, neighbor, or relative. – NAR

Whether you choose to partner up with another agent using a well-designed real estate referral fee agreement or simply buckle down and get serious about working your database like Emily and her team, networking and referrals will always be a reliable way to generate high-quality leads at no additional cost.

2. The neighbor’s Sphere of Influence

Everyone talks about taking advantage of your sphere of influence, but have you ever considered reverse engineering the sphere of influence of an entire neighborhood to get new listings?

Our friend Jared, leading real estate coach and founder of Jared James Enterprises has got the process completely nailed down. Here’s how he does it: 

“When your buyer looks at a property in a neighborhood but doesn't buy the property, statistically a new listing is going to come up in that neighborhood in the next 30 days and you've got what the potential seller wants...buyers.”

According to Jared, this is when you should send out a letter to the neighborhood and call the neighbors with the following message:

Hi (neighbor),

My name is (Agent Name) and I work with (Brokerage Name) and I just wanted to let you know that I showed your neighbor’s property over at (Address) the other day. 

Unfortunately it wasn't a perfect match for them but as I'm sure you are not surprised, they absolutely loved the neighborhood! 

What they are looking for is (describe just about every house in the neighborhood). 

Can you do me a favor? If you or anyone you know is even considering selling, could you please let me know right away? I may be able to sell your house without it ever even hitting the market.” 

This approach is both simple and effective. Jared even takes the process a step further by encouraging his real estate students to use the same template when they have a buyer looking for a house. 

“The student records a video that lets their audience know what the buyer is looking for but with a specific ask — reach out if the audience or anyone they know is considering selling, because they may be able to sell their house without it ever hitting the market. Then we have the student promote that video to the target town/city so that everyone sees it and reaches out to them if they are thinking of selling or if they know anyone that is.”

3. Phone duty

Sometimes old school is the best school.

Eric Bramlett, owner of Bramlett Residential knows a thing or two about using old-school methods in the new game of real estate. After trying out a Client Concierge and live call transfers with less than impressive results, one of his senior agents suggested they try good old-fashioned phone duty. 

“I'd never considered it because it seemed old school. I know that agents hate traditional phone duty because they have to sit in the office and answer the phone. One reason agents become agents is so that they're not chained to a desk.”

Eric had his doubts. But the results were undeniable.

“We found that people that call in want to talk with an agent right now. They don't want to talk to a receptionist, or a Client Concierge, they want to talk with a knowledgeable agent.” 

“Since we're immediately satisfying that need, we saw our conversions go through the roof. We were converting around 1/3 receptionist call-ins in the past. We're now converting almost 100% of the qualified inbound calls. It's been a massive success,” says Eric. 

With an outcome like that, it’s not surprising Eric and his agents are running with this new lead gen tactic.

“We set up a virtual phone duty that our agents sign up for. We have simple rules like ‘don't schedule an appointment’ and ‘pull over to talk if the call you take is a lead.’ We record all of the calls to identify opportunities for improvement.”

4. Real estate video marketing

Video real estate marketing is no longer a trend, it’s an expectation.

Fortunately for Christian Ross, Managing Broker at Engel & Völkers, she’s already been a huge advocate for real estate video content for years.

Back in 2009, Christian shot a video titled Why You Should Move to Atlanta that introduced her to a host of international clients who have each bought two to five properties from her over the years.

“I know everyone is saying it, but creating videos has given me huge ROI. I am intently focused on video production. The videos I created over five and ten years ago still pay dividends and they have over 70,000 views.” 

She also knows exactly how to leverage and repurpose her real estate video content for maximum ROI across every prospect and client touchpoint.

“I have already filmed over twenty videos with my videographer for me to put in my Follow Up Boss drip campaigns, channel, and throughout the client process.”

5. Reviews

Whether it’s booking a dinner reservation or planning our next vacation stay, the truth is — we all care what other people think.

Today 95% of homebuyers use online tools during their home search and with competition from other agents in your area rapidly increasing, having the right reviews — whether they be Google reviews, social media reviews, website testimonials or all of the above — are critical to capturing their attention.

Reviews aren’t just for looks. There are some very real conversion benefits too.

Baltimore agent Ron Howard and his team have more than 900 Zillow reviews and continue to actively build their library of client testimonials. Ron shared his step-by-step process for how he and his team hacked their way to the top of Zillow, by simply prioritizing reviews.

“We get multiple calls a day from our Zillow reviews. It creates the authority and the social proof to help people make decisions before they really get to know you. People competing in our market have around 200 reviews so to have 700+ it’s just like… boom.”

Even if you’re not looking to score free Zillow leads, reviews pay dividends in almost every real estate lead gen strategy. You can place them in your email signature, in key lead gen landing pages, underneath your real estate agent bio, or in key outreach emails to prospects.

“We just always thought it was important to have the social proof,” explains Ron. “A positive review creates the authority to help people make decisions before they really get to know you.”

No two ways about it, to attract quality leads who are ready and eager to work with you, you’ve got to put real estate agent reviews and testimonials at the forefront of your lead gen efforts.

6. Blogging, SEO and inbound

“Instead of an outbound call perspective, I went to an attraction-based model,” explains Brandon Grass, owner of OKGN Life based in the Okanagan region of British Columbia.

Brandon's three-part marketing system includes a deeply SEO-optimized real estate website supported by a clear inbound lead generation plan that brings him a steady stream of leads, without the endless cold calling. 

Here’s how Brandon’s approach breaks down:

  • He uses his real estate website as a resource center for homebuyers and sellers.
  • His YouTube channel features videos that tackle everything from relocating to the area to cost of living, and more.
  • A weekly email campaign supports all of the above while providing up-to-the-minute market data for leads and prospects.

While switching from a cold-calling centric approach to a more organic attraction-based marketing strategy does require you to put in some time upfront, Brandon sees it as a short-term effort that will yield long-term ROI.

“Where I’m coming from now and where real estate is going, rather than having a pay per click site where there’s 1,000 people registering, and I’m going to get two deals from that, I’m going to have 25 people registering throughout the year, and 15 of those people are going to buy or sell because they’ve reached out to me.”


7. Niche sites

Thanks to various changes in Google’s search algorithm, building a niche website is now another surefire approach to master your real estate SEO and rank higher on search engines than non-targeted sites. Best of all, it’s completely organic through and through. 

Ryan Rodenbeck, broker and owner of Spyglass Realty, is all for  transitioning from a general site to a niche site for lead generation. Here’s Ryan on using a niche site as a local guide:

“I bought the domain a couple of years ago. However, we started working on our organic channels last year. So, I hired a full-time content writer to write for Spyglass Realty, and as we started to gain enough traction and generate leads and a robust pipeline to Follow Up Boss, I decided to make the domain her side project.” 

By creating a local guide on all things Austin, Ryan’s little “side project” started attracting some seriously motivated leads.

“For our Spyglass Realty SEO leads, we're getting about 10-15 leads monthly. That’s not much but they are much more likely to convert.”

For anyone looking to move or relocate to Austin, Ryan’s new micro-site is a crucial resource. To start, you could enlist the help of your real estate virtual assistant to research keywords and create outlines or articles. Once you see the initial efforts pay off, you can start doubling your efforts.

“I’m working on getting organic leads by targeting topics like ‘rent Austin’, ‘Master Planned Communities’, and ‘Reasons to Move to Austin.’ These are terms we rank for on the Spyglass website. We’ll then retarget to landing pages that have property listings or other information about choosing a real estate agent.”

Between his epic knack for choosing the right marketing and systems, and his steadfast dedication to team culture, Ryan has set up his team of 20 agents to do roughly $4.2 million each.

8. Targeted postcards and mailers

We know there’s a lot of digital shiny object syndrome when it comes to modern real estate marketing, but when was the last time you connected with clients in a way they could actually touch and feel?

Renee Funk, co-founder of the top 1% team at Orlando-based The Funk Collection sees a 90% response rate from her database with magic moment cards.

“We have found the most ROI when we make the investment to those who already know us. So we’re postcarding a minimum of 12 times a year to our previous customers and sphere of influence.”

In the age of automated everything, keeping a focus on developing genuine connections via high-impact real estate postcards and mailers helps you deliver a personal touch that wins over more prospects with a lot less effort.

9. Open houses

Chances are, you’re already hosting plenty of open houses. But are you really maximizing their potential as a lead gen source?

Even in today’s digital age, 48% of all buyers still choose to attend an open house as part of their home search process. Make the most of this opportunity by optimizing your open house scripts and sign-in sheets to generate more free leads for your business.

You can grab free customizable open house scripts right here to kickstart the process. 

Once you’ve used your awesome new templates to increase your sign-ins, all you need to do is send the right open house follow-up scripts:

The ‘Keep you in the loop’ script:

“I’d love to keep you in the loop with any updates on this property and let you know when similar ones come on the market. I know it can be hard to stay current in such a hot market.”

The ‘open house prizewinner’ script:

“I’m going to be selecting one winner from everyone in attendance today to receive a [prize you’re giving away] and contacting the lucky winner via email, so be sure to sign in so you don’t miss out!”

The ‘ first-to-know open house’ script:

“Thank you for coming and I hope you enjoyed your tour! I would be happy to keep you informed on any updates about this property. Also, I met a couple other homeowners in the neighborhood today who are considering listing their home on the market soon. I’d love to stay in touch and make sure you’re the first to know about any new properties before they come onto the market.” 

10. Wear your own swag

Ever take every cushion off your couch hunting for your glasses, only to realize they're right on top of your head?

Sometimes the best answers are hidden in plain sight.

"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.”

Coach Bernice Ross encourages agents to get their attention-grabbing slogan or real estate logo everywhere and anywhere prospects can see it. “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."

Branded pens and t-shirts aren’t just for fun. By putting your real estate brand front-and-center, you can generate some seriously fun conversations that lead to long lasting relationships.

11. For Sale By Owners (FSBOs)

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.

If your goal is to generate more free listing leads, you already know which camp you need to fall into.

And that’s exactly where you’ll find top Inman real estate coach Mike Stott of Your Coaching Matters. 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 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. 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.

12. For Rent By Owners (FRBOs) and expired listings

Leveraging FSBOs, FRBOs and expired listings are all classic (and classically overlooked!) ways to bring in free leads. 

But sometimes what matters most isn't which lead source you choose, it’s how you choose to approach those leads. Another tip from Mike Stott when approaching any of these types of leads is to simply ask questions:

"Ask questions - How can I help your business? What does your perfect client look like? Focus on providing service and coming from a spirit of contribution - the leads will come."

The truth is, these prospects 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 real estate 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.

With the right real estate CRM, you can use integrations with tools like Mojo you can easily generate lists of FSBOs and expired listings, while leveraging all the follow-up automations you need to keep in touch until they’re ready to make a move.

13. Social media humblebrag

You didn't think we were going to leave social media off the list, did you?

Depending on how you approach it, real estate social media marketing can either be a major time drain or a brilliant way of nurturing your connections. 

Salt Lake City agent and Founder of Search Salt Lake Dustin Brohm is an ace at working social media for free leads. Here's his advice for using your social media to nurture your SOI without feeling sleazy about it:

"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.”

He believes that, “Done tactfully, those humblebrags help your network see that you’re good at what you do."

So go ahead and toot your own horn from time to time. When the occasional humblebrag is supported by a steady stream of valuable social content, it’s sure to resonate with the leads in your database and bring more of those handraisers out into the open.

14. Instagram

Speaking of social media, John Selby, Team Leader of San Diego-based The Selby Team loves the ‘gram. He uses Instagram as one of his most effective free lead gen sources.

“It’s all organic. Our posts are more lifestyle posts and less about sales. We want people to follow us because they like our post then reach out to us for help because they like our brand and how we do things. It’s been working well.”

And that’s exactly what happens.

Leads come in from the team's posts and stories. From there, John and his agents follow up via direct message (DM) to connect and convert.

It’s easy, organic and extremely cost-effective. 

15. Circle prospecting

According to Dale Archdekin, the thing most agents get wrong about circle prospecting for real estate is that it’s not about generating an immediate transaction. 

“Your goal is to develop a long term relationship so that when it comes time for them to sell their home, people in that area think of you first. Of course, you always want to go ahead and ask for their business first, but your job isn’t done if they say they’re not ready to buy or sell in the near future.”

While putting up real estate signs and stuffing flyers into mailboxes could technically qualify as circle prospecting — actively cold calling the surrounding homeowners in a client’s area is a much more effective definition when it comes to actively generating more free leads. 

Before you get started with circle prospecting, Dale recommends to take the time to:

  • Find the right phone numbers
  • Adjust your right mindset
  • Create an effective real estate script
  • Plan your follow-up

“Let the conversation flow, match their intensity and speaking speed, and just be friendly and find out about their current situation. Keep it simple. Even if they’re not interested in selling in the near future, ask them if you can send them emails once in a while about real estate conditions and homes being bought and sold in their area. Get them in your funnel.”


16. Community events

“If you focus on service like we do, the volume’s gonna come,” says Ron Howard, who has experience closing 470+ transactions with zero hard-sell tactics. 

The broker/owner of Baltimore-based Greatest Moves Team reached the top 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.”

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 real estate businesses of any size.

All of Ron’s agents must be involved in at least one non-profit. Ron himself has been on the board of five. Rather than merely handing out their real estate business cards, the agents on Ron’s team build their spheres through acts of 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.”

17. Become a community resource

Gary Ashton is the owner and CEO of the #1 RE/MAX Team in the world.

He’s also the guy that 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.

When it comes to luxury properties, 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."

What’s the best source of real estate leads? The right systems let you decide

At the end of the day, if you try to cold call every lead and attend every local bake sale, you'll only end up spreading yourself thin. 

Instead, focus on the free lead gen activities that can be easily integrated into your current lead management process. From there, you can let your system work its magic to get more out of every action you take, even when you’re off the clock.


Learn how to drive a more authentic and personalized experience for prospects in our drip email guide.

Learn how to drive a more authentic and personalized experience for prospects in our drip email guide.

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