This is episode #356, and my guest today is Brian Sapp, a probate investing expert. Today we talk about anything and everything related to real estate investing with probate leads, including how to find your list of leads, how to market to those leads, and how to talk to sellers.
There are a few niche lists that most successful real estate investors market to….but they often don’t talk about it publically. But today…we pull back the curtain to teach you everything you need to know about probate leads!
Mike: This is the flipnerd.com Expert Real Estate Investing Show, the show for real estate investors, whether you’re a veteran or brand new. I’m your host, Mike Hambright and each week I bring you a new expert guest that will share their knowledge and lessons with you. If you’re excited about real estate investing, believe in personal responsibility and taking control of your life and financial destiny, you’re in the right place.
This is episode number 356 and my guest today is Brian Sapp, a probate investing expert. Today we talk about anything and everything related to real estate investing with probate leads, including how to find your list of leads, how to market to those leads and how to talk to sellers. Now, there are a few niche lists that most successful real estate investors market to, but they often don’t like to talk about it publicly. Well, today, we pull back the curtain and teach you everything you need to know about getting started with probate leads. Please help me welcome Brian Sapp to the show.
Brian, welcome to the show, my friend.
Brian: Thanks, Mike. Thanks for having me. Great to be on.
Mike: Yeah. Glad to have you here. We’re in a mastermind group together. We’ve known each other for probably, I guess, about a year or so now.
Brian: Yeah, [inaudible 00:01:16]. Yeah.
Mike: Yeah. So, I’m excited to talk to you about probate leads. I said that I’ve been a big believe in probate leads and have used them for many years. As we were kind of talking about it before the show, we have talked about probate leads on the show before, but it’s been quite a while. So, considering how important they are to your business and a lot of investors’ businesses, I’m excited to talk about it today.
Brian: Yeah. Absolutely.
Mike: Yeah. So, before we get started, why don’t you tell us your background and what you did before real estate investing and how you got into real estate investing.
Brian: Yeah. Sure. So, before I got into real estate investing, I was a project manager for a commercial construction company. So we did anything from office space to build little league baseball fields. I came across a real estate investing course in 2012. That was Fortune Builders, actually, with Pat Precourt. He was one of my first coaches. I started with that course and quit my job in June 2013 and I’ve been an investor full-time ever since.
Mike: Awesome. And what allowed you to go from . . . I think a lot of investors face this, going from kind of part-time to going all in. Tell us how you were able to make that decision.
Brian: That’s a great question, Mike. I knew that construction really wasn’t the career choice for me. I’d been doing it for about eight or nine years before I quit my job. I liked it but it’s not something I really loved and wanted to continue to pursue throughout the rest of my life. What really got me on the path to real estate investing was the idea of just owning your own business and having that sort of freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want.
Obviously, it doesn’t happen at first when you first start out, but as you kind of grow and learn and get more revenue, then you can actually expand and have other people do some of the work for you. So you can have that freedom you’ve kind of always dreamt about. That was really the kind of driving force for me was that idea of just having financial and just freedom and just have a lot of independence.
Mike: Right. You kind of eased out. You were doing some deals part-time and that helped grease the skids, as they say.
Brian: Well, back when I had my full-time job, I was working about 60 hours a week and trying to do real estate at the same time. I was doing about 10, maybe 15, 20 hours a week in real estate investing for about a year or so. That’s what really laid the foundation for me to be able to quit my job and about a year after, I took my first real estate investing course. But it was a lot of hard work along the way. It wasn’t easy. As you know, there’s no one path you can follow within real estate investment. There’s a lot of different paths you can take.
Brian: For me, it was really honing in and focusing on one path and one purchasing and one marketing strategy as opposed to like building a whole bunch of path bridges. Learning that lesson was pretty difficult, but I was able for me to get me to where I wanted to be and quit my job.
Mike: Yeah. So you referenced kind of one marketing strategy or you’ve got to start somewhere, right? That’s your key.
Mike: So we’re going to talk all about probates today. How did you decide or how long did it take you to decide that probates was going to be your primary–it is your primary focuses, would you say? Is that true?
Brian: Yeah, correct. More than half of our deals are probate deals that we close. I got into probate investing from a fellow investor from of mine. He was kind of helping me out along the way. He was doing probate and I asked him, “What the heck is that? I don’t even know what that term means.” He kind of explained the process to me and I kind of took it from there. That was right around I want to say March or April of 2013 when I first started learning about probate and learning how to capture the leads and market to them and really that’s kind of how I got started with that little niche area.
Mike: Yeah. Awesome. So years of lessons learned and you’re going to share it all with us in about a half hour today. Awesome.
Brian: I hope so.
Mike: So tell us, what are probates? Let’s start from scratch. We know what they are. A lot of people listening probably know what they are. Some people need a refresher. Some people have no idea. What is that? How would you define what that means?
Brian: Sure. The basic fundamental thing for probate is probate is just proving the validity of a will. So, when a person passes away, the court needs to justify who is going to be in charge of the estate. The probate is proving who the executor is going to be, whether or not they can be qualified and whether they can be in charge of the estate. That’s really what the probate process is. It’s the court being able to prove that the estate can be taken care of by the executor through the court process.
Mike: Okay. Let’s talk about this. So one question that’s common or commonly a misconception is just because somebody dies doesn’t necessarily mean . . . first off, it doesn’t mean there’s real estate involved, obviously.
Brian: That’s correct.
Mike: And then even if there is real estate involved, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be for sale, right?
Mike: If something were to happen to me, I don’t think my wife would sell our house.
Brian: Yes. Absolutely.
Mike: So maybe explain some misconceptions about how a death turns into–I don’t mean this in a negative way or to sound crude–but an opportunity for real estate investors.
Brian: Sure. So, when a person passes away, they either have a will or they don’t. That’s called being intestate or testate. So, to go back to what I was talking about earlier, the court has to prove the validity of the will if there is one and if there isn’t one, then they need to provide someone who can be in charge of the estate. So the opportunity for real estate investors lies within contacting the executors and who is the person in charge of the estate. Now, like Mike said, sometimes there is real estate involved and sometimes there isn’t. A probate case can include a car, a watch, something other than a piece of real estate.
Brian: Normally, when you go through the court documents, you can figure out whether there’s real estate involved. That is done by looking at the few different types of documents. There’s the opportunity for real estate investors to find those leads because they are leads, they are free, for the most part, free to go and walk in and they’re available to the public because there’s public information. Now, some courts do charge a monthly subscription fee or a print fee, but for the most part, they’re really easily accessible leads.
Mike: Yeah. I’m sure you probably know this as well as anybody, that that differs quite a bit from state to state or county to county. It can.
Mike: I’ve heard of some places in the Northeast that you literally have to be a family member to access the file. I know where I’m at in Texas, they’re not nearly as hard to get that, for sure. I think it probably differs from county to county.
Brian: It does, yes. In fact, we pull the lease from eight different counties in and around the DC area and each county is different. We’re in, like I said, it’s eight different counties and eight different counties do eight different things. When you go to the courthouse, it’s trying to figure out exactly how the leads are recorded and how you can pull the leads from their list.
Mike: Right. So let’s talk about how to get the list. You talked a little bit about going into the courthouse. There are easy ways and there are hard ways. There are probably accurate ways and less accurate ways. Maybe talk about different ways that you can get access to that data.
Brian: Sure. The easiest thing to do is Google probate access in your area. So, for example, I live in Alexandria, Virginia. So, all I would Google is probate access and Alexandria, Virginia. Then what’s probably going to show up is the clerk of the circuit court and the probate office. So, you just want to call them and see how the leads are recorded and how you can obtain access to them.
You want to be perfectly up front with the person you’re dealing with and let them know you’re trying to contact the executors in order to potentially buy the house from them. Again, it’s public knowledge. You’re not doing anything illegal. You’re really just contacting the probate office and clerk of the circuit court and figuring out exactly how the leads are recorded in each individual county.
Mike: Okay. And in your experience, when you pull them yourself, do they typically have a master list based on time, like these are the leads for the month of May or June?
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And in your experience, when you pull them yourself, do they typically have a master list based on time, like these are the leads for the month of May or June?
Brian: Yes. That’s correct. Each individual county is different. But for the most part, what they do have is a master list you can pull. So, for example, the month of May, you can pull all the leads that have real estate involved within the month of May. Now, there are certain documents we’ve found that are kind of the bread and butter. Those are the inventory lists. That should tell you exactly what is involved within the probate case, more specifically whether or not there’s real estate involved. If there isn’t real estate involved, you don’t want to contact those types of leads.
Mike: Right. It’s a waste of your marketing dollars, right?
Brian: It is. It’s a waste of your time and money. When I first started doing this, I mailed everyone on the list. As I kind of got a little more experience and I was able to narrow this down and understand exactly how the leads are recorded and now really waste my marketing dollars.
Mike: Yeah. So, if you don’t want to go out and physically do this yourself or you can’t, you don’t have the time for it, there are ways to buy lists, right? I’ve used a source. You mentioned one before we started the show today. There are options out there for just acquiring that information, right?
Brian: There are. Yes. There’s US Probate Leads and there’s also Postal Impact. For example, if you can’t or don’t have the time to figure out exactly how the leads are recorded, those services will most certainly help you. They’re a little bit more expensive than going out to the courthouse yourself or hiring a VA to maybe scrape the leads online, which is what we do for Virginia and Maryland because in DC, you still have to go to the physical courthouse. I actually pay a lady, her name is Brandy, she goes down to the courthouse to DC every Monday to scrape all those leads for us and provide us the list.
Mike: Yeah. That’s interesting. You’re able to have a VA access this information online?
Brian: Yes, correct.
Mike: That’s awesome. So would you say with that said, you can get the leads yourself or you can go obviously just buy them. I happen to know because I’ve used US Probate Leads for a long time, that I just get a spreadsheet. So it’s kind of like here’s a spreadsheet, done. Now, one thing I’m not certain on, as I think I probably get all probate leads, whether they have real estate or not, I could be wasting a lot of money in that regard because I don’t think that they are differentiating what property is involved, necessarily.
Brian: Yeah. I’ve never used US Probate Leads, but I know a lot of people have with great success. I’m not exactly sure the level of detail they give you, but yeah, it’s definitely a good option for people that can’t get access to those leads.
Mike: Right. So why do you pull it yourself? It sounds like if you have some VAs do it online, there are probably some cost savings. But other than costs, let’s say, because obviously it’s a lot more work to physically do it yourself. What are the pros and cons of doing it yourself versus not, let’s say?
Brian: Yeah. Great question, Mike. The reason that we do it ourselves for the most part is that we know exactly the steps in order to get the information that we want at every single courthouse that we’re trying to get the lead from. That’s a pro for us. The con is that if we were to hire an outside source, like you were saying earlier, we might get leads that do not have real estate involved. That might be a waste of our marketing dollars. When I first started doing it myself, I kind of built a system of us scraping the leads online and making training videos for our virtual assistant so they could do it for us. That’s a pro to me because I know that the leads that we’re getting have real estate involved.
Mike: Yeah. And with everything, you’ve got to build a process for, “This is what we do the first day of the month.” Are you typically gathering data once per month? Is that your kind of cycle? How do you manage that?
Brian: We do it every week. We’ve gone through a couple different types of systems. We kind of always tweak it a little bit. What I used to do was do it once a month. What I kind of realized is that we are missing out on some opportunities there. So now we just do the leads once every week. We’re in a large enough area that we have about 100 leads a week that we can scrape and just upload to our direct mail list.
What we do is we wait a month in order to mail to our executor list because one, we don’t want to . . . when someone is going through a probate process, they’re going through a really difficult situation. We don’t want to be known as kind of the sleazy real estate investor that’s trying to just get their house for pennies on the dollar. So we don’t want to have that sort of stigma attached to our company.
Brian: The second reason is that if a person goes down to a court house doing and assigns themselves as the executor and some courthouses, it takes up to a few weeks in order for them to be qualified. So, it doesn’t really make any sense for us to mail the leads right when we get them, for those two reasons.
Mike: Sure. Let’s talk about marketing to probate leads. What do you do differently than other lists, let’s say tax delinquent lists or equity or absentee owner lists, things like that. What do you differently or what would you advise people to do differently for probate leads, specifically?
Brian: Great question, Mike. When we first started mailing to probate leads, we used to use a lot of the handwritten yellow letters. I can’t tell you how many angry phone calls I got from that type of marketing. I think that probate is really kind of specific and it’s really kind of a touchy subject because someone has passed away. You’re trying to contact either a friend or a family member and they’re kind of grieving period. I think that a yellow letter comes across a little maybe unprofessional. I think that really strikes a nerve with some people. So we had a lot of angry phone calls.
Brian: So now what we do is our letter is very formal. We don’t say, “Sorry for your loss,” or offer any condolences. We do say, “We’re interested in purchasing your inherited property.” What we found is through those angry phone calls, a lot of people were saying, “Why are you offering your condolences. You don’t know me.” That gave me a little hint that we should probably stop doing that type of marketing.
Brian: So now our company’s letterhead is on it. It’s very formal. I think that responds a lot better to a person going through probate because it gives off the impression that we’re a professional company that is wanting to help the people going through that process.
Mike: It sounds like you do reference that there was a probate situation or inheritance situation.
Mike: Yeah. I know people and me to, for simplicity reasons, I’m definitely not saying this is right or wrong, like we tended to just send a similar postcard to what we send to other leads and it’s like coincidentally, we’re looking to buy houses in your neighborhood without necessarily knowing that. I’m not saying that’s the best approach for sure. But you can probably argue that either way, for sure.
Brian: Yeah. For me, it was just the better decision to switch to a more formal letter.
Brian: That might be right for some people. It might be wrong for other people. What we also do at the bottom is we always say, “P.S. Your information was received via public record,” so they know exactly how or why we’re contacting them.
Mike: Right. That’s good. Yeah. Talk about the cycle. Let’s say you get about 100 probate leads, you say per week or per month?
Brian: About 100 per week, yeah.
Mike: 100 per week. Let’s say you get 400 per month if you wait a month and kind of mash them together. So how long do you mail those for and kind of what frequency have you learned what’s best?
Brian: Great question. We email them every single month for a period of eight months.
Brian: Our first mailers are five formal letters. They’re just once a month mailers that go out. We setup the campaign where we upload our lists. The last three are postcards. Now, I’m kind of going back on forth on whether or not we need to go out that far because we’ve seen somewhat of a drop off in our response for our postcards because that’s about nine months out, if we were to start from the campaign. So normally our response rate is about 90 to 120 days after we send out our mailers. I think that’s kind of the sweet spot for probate mailers.
Mike: Yeah. Okay. Awesome. And is there anything else you do? I guess have you tested? Have you ever tried calling? I know that’s a touchy subject for probate leads, for sure. We know some people know, I’m sure there’s people that you know too that are starting to do more cold calling or phone calling as a tactic for generating leads. Any attempts there to make phone calls?
Brian: That’s a great question. So most of the leads in our area provide phone numbers, especially in Virginia and DC, Maryland, the online phone number is not available. It’s something that we haven’t done. I don’t really know. I don’t have any real data on that. I would feel uncomfortable for us doing it. That’s kind of why we don’t do it. That’s just my own personal take on it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. We don’t really do it because like I said, it’s something I don’t feel comfortable doing.
Mike: Yeah. I know you’re going to agree with this statement. One thing I would say about probate lead investing is for those of you that are listening right now, we’re talking about buying leads from probates. If this is new to you and it sounds like we’re taking advantage of somebody, I think you very much have to believe you’re providing a service to the person. I can tell you–and Brian can probably validate this–when you buy houses from people that are in a probate situation, there are going to be some people that think you’re an ambulance chaser and they don’t want to deal with you. There are always people in this business that think you’re trying to steal their house.
Mike: But the people we do help and buy houses from often like have this major weight lifted off of their shoulders. Brian, you’d agree with that, right?
Brian: I couldn’t agree with you more, Mike. You hit the nail on the head right there. When we meet with someone who’s going through the probate process and they respond to one of our letters or postcards, whatever it might be, they’re looking for someone to help them. That’s the attitude you have to have. They’re going through a certain situation in life and they need help getting through that.
That’s the attitude we have when we deal with every single probate person we’re dealing with or executive we’re dealing with. We teach empathy more than sympathy because we need to understand what our client’s problems are in order to solve them. Obviously, if they’re calling us, they have a problem. They want something solved. That’s the way that we look at probate investing.
Mike: Yeah. I know. There are a lot of folks that we’ve bought houses from that literally, you could just see the weight lifted off their shoulders like, “Thank you for helping me.”
Brian: Yeah. It’s a great feeling. It really is.
Mike: It’s one thing you can take off of their plate that they don’t have to worry about anymore. You and I both know a lot of people that you’re talking to are older people and a lot of them have houses that are way outdated. They would need a tremendous amount of work to be able to sell and we can eliminate that for them.
Brian: Yes. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Mike.
Mike: Yeah. Awesome. I’m just reading your words right now. So, let’s talk about maybe how to talk to sellers. So you get calls and people are saying, “What is this all about?” Some people are more motivated than others, which it’s that way for every type of lead generation we do. Explain how you talk differently to probate leads maybe versus other leads.
Brian: So that’s a great question. So, when we initially have a conversation with any seller, we have kind of the same conversation. We don’t really differentiate from that. Now, the only difference is when we go to the person’s house and we do the walkthrough, we really try to . . . we know that person is probably grieving for a loss of a friend or family member. So, yes, it is a little bit different. So, you have to be really able to understand what they’re going through in order to solve their problem.
Again, it’s more empathy than it is sympathy. You can be a shoulder to cry on, but that’s really not why they’re contacting you. They’re contacting you in order for us to solve their problem. So, when we talk to them, we really try to understand what it is that we can provide to them, whether it be maybe they want to move some of their furniture out to a storage space or another house.
Or maybe they want to have like an auctioneer come in and auction off some of the decedent’s valuables, that sort of thing. But it’s really trying to understand exactly what they need in order to move onto the next chapter in their life. That’s sort of how we really approached the probate investing, is really trying to get to the core issue of how we can solve their problem.
Mike: Yeah. It’s pretty much the same as other leads, but it requires sometimes . . . you probably have seen it too, I’ve seen people that the adult children maybe inherit a house that they don’t even leave in that area anymore and they truly don’t want anything, like, “I just want to leave the house. Will you just take the whole thing?” There’s generally probably not a value in there. It’s a burden for that person who lives out of state or out of market, right?
Brian: Absolutely. One of the best deals that we have ever done was right down the road in Alexandria, where the executor was the nephew of the decedent and he and his family, they went in and they cleared out the entire house and when we got there, the house was completely cleaned. It was in great condition. I was like, “Craig, you know that we could have done this for you.” He’s like, “Really? We did like two weekends of clearing all this stuff for someone to come buy it.” “That’s great that you did that, thank you. But it’s not something that really needed to be done.”
Mike: Yeah. Well, if folks are looking to get started in probate investing–so, we talked about what probates are, how to get leads, a couple different ways of how to get leads, mailing frequency. You provided some great information there. Is there anything that’s missing? If people are listening now and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s really interesting. That’s good information.” Is there anything missing, like the “but” part that we can help them go get started today. Is there anything that we haven’t covered yet?
Brian: Great question. When we contact probates, we sell through direct mail. Some people say that direct mail doesn’t work, but the reason it doesn’t work is they’re doing it incorrectly. It still is a very valuable piece of marketing to do. So, I would say to be very consistent with your direct mail. So, have a follow up system or campaign in place that you can continue to mail the same list every single time. If you’re not at least contacting the list of people, say, of 100 probate leads at least five times over a period of five months, then you’re really just wasting your marketing dollars.
The mistake that I made when I first got into direct mail and I think a lot of people make is they’ll buy a list of, say, a probate lead. A probate lead is one month, mail that list one time. The next month they’ll buy a pre-foreclosure list, mail that list one time. That’s not how direct mail works or marketing in general. It’s being consistent with the same list that you have over a period of time.
Brian: That’s hopefully the best piece I can give and more specifically with direct mail.
Mike: Yeah. I would say, I use the analogy that we all probably get a ton of junk mail. We get ads for mattresses and tires like every day. But how often do you replace your mattress or your tire? The thing is those companies know that, “I’m going to keep tickling you until you need it.” The day you need it, you’re like, “I’m going to go to the mail and see who I got today.”
So the importance of our business with direct mail, especially with probates because unlike other leads we have, there’s a grieving process. They need to do some stuff in the family. They need to maybe have an estate sale, like you said. All these things need to happen. When we get a list, we don’t know where each of these leads are in that process. That’s why it’s important to continue to just keep tapping on the shoulder like, “I’m here if you need me.”
Brian: Yeah. That’s a great point, Mike. Again, to kind of elaborate on that, if we’re sending them a piece of direct mail now, they might not be looking to really sell that house until, say, four or five months from now. But you need to be able to, again, like you said, just be in contact with them over that period of time.
Mike: Yeah. Awesome. Well, Brian, this is great information. Thanks for sharing with us today.
Brian: You’re welcome. Absolutely.
Mike: I believe you even started maybe teaching some people how to do what you’ve done. If folks want to learn more about you or about anything you’re working on, where should they go?
Brian: You can go to just probateacademy.com and you can learn more about what we do and learn more about probate investing.
Mike: Awesome. We’ll add a link down below from that. Brian, I really appreciate your time with us today.
Brian: Thank you, Mike. Always good to see you.
Mike: Yeah. Good to see you. Actually, I’ll see you in about another week and a half at our mastermind meeting.
Brian: Yes, sir.
Mike: All right, buddy. Everybody, thanks for joining us today. This was episode number 356 with Brian Sapp. We’re going to keep them coming at you. So, keep on watching. We appreciate you. Good luck. Happy investing.
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