LOCAL RECORDS OFFICE, NORWALK, CA:  As I walked out of the print shop with 50 signs I couldn’t help but wonder if this plan would backfire on me. It didn’t feel right. The huge decal on the back window of my Ford Expedition, the cheap little classified ads in the local Super Shopper – and now this.

Worst Way to Advertise: White Signs With Big, Bold Black Lettering “We Buy Houses”

I paid $600 to a real estate guru that promised me this marketing campaign would be effective. All I needed to do was plant these corrugated plastic advertisements on every corner of the city and wait. He said the phone calls would pour in. Still, I was skeptical. Could this really work? Was it that simple?

Sure enough, within hours my phone started ringing. Nothing too worthwhile at first but the response was encouraging. I could sense that a juicy deal would be coming soon.

Worst Way to Advertise: Bandit Sign Success?

The next day it finally happened. The caller really wanted to sell her house. She had lots of equity. And she wanted to meet with me right away. Slow down I said. Before we could set an appointment I’d need the address of the house to do my research. I asked if I could see the property later in the day. I couldn’t commit to an offer price until I did an inspection.

Suddenly, the conversation took an unexpected turn. The voice on the other end of the line went from desperate to demonic. This woman wasn’t a motivated homeowner after all. She was a code compliance officer for the city of Los Angeles. Did I know these signs are illegal, she asked? And that each sign carries a fine of $1,000? Gulp. This is when I realized this might be the worst way to advertise.

She made me a deal – remove all the signs by the end of the day and I’d be off the hook for the fines. So I went out and picked every one of them up, which was hard to do with all the egg on my face.

That was about eight years ago. Nowadays when I see a WE BUY HOUSES sign I can’t help but think of my code compliance officer friend. Bandit signs, as they are known in real estate investing circles, are illegal in most metropolitan areas.

“They are also very ugly. As responsible real estate investors we should be cleaning up our neighborhoods, not littering them with illegal signage” – ‘Local Records Office’

Besides, have you seen the types of businesses that advertise along the roadside these days? Cheap bankruptcy, credit repair, dog grooming, diet supplements, mixed martial arts lessons. Yuck.

Worst Way to Advertise: Bandit Signs

Bandit signs can be effective sometimes even profitable. A few in the right area of town might make you a few bucks. But it’s the wrong way to do it. With social media, websites, Google Ad words, Craigslist, direct mail and email campaigns it’s never been easier for real estate investors to advertise inexpensively and without breaking the law.

If you’re like me, you may prefer to find tenants without the use of a property manager or real estate agent. Over the years I have found that it’s really not that difficult to locate good tenants if you put a little bit of effort into it.

Most landlords know the two basic methods for advertising a rental home; either you have an agent place a listing in the local MLS, or you take out a classified ad in the local newspaper. While there is nothing wrong with these methods, I’d rather save the commission or the advertising cost and be a bit more creative. Also, I think with slightly more aggressive techniques, you can actually lease the property sooner and with less expense.

Here are 3 great alternative marketing techniques for quickly getting a renter and leave bad advertising behind you

Bandit Signs – These are the small-corrugated signs you typically see placed at intersections and on telephone poles. We’ve had tremendous success getting tenant leads from bandit signs over the years. For our business it’s worked well buying blank signs and hand writing the information as opposed to special order signs purchased from a printer. You can shop around online and typically find blank signs for about a dollar each. I suggest putting up 10-20 signs within a mile of the property; especially near shopping centers and highly trafficked street intersections. (You should check out local ordinances that may prevent you from placing signs in certain locations or on certain days.)

Online Classifieds – Most people in our industry know that there are hundreds of real estate related sites where listings can be posted. The selection process, however, can be overwhelming and leave one unsure of where to begin. If I had to pick one free method for advertising my listings online, I’d recommend Craigslist in tandem with a great tool called Postlets. On Postlets.com you can create a free online flyer that can be copied and pasted as a Craigslist ad. In addition, your ad can be syndicated automatically to other websites such as Backpage, Hotpads, Trulia, Zillow, etc. I would recommend posting a new ad to Craigslist every day so as to insure as much exposure as possible.

“Screening tenants should be the first thing you do as a respectable and organized landlord, tenants will do anything to avoid paying extra fees” – ‘Local Records Office

Neighborhood Referrals – Many investors don’t realize what a great resource existing neighbors in the area can be when trying to locate a tenant. If you already know some of your neighbors, I’d recommend knocking on their doors alerting them to the fact that you are advertising for a new tenant. You can also print some flyers off your office computer and distribute around the community. In the past I have offered referral fees to neighbors, but have found that it’s not necessary in most cases. Usually, people are inclined to mention the available house to friends or family simply because they like the idea of having somebody they know (and trust) in their neighborhood.

Finding tenants isn’t as daunting (or expensive) as most new investors may think. With a little creativity and a small investment of time, you can expect the phone to be ringing with tenant leads fairly quickly. However, once you begin taking calls, be sure you have a plan of action for showing the property as well as screening tenants. Getting the phone to ring should be the easy part … picking the right tenant is an entirely different topic! For more on this, you can search “Local Records Office articles” section that relate to screening tenants. Happy investing.