Bandit Signs are one of the most controversial tactics in real estate. Some real estate investors swear the cheap “we buy houses” signs create legitimate leads. Others, meanwhile, say the frowned-upon practice cheapens their business and isn’t worth the risk. We’ve detailed the pros and cons so you can weigh the risks versus potential rewards.
Tip: Check out our full write-up on real estate signs.
What Are Bandit Signs?
You’ve seen them. When you’re driving down road and spot a simple, bright sign advertising “We Buy Houses!” and “Fast Cash!”—those are bandit signs. The reason they are called bandit signs is simple: it’s illegal. Yes, the subversive tactic is illegal in most cities. It’s considered littering.
If you’re caught putting them up, you can pay hefty fines. Penalties typically increase for more offenses. The idea behind them is that they are a fast, cheap way to generate potential leads. The argument against them is that they prey on sellers who are desperate. Plus, they’re an eyesore.
What Makes These Signs Effective?
Bandit signs are intentionally ugly. Why? The idea is that these simplistic signs make the real estate investor seem more normal and approachable. Here are a few things that make an ideal bandit sign:
- Handwritten Font: A simplistic, handwritten font won’t intimidate your potential seller.
- Use A Woman’s Name: Studies say sellers are more willing to work with females.
- Bright, Simple Colors: Don’t get complicated with the design. Choose red or yellow with a black font.
- Keep The Message Clear: We buy houses and your phone number. Or “We Buy Houses Call Tracey” and a phone number.
These characteristics are thought to be more desirable than glossy and, frankly, good design. For sellers who may be in a desperate state with their home, they feel that someone behind that simplistic design is more down to earth. They may be embarrassed about looming foreclosure. It’s easier to call a number than to walk into a pristine real estate office.
Think about it this way: If someone has bad credit, are they more likely to walk into a luxury car dealership or a used seller who advertises “fast approval”? I’m sure a bad car commercial is coming to mind, right now.
Another important factor is to make your sign from corrugated plastic. Choose cheap metal stakes to mount the yard signs. It is better to use yard signs than to nail your bandit signs to a utility pole or tree. Nailing your signs will levy a much larger fine if you are caught.
Where To Buy Bandit Signs
You can buy signs anywhere these days. However, not all sites are equal. We’ve listed our favorites, which offer many different templates for all types of marketing efforts.
Our favorite sign company has a ton of pre-made templates. Simply fill in your information, choose your material and quantity, and place your order. Corrugated plastic signs plus wire stakes for display start at $7.60 (if you order five).
This website has some customizable options, but it also has very cheap pre-printed designs. You can buy pre-printed signs for around $3.50. The con is that you’ll have to fill in your phone number on each one. But, don’t worry about the design looking cheap—that’s the idea.
Dirt Cheap Signs
This company has several bandit sign templates to work with. Simply customize your phone number or add clip art. You can choose your flute direction (which way the little lines go) to work with wire stakes or wooden stakes. Choose vertical for wire stakes. It depends on how many you buy, but signs start around $6 if you buy ten—not including the stakes.
Tip: Order large quantities for cheaper signs. You’ll want to put out at least 150 anyway!
When And Where Should I Put Them Up?
You’ll want to put your signs where there will be heavy traffic and at busy intersections where cars are going to stop. It takes time, but in order for this marketing strategy to be effective, you have to cover a very large area. Avoid private property, since the homeowner may call and complain.
Many real estate investors will put their bandit signs up on Friday afternoon and take them down Sunday night. Why? Government officials who will fine you for using bandit signs are city workers. So, they are typically only out scouting for bandit sign marketing during the workweek.
How To Avoid Getting Caught
This is a dicy topic. Bandit signs are illegal in nearly every city in the United States. City officials will call the number on your sign, pretend to be a buyer, and then levy a large fine. Real estate investors who are dedicated to using this marketing tool must create an online phone number (i.e. Google Voice) to avoid being tracked. Take and return calls from your leads from this online number only.
The other option is to only put up your signs on the weekend, but it will be a large time investment to putting them up and taking them all down each time. And if you hire someone, how can you be sure they follow through?
Another hard fact, the only way to 100-percent ensure you won’t be caught is to not put them up at all.
Tip: A Google Voice number isn’t only ideal to keep from getting caught, but it can also be a way to easily track the result of your bandit sign campaign.
Pros and Cons Of Bandit Signs
As with anything, there are pros and cons. We’ve included both, as we believe a well-balanced review highlights the pros and cons.
1. They’re cheap. This is one of the most affordable ways to generate leads in real estate investing and can cost as little as $3 per sign.
2. You’ll attract property owners who are looking to sell and fast.
3. You’ll attract owners who don’t want to work with traditional real estate agents.
1. It may cheapen your other marketing efforts: If your prospects see a bandit sign, it will make the rest of your marketing efforts seem less professional.
2. It’s illegal. Fines can be as high as $250 per day, per sign. So if you put out hundreds of signs per week, that can add up fast.
3. Competitors will take them down. That’s right, not all real estate investors play nice. Don’t be surprised if the competition comes by and takes down your sign.
4. People don’t like them. Many residents will hate your sign. They are ugly on purpose, so that’s exactly why people don’t like them.
So, Should You Use Bandit Signs?
Professionals in real estate investing are highly divided on this. Some say that they receive a significant amount of leads from the tactic and that response rates are good. Even more importantly, some say that many of these leads lead to sales.
Here’s the main question: How do you want to be viewed? If you make your money flipping homes that are nearing foreclosure, there is a good chance property owners will respond to a bandit sign campaign. If you want to be a legitimate real estate agent, it’s best not to use this tactic.
Realtors are required by the National Association of Realtors and Division of Licensing to disclose licensing in all of their advertising. This isn’t done on a bandit sign, which features a few words and a phone number. So if realtors use bandit signs on the side, they will affect the rest of their business and can risk losing their license.
Alternative Advertising Methods
It’s 2019, so there are a lot of advertising methods out there. Here are some other ways to attract sellers without using bandit sign marketing.
- Search Engine Advertising – SEO optimization can create organic visits to your website, and you can buy search engine advertising for relatively cheap.
- Social Media – Connect with potential sellers on Facebook. You can create organic visits and promote posts for as little as a few dollars per day.
- Direct mail – Another old school yet effective way to generate leads. You can create a postcard design that uses some of the ideas behind bandit signs. Use simple fonts, few colors, and basic language.
- Lead Generation Software – Companies like REIPro, Investor Carrot, Lead Propeller, and Property Radar all make finding new leads easy.
The bottom line, each real estate investor must choose if bandit signs are right for their business. A good place to start is to check out the laws against bandit signs in your area. Find out what the fines are so you can weigh your risk versus reward.
It’s a tricky tactic to navigate, but some investors swear it generates viable results. If you give it a go, start with a Google Voice number to keep your identity private. Then, if you aren’t happy with the campaign, no one will be any the wiser.