All About Bandit Signs

So you're thinking, what on earth can there possibly be to learn about putting up plastic signs???  Well, you might be surprised at how much there is to know. I was!

     I'm going to figure that if you are BUYING properties then you are most likely SELLING or RENTING properties as well. Therefore I will try to cover both the BUYING and SELLING aspects of signs.

     The particular type of sign discussed herein is called the BANDIT sign, or in some areas the RENEGADE sign. They are called that because many cities have passed ordinances against them. Even so, they are a big part of my marketing plan. Did I mention I purchased exactly 150 properties and sold 97 of them in 1998?  I've been putting up bandit signs for over 10 years and have never been fined... yet. Part of my experience is how to avoid conflict with the sign police. Now, I'm not saying I know everything about anything but I do know a thing or two about generating business from cheap signs.

     NOTICE: This type of advertising is not for everyone. Research the laws and ordinances in your area and YOU decide if the risk is worth the potential reward.

     First and foremost, Bandit Signs are the very least expensive and by far the most effective way to generate leads I have ever found. These signs have worked tremendously well at both the ACQUISITION and the SELLING side of the business. It always blows me away... I get more out of a FIFTY CENT sign than anything else I've ever done. For a while in my early career I didn't even pay for the signs (more on that latter). Through the years I have learned more about signs than I even realized there was to know. I wasn't until I sat down to write this SPECIAL REPORT that I actually consider how much thought goes into this simple act of marketing.

     MATERIALS: I like COROPLAST. Coroplast looks just like cardboard in its design but it is made of plastic instead of paper. If you study a piece of corrugated cardboard you can see that the body is basically hallowed when you look at the edges. The hallow tubes that run the length (or width) of the Coroplast are called FLUTES. This material is very durable and can last up to 3 years in the sun and weather. In fact, the lettering will fade or deteriorate long before the body of the sign fails. You should be able to find a wide assortment of plastic sign materials in your local area. Look in the yellow pages under Plastic Supply companies and ask for "Coroplast."

     If you are on a tight budget I can tell you this; it is not that hard to find old signs laying around that you can flip over and write on... especially if it is just after an election. Generally, political signs are supposed to be removed within a very short period of time after an election is over (48hrs or something like that). They leave more than enough of those 4'x8'signs up every year to keep you in business for months. Take the old signs, cut them up, wipe the backside down (which is usually white)... then write your message on the back and go to town! Believe it or not I did a lot of this when I was starting out. I got a kick out of generating a great business with a 0% advertising budget.

     COST: In my part of the country a 4'X 8' piece of Coroplast is about as big as most companies stock and that costs about $8.00 if you order only ONE sheet. You can get a substantial discount by ordering in quantity. Of course, I want smaller signs than that so I have to ask them to cut the larger sheet up for me. They charge me $1.00 per cut. By ordering the larger sheet to be cut into 19.2"X 24" sized signs I end up with 10 signs and little if any waste. The very best I have ever been able to negotiate was 45 cents per sign and I usually order about 400 units. I go with anything 50 cents or under and when I'm in a hurry I'll pay as much as 60 cent. Remember, "DON"T TRIP OVER THE PENNIES ON THE WAY TO THE DOLLARS."  It is better to pay $1.00 per sign than to have NO SIGN at all. Argue with the distributor for a short while. Show him you're not a push over. Let him know you are loyal and you'll be back for more... then pay what you have to and get on with it.

     WHAT COLORS TO USE: You can find all different colors but this is what I think. I think the phone company uses YELLOW/BLACK for a reason and upon further investigation you'll find that the Yellow/Black combination is the most distinct contrast there is. Next is Red/White but the problem with anything red is that red is the first color to fade in the sun. The logical order is to purchase yellow Coroplast, plastic signs and write on them with a BIG, BOLD, BLACK MEGA MARKER. White and back is not bad either.

     SIZE: I like to use signs that are 24" tall and 19.2" wide. I find them to be just big enough without being over bearing. It is important NOT to attract negativity. Home Owners Associations and Municipal Authorities are among those we wish to avoid. Sure, bigger is better BUT, as you can imagine, if you were to put up a 4 foot by 8 foot sign on a telephone pole you'd get a call and maybe a fine by the end of the day. That kind of "bigger" is not better. I'll take a 100 smaller signs that stay around for weeks, months or even years over BIG AND GONE tomorrow - any day. One of my most effective marketing drives used hundreds of signs that were smaller still... 12" X 14". The more I put out at one time ) the DENSER I choose to hit an area) the smaller I like to go. I want to get my message out   I BUY HOUSES or HOUSE FOR SALE so I can start getting calls. I don't want calls complaining about my signs. Small signs are just as effective if you know where to put them. The main thing is that your message be CLEAR and DIRECT.

     EASY TO READ: A sign must accomplish one thing; get the SELLER to CALL! Keep you sign simple, to the point: I Buy Houses - CASH - 210-805-XXXX. I especially like company names that say EXACTLY what they do and where to find them on the internet + a phone number; Cash4Houses.NET 866-303-XXXX. The above company name just happens to belong to yours truly. It says EXACTLY what I do and EXACTLY where to get more information about my company, either by computer or by phone. Try to pick a company name that says what you do.

     So many people try to put to much verbiage in their sign. Remember, you only have a split second to pose the question, "Do You Have A House FOR SALE?" or "Do You Want To Buy A Home?" I have to assume that most of your prospects will be in a car and may even be moving. You've got to get your message to them quick and easy.

     ALL CAPITAL LETTERS are harder to read than just Capitalizing The First Letter. Except for very short familiar words like FREE or CASH, I stick to that theory. If you have more than 2 lines then you should rotate "Bold Thick" letters on one line and then "thin skinny" letters on the next. If you are trying to BUY a house I see no reason you should ever use more than 4 lines... and preferably only 2 or 3 lines. So I'll use a SELLING SIGN to demonstrate how to handle more verbiage: House 4 Sale, Possible Owner Finance, 115 Dryden St., 866-303-XXXX

     You may feel that the phone number is more important than the address BUT when I'm SELLING I believe it's more important to get the prospect to the house FIRST. My phone number will be there for the taking if they are impressed. I don't like talking about SELLING a house if the person on the other end of the phone hasn't even seen it yet. Don't get me wrong, I'll take the call either way BUT I'd rather them be parked in front of the property gazing with amazement and a wanton desire.

     INDIVIDUAL vs. BIG COMPANY: Which look is best for you? You may want to leave your options open. Yea, I've seen it a hundred times. Some new and excited entrepreneur goes out and buys a hundred first class EXPENSIVE signs with his company colors and logo, Then puts them out front of a lower echelon home an intimidates the hell out of his unsophisticated prospects to the point they don't even bother calling. They figure its going to be all about Banks, and Mortgage Companies and Good Credit and things they just aren't willing to OR CAN"T go through and expect to end up buying. You got to deal with different markets differently. The fancy sign will work well in upscale neighborhoods but a simple plastic sign with "FOR SALE BY OWNER" in black magic marker just might be the ticket in another area... more effective and cheaper by a long shot! Also, the sign police are a lot less likely to bother you if they think you're just an individual rather than some fancy company.

     SIGN PLACEMENT: Obviously, you'll want to put a sign at every property you own. If you have a lot to say you might put several signs at your property. Just make sure that at least one of the signs is SIMPLE, TO THE POINT, and OUT FRONT of all the others. I like to put at least one sign INSIDE if the property has a structure with windows. I know that a sign in the window is much less likely to wonder off in the wind or get knocked down or stolen.

     There are plenty of other places to put signs. I like to put signs where the traffic is SOW or potentially STOPPED. I have been a big fan of telephone poles BUT I can tell you right now the powers that be DO NOT like you to put them on their telephone poles. If you insist then I must say "Do So At Your Own Risk" ...and put them up just out of reach so they take some effort to remove. I like to use a 3" step-ladder. I'm 5'8" so if I add another 3" foot to my height and then raise my arms even higher to post the sign I figure the sign is about 10" foot off the ground. Somebody will have to have their mind made up if they are going to remove my sign. They'll also have to have a ladder or some special made tool to reach up high enough to get the job done. The extra height will not deter the authorities (then again maybe it will) BUT it certainly deters competition from inadvertently ripping your sign down quick and easy as not to get noticed.

     While we are on that subject; DO NOT take down your competitors signs. Any competition that would rip your sign down is unethical. All the "Go-Getters" are to busy making money to worry about competition in such a fashion. I have never torn down a competitors sign. I figure there is more than enough for everyone. The day I have to sneak around to tear down the competitions signs is the day I change businesses. Take the high road.

     My signs have been abused by competitors and local "Do-Gooders."  I wouldn't waste a lot of time on the "Revenge Section" of this report BUT there have been a few times I've STRUCK BACK. I'll save that for last... it is pretty funny and pretty ingenious but like most ideas I use I do not invent them. Like you, I'm just smart enough to recognize a good idea when I hear one.

     I also use wooden stakes and wire stakes when I can't find something to nail my signs to. The problem with putting signs in the ground is that everyone and everything can knock them down. If you are depending on stakes driven into the ground... you need to check your signs every other day. Chances are they're DOWN.

     Put your signs where people have to STOP or WAIT. I like "stop lights" and "stop signs," "bus stops" and "parking lots." Places where people have a chance to read and then find a pen and a scrap of paper.  The second best places are parking lots exits and or yield areas. Take special note of areas that move fast most of the day but end up in traffic jams in the mornings (going to work) and in the evenings (coming home from work). These areas can be just like parking lots at 8:00am and 5:00pm. People don't have anything better to do but read what you put in front of them. Prospects call from their cars in traffic all the time. If you are in an area that is well policed you may NOT want to put signs at major intersections. Move inside neighborhoods and stay off the intersections with red lights.

     FLUTE DIRECTION: The flutes are the hollow tubes or the corrugation that gives the sign its strength. YES, it makes a difference which way you choose to hang your sign. If you run the flutes horizontal (across from right to left) the sign will be stronger. If you run the flutes vertical (up or down) the wind will break the signs. When you see a sign on a pole folded in half it is because the flutes of the sign ran up and down.

     AVOIDING THE SIGN POLICE: I have heard of people that go to great lengths to use bandit signs and avoid the power that be. One guy I knew used a digital pager number on the signs. When a customer would call off his sign he would be automatically paged with the caller's telephone number. He would immediately call them back and he always made contact with the person right then and there. Of course, he knew the number of the sign police department and those call never got returned. His take on this was that the city employees were not about to go out of their way to find him. To the best of my knowledge he was right. He was never fined.

     As I stated before, if you are worried about the sign police in your area "Go Smaller" and "Go Inside" the neighborhoods instead of to the major intersections. If you get caught, pay your fine and consider it a cost of doing business. Like I said, you use bandit signs at your own risk. There is no guarantee about anything when it comes to getting fined. The best times to put out signs are late at night and on the weekends.

     WHAT KIND OF FASTERS TO USE: The best sign fasteners are those nails with the little fluorescent orange plastic washer that are about one inch in diameter, BUT frankly, I've been using roofing nails forever and I've got no complaints. Just use nails that have a larger head so that the wind does not blow the sign off the nails as easy. Do NOT put your nails in a straight line... zig-zag them. One a little to the right of center, the next a little to the left of center... and the next back a little right etc., etc. And again, keep them just out of reach of a man 6' tall. Use a step ladder or a paint bucket or something to get your sign up out of reach  

     PERMITS: In upscale parts of town you are not going to get away with bandit signs all that easy. The neighbors will be dialing the sign police like there is some kind of reward or something. In these cases you are better off to just go and get the permits if you HAVE TO HAVE A SIGN. Typically you go down there and tell them what ads you want to advertise and they'll give you the sticker... I'm sorry... this is government working with businessmen... they'll CHARGE you for some stickers that you have to put on your signs. Those stickers will have expiration dates and you'll be fined if you do not remove the signs before they expire.

    DIRECTIONAL SIGNS: If you are selling a property you will want to use directional signs. Simply put the words HOUSE FOR SALE with an arrow guiding them towards your property. You will have to put a sign at every turn. Believe me, they will find you. I like to put the address in small print if the sign allows room.

 PART TIME INVESTORS: Since you will be at work you may want to employ an answering service or send calls to a voice mailbox. I like answering services because I can get them to ask my caller things like "HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT ME" or any number of things. A service called PAT LIVE specializes in answering the phones for RE investors. You can use them from any town in the nation. I have used them before and they are more professional than most. Beware, a bad answering service can hurt your success. Call the service now and then to see how your clients are being treated. Pose as a Buyer or a Seller and see what happens to you.   

KEEPING YOUR SIGNS UP: If you are unfortunate enough to have petty competitors taking your signs down then I do have an idea or two. First try things the compassionate way; simply coat your signs in new, clear motor oil. It won't hide or even dull your message but it will deter your little nemesis. With any luck they'll get oil all over their tux as they're on the way to their wedding or something. If that doesn't deter them you'll have to kick things up a notch

 REVENGE ON SIGN THEIFS: Every now and then you have to take off the gloves and declare war on the gremlins. I once had the president of a Home Owners Association taking down my signs every day. Every day I'd go to my property and everyday my signs would be gone. Not just the signs at the front of the subdivision but even the signs in the front yard of my own property. I couldn't believe it! So one day I laid in wait to see who was taking my signs.

     At exactly 5:30pm a well dressed yuppie in a new BMW screeched to a halt at the entrance of the subdivision. He jumped out of his Beemer leaving the door wide open. He briskly strolled over to my signs, pulled them out of the ground and threw them into the front, passenger seat and pulled away. I followed him to my property we he repeated the same scenario. Then I discretely followed him to his home. As the garage door went up I noticed that he had a stack of my signs stacked neatly in his garage. I was hot!

     The next day I replaced my signs but this time I did them just a bit different than I'd ever done them before. This time I fill plenty of the flutes with 100% pure Clorox Bleach. I didn't have to wonder long about what happened that evening. Mr. Yuppie man called me rather upset. He cooled down considerably when the police stopped by to recover the signs he had stolen from me. We came to an agreement. I wouldn't press charges and he'd get off my case for a month while I sold that house... using MY SIGNS.

     IN CONLCUSINON: There is a lot to know about even the most insignificant things in live.  When it comes to being a RE investor, some things are more important than others. I hope you enjoyed my input on the subject of Bandit Signs as much as I enjoyed reviewing the subject with you. 

This Article was written by Mitch Stephen

Author of the book, MY LIFE & 1,000 HOUSES.

Every investment association should recommend

My Life & 1,000 Houses to its members.

- Tom Hennigan, Founder, National Real Estate Investor's Association 

Winner at the 2005 Tejano Music Awards for "Crossover Song of the Year"

For the song "Who's That Gringo" co-writer Billy O'Rourke

By: Mitch Stephen

About the Author:

A self-taught real estate entrepreneur, Mitch Stephen has purchased more than a thousand properties over the past decade. In 2007 The San Antonio Real Estate Investors Association dedicated its headquarters in his name. In addition, He is a recognized speaker on topics ranging from owner-financing mobile homes to purchasing commercial buildings. Also a musician and songwriter, Mitch won the Tejano Music Award’s “Crossover Song of the Year” in 2005 for “Who’s that Gringo,” co-written by Billy O’Rourke and performed by the multiple Grammy Award-winning group, David Lee Garza y Los Musicales.