In my role as the email marketing manager for AQUILA, I am constantly trying to improve the efficacy of our email marketing initiatives, analyzing open rates, engagement rates and number of subscribers. In commercial real estate, email can be an incredible tool for getting your property in front of hundreds of brokers across the city and beyond.

However, most modern real estate firms have established a routine of sending out mass emails with availability updates multiple times a day. Add this to the hundreds of emails a person already receives on a daily basis and you can see why many people in the commercial real estate industry develop “inbox blindness.”

Commercial Real Estate Email Marketing GIF

With a wealth of information and emails flooding a broker’s inbox each day, it’s important to find ways to stand out in order to drive email engagement. 

Through a combination of our decade of experience in marketing commercial properties and our email analytics, we’ve discovered some insightful information about how to do this effectively. We’ve studied our email analytics gathered from over three years of email campaigns and have found ways to stand out and break through this inbox blindness. 

In this article, we will discuss: 

  • Best practices for email subject lines 
  • Creative ways to incorporate visual media in your emails 
  • When and how frequently to send property emails


Subject Lines That Work and Don’t Work (Based on the Numbers)

It’s a common misconception that our attention spans are getting shorter. In reality, we just have much more selective attention spans due to the increasing number of options we have to choose from. People usually receive a large number of emails per day – this means that your email is competing against all of the others for the recipient’s attention. 

To make your email stand out, you must have a subject line that grabs the recipient’s attention. Based on our experience and research, here are a few ways to increase email open rates.

What Drives Email Engagement?

The subject line of an email is our best chance to grab the attention of the recipient. In order to understand the effect of our email subject line, we looked at keywords used in our subject lines and the percentage of people who opened those corresponding emails. 

Here are the results that we found in an analysis of over 2,000 availability updates. 

Overall Average Open Rate: 27.2%

Key Word Open Rate
“Video” 31.4%
“New” 31.1%
“Photo” 28.7%
Emojis 28.3%
“Views” (noun) 28.0%
“Big Block” 27.8%
“See” 27.5%
“View” (verb) 27.5%
Parking Ratio 26.8%
“Renovation” 25.4%

Overall, we see a typical open rate of 27.2% for our property marketing email campaigns. 

Words we found increase open rates the most are new, video, photo, and views. “New” is typically used when announcing a new listing or development, revealing new renderings or videos, etc. It piques the recipient’s interest, inviting them to be one of the first to get the new information. 

In a similar way, “photo,” “video” and “views” all suggest that there is something visually engaging inside the email that the recipient can’t gleam just from reading the subject line. This entices the broker to open the email to see the images or watch the video. 

We also found that adding an emoji to the subject line tends to increase open rates. The icon breaks the typical pattern of subject lines in an inbox and naturally gets more attention than other emails. 

Examples of subject lines using these words or emojis include:

  • New Redevelopment Opportunity on Cameron Road
  • See the New Renderings of Eastlake at Tillery! A New Class A Office Development in East Austin
  • Take a Photo Tour of the Recently Completed 210 West 7th!
  • Base Building Complete at Preserve at 620! View the Photos 📷
  • ▶️ Watch the Video! +/- 117.41 Acres For Sale near the San Marcos Premium Outlets
  • [Video] Take a look inside The Terrace, Southwest Austin’s Premier Office Campus

On the other hand, including the word renovation or a parking ratio in subject lines, actually resulted in a decrease in open rates. 

Examples of these types of subject lines include:

  • One Suite Remaining at Monterey Oaks | 8:1000 Parking
  • Renovations Coming Soon to Braker Pointe! 🔨

Based on this analysis, we’re sharing five tips with you to help you improve your email engagement rates. 


5 Tips to Improve Property Marketing Email Campaigns Based on Our Analysis

1. Don’t Start Your Subject Line With Square Feet

We wanted to understand the effects of beginning the subject of an email with the square footage for the property. Below we have included an example of four emails sent for the same listing across six months: 

Send Date Subject Line Open Rate
06.20.2018 Three Leases Signed at Plaza 290 | See What’s Available Now” 28.1%
10.17.2018 “9,096-SF Block Available at Plaza 290” 21.4%
11.28.2018 “1,946 – 9,096 SF For Lease at Plaza 290” 19.9%
01.16.2019 “See What’s For Lease at Plaza 290 | 1,946 – 9,096 SF Available” 26.2%

In this listing, you can see that email subjects beginning with the square feet available were opened at a rate far below our average open rate of 27.2%. When we focused on writing an intriguing subject line that utilized information on property traffic and buzz words, we were able to improve our engagement significantly.

However, by including the square feet in the subject line, the recipient can see right off the bat if they are interested in a space that size. If they aren’t, the email most likely goes straight to the trash without getting opened. By including the phrase “See What’s Available Now”, you are more likely to get an open since recipients are intrigued to see the current availability instead of spelling it out for them in the subject line. 

Additionally, we found that, as a group, subject lines that begin with a property size have an open rate of 26.0%, two full percentage points lower than subject lines that don’t begin with a size which have an open rate of 28%. 

Do: New! Short-Term Sublease with Low Rental Rate at 707 Rio Grande

Don’t: 2,240 – 7,660 SF For Lease at West Tower Village off Westgate Boulevard

2. Do Use Holiday Themes in Your Subject Lines

Leveraging holidays can be another good way to make your email more enticing. Holidays are generally accompanied by celebrations and tend to evoke positive feelings in people. They attract the recipient’s attention because they are different than the usual subject lines and they are relevant to the day or season.

Our holiday-themed emails have an open rate of 27.5%, which may seem like an insignificant increase over our average email open rate. But remember, these are sent on or around holidays when brokers are often out of office and not engaging with email as regularly. 

Here are a few examples of holiday subject lines of emails we’ve sent out:

Valentine’s Day:

  • You’ll ❤️ This New Sublease at Arboretum Plaza! 3,000 – 8,000 SF Available Now
  • Fall in Love with Riata Crossing 6 ❤️ Two-Story, 50,000 SF Build-to-Suit Opportunity in Northwest Austin

4th of July:

  • Red, White and New! 💥 See the Rendering of the New Midtown Point Development
  • Cue the fireworks! 🎆 Low Rental Rate and Convenient Location at 3215 Steck
  • 🎵 Oh, say can you see…yourself in a new space at Plaza 290?


  • No Tricks, Just Treats: 2 Spaces Available for Lease at The Depot 🍬🍭
  • View the Spooktacular 360 Drone Aerial for University Park 👻
  • Scary-good views from 801 Barton Springs 🎃

Holidays can also be a good time to send a nice greeting. Below is an email we sent for 801 Barton Springs around Christmastime. We commissioned a local artist to paint the building adorned with holiday decorations. It was a nice change of pace from the usual property availability email and had an open rate of 48%! 

Commercial Real Estate Holiday Email | 801 Barton Springs

Holiday subject lines are also a good place to use an emoji since there is a set theme and usually an emoji to accompany it. Speaking of emojis…

3. Do Include Emojis in the Subject Line

As you can see from our examples above, emojis can also be a great way to increase open rates. Emojis essentially add a picture to your subject line. 

These fun emojis can be a nice change of pace in contrast to the basic subject lines that people usually see. When you use emojis, make sure they are relevant to the subject or content of the email and do not overuse them. A good rule of thumb is to stick to just one emoji per subject line (although there are exceptions where using two or three together makes sense). And ask yourself: will the recipient understand this without much thinking? If so, include it. If it takes some interpretation, leave it off. 

Not all emails are fit for an emoji in the subject line, but if you find one that fits, use it! 

4. Do Utilize Visual Media Tools

The most effective tool in encouraging opens seems to be including visual media like videos and photos in your email. 


Video is a relatively new tool for real estate marketing, but it is an effective one. We’ve found that by including property marketing videos in our emails and promoting them in the subject line, we get a 5% increase in open rates.

From our analysis above, including “video” in the subject line had a 31.4% open rate, compared to the overall average open rate of 27.2%. 

Additionally, emails with video had a 6.7% click rate, compared to our overall email click rate of just 1.5%.

Read Now: 10 Best Examples of Commercial Real Estate Video Marketing

I’m confident there’s even more room to boost engagement. Our team recently discovered some interesting facts regarding video in emails in Vidyards’ 2019 Video in Business Benchmark Report. These facts analyze performance on specific days and times, and may be the key to getting the highest amount of opens. 

Day of the Week: The report notes that audiences watch business video content more on Thursdays than any other day of the week (22% of views happen on Thursdays). Next is Wednesday at 18% and Tuesday at 17%, with Monday and Friday tied at 15%. Saturday and Sunday trail behind significantly, holding only 7% and 6% of views respectively. So, if you’re going to send a video out in an email, your best bet for maximum views is Thursday.

Time of Day: It appears that mornings get the most video views during the week, as opposed to the afternoon. Midweek, views peak between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., and on Mondays and Fridays, the peak window time starts an hour earlier, between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m.

Desktop or Mobile? As much as people are on their smartphones these days, it was interesting to read that 87% of business-related video views still take place on desktop or laptop computers. However, mobile views are growing. They increased by 25% over the previous year, moving up from 11% to 13%.

For business-related videos, people are watching them the most when they are in the office at their desktop computer, especially midweek during the midmorning. 


First off, what is a GIF?

If you are unfamiliar, a GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, is a short looping video with no sound (essentially an image that moves). A GIF loops continuously and automatically and doesn’t require a viewer to press play. What was once considered unprofessional or childish is now considered an essential tool of social media/email marketing and is widely used among millenials and others. 

Did You Know GIF

GIFs in Emails

Most email platforms now allow you to insert GIFs into your emails. GIFs can allow you to show the recipient a property or an idea with fewer words and more images. This will allow you to explain complex subjects or processes succinctly, and it can take less time than producing an entire video. For example, you can take a group of images for a property and turn these into a GIF that flips through the images instead asking the recipient to click through to a gallery or scroll through a long line of images in the email. 

Commercial Real Estate Marketing | Lakewood Plaza GIF

An example of a GIF used in an email promoting Lakewood Plaza.

These grab the reader’s attention and don’t make the email look overwhelmingly long. GIFs express emotion more so than text or still photos and can better represent thoughts and feelings. Plus, they are eye-catching and can show off your brand’s personality.

Commercial Real Estate Email Marketing | Eastlake at Tillery GIF

We used this GIF to draw attention to a new property brochure for Eastlake at Tillery.

We’ve also begun using GIFs when we include a video in an email. It gives the email and video more interest and can further increase your click-through rate. 

Commercial Real Estate Video Converted to GIF

You can also use GIFs to spice up your event invitations. But more on property marketing events here.

Digital Invitation for Barbecue Dinner

This GIF was sent in a digital invitation for a barbecue dinner.

Plus, GIFs are just plain fun. (Just ask any of my friends or coworkers, I am an avid GIF user!)

You can make your own GIFs in Photoshop or on websites such as Giphy (a GIF search engine). 

5. Don’t Forget That When You Schedule Matters

One of the most common questions people have about email marketing is about scheduling. The most important thing to remember is that less is more. We have a strict policy in our office that no more than four property emails may go out in one day. Anything more than four and we find that our engagement rates begin to drop significantly.

Timing is Key

When you put your email in front of a broker can prove to be just as important as what your email says. Of course, every marketer wants to avoid their emails falling to the bottom of someone’s inbox never to see the light of day. We typically send our emails out Monday through Thursday.

Additionally, remember to space your emails out throughout the day – don’t send them all out at the same time. And be sure not to send any emails after 4:00 p.m. Any later than that and brokers are either out of the office or have their head down trying to wrap up projects so that they can get out of the office for the day. 



Through our research, we have realized that there is no silver bullet that will magically improve your email engagement. Email marketing relies on many different factors not limited to timing and subject wording. It ultimately depends on your audience’s habits as well as your industry’s interests. This data reflects our audience’s habits, but yours could be different.

With that said, I hope this article has given you information that will prove to be helpful in your email marketing campaigns in the future.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Read Next: How Much Does It Cost to Market a Commercial Property?

Kathleen Brennan

Kathleen Brennan

Kathleen is AQUILA’s resident creative. She has a keen eye for design and excels at keeping AQUILA looking professional and polished.

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