Rules for Your business E-mail Messages

The CAN-SPAM Act applies to many types of typical REALTOR e-mails, not just to bulk email.  It covers all commercial messages…. “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service”.  This applies to emails used generalized to promote listing or buying services, general listing promotions (not to your buyer client base seeking properties in that market), market updates to former clients, sending announcements or sales solicitations or offering a free market analysis report or home valuation in exchange?  There’s one big exception where this act does not apply to typical REALTOR messages: transactional e-mail. Most CAN-SPAM rules do not apply to transactional or relationship messages, including e-mail that primarily facilitates or completes a commercial transaction that you are already engaged in with your client.


  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Use an accurate subject heading. If your message concerns a new listing, the subject line should say something along the lines of “New Property Listing” or “Property Listing You Might Like,” not “This is for you” or “Doe Realty is tops in sales.” In other words, the subject line and text should match. This rule applies to both commercial and transactional messages.
  3. Allow your reply address to serve as an “unsubscribe” function. The law says commercial e-mails must include a mechanism that allows recipients to unsubscribe from future mailings; compliance with this request must occur within 10 business days. The simplest way to meet this requirement is to include a line at the bottom of your message that states readers can unsubscribe by replying to the message.
  4. Centralize your lead/contact database. This will not only prevent you from sending duplicate e-mail, but also ensures that people who unsubscribe from your e-mailings don’t receive messages generated by another database.
  5. Never send e-mail blasts from a computer you’re not authorized to use or an e-mail address that doesn’t belong to you or your company. It’s a violation of the act to hide your identity by using external computers to relay messages or provide falsified address headers that mask the e-mails’ origin. CAN-SPAM also prohibits deceptive  e-mail blasts. These e-mail blast rules kick in at relatively low volumes: 101 messages per day, 1,001 messages per month, or 10,001 messages per year.
  6. If you’re promoting your services, you must say so. Unsolicited commercial e-mail must provide “clear and conspicuous identification that the message is an advertisement or solicitation,” says the law. The best way to accomplish this is by placing a line at the top of the message stating your business’s name and the fact that the e-mail aims to help people find homes, locate financing, or whatever other service or services you’re providing. This rule does not apply if someone gives you “affirmative consent” or direct consent to receive your e-mail.
  7. List your company’s street address at the end of the e-mail. Because the law specifies a “physical postal address,” don’t use a post office box or a descriptive name like “DoeGlobal Center.” A “virtual address” supplied by a commercial mailbox service provider is acceptable, however.
  8. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly. But following the law isn’t complicated. Wish that more did so!

CAN-SPAM Act for Business Guide From the FTC