Real estate agents say that when they put up a “For Sale” sign, the first batch of listing fliers disappears from the take-one box in a few days. Who takes them? The neighbors, who can't wait to see how much the Smiths are asking for their house. And those neighbors are just as curious about home improvement work.

You can turn this curiosity into low-cost leads with a program to canvass and door-hang the neighborhood, host an open house, and put a sign in the yard. And do it like real estate agents do: with take-one flyers on the yard sign.

ADVERTISE HERE Your yard sign, like any advertisement, needs a benefit headline (a reason why), a call to action, and a response mechanism. That's a lot to fit in a 24-by-18-inch space, but here's how you can do it.

The headline could read: This Smart Homeowner Will Never Paint Again. The subheading, with an arrow to the take-one box, might offer the call to action: Get a Neighborhood Discount — $500 off on Vinyl Siding/Free Quote. The signature should be your logo, phone number, and Web address.

The take-one flyer could be an 8.5-by-3.6-inch card that doubles as a door hanger. It should make your offer, contain company contact information, and most importantly, should include space to write (with permission) the name and phone number of the home owner whose yard currently features your sign. That way the interested neighbor may call your customer, and the lead becomes a referral.

SIGN ON If you spend a lot on an expensive yard sign and take-one carrier, recover and reuse it. If your sign cost is below 10 bucks, leave it in the yard until the homeowner throws it away.

Many contractors have installers post the signs for them, but there are advantages to having your salesperson do it at closing: It gives your sales rep a chance to explain the referral program, gets you a few more days of exposure, and helps to lower rescission rates. It also makes for some great referral photos.

—John Stevens is with Peterson/Stevens Inc., an advertising and marketing agency specializing in the home improvement industry;