Can you prove they got the email you sent?

Real Estate Broker/Owner with G L Myers Real Estate Services NC Broker #168385

One of the most frustrating experiences of the electronic age is sending an email, waiting for a reply and later discovering they never got the email. Such mishaps can cost you business, in other words, money. Likewise, it can cost you money when you use email for notification. You send it, call and confirm they got it, discuss the content of the message; and now they claim it never happened or they claim the message was different from what you claim. Electronic communication is easily altered by those technically inclined. You can use paper to avoid the issue, but it is much slower and more cumbersome.

I suggest a good alternative for emails with monetary implications is registered email. A company called RPost has a system to verify an email was received, the time it was received and the content of the message. Just as with regular mail and registered mail with the USPS, it is not something to use on every email, but for truly important emails it provides legalproof of delivery and content. It doesn't take much imagination to see where this system can be of significant benefit to those of us in the real estate industry.

Comments (27)

Darleen McCullen
Raleigh, NC
Broker - Raleigh, NC Real Estate
Greg, this is great information. I always follow up with a phone call to make sure the recipient received my email (and faxes) for that matter. While technology is great, it isn't foolproof.
Jan 19, 2008 01:28 PM
Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408 - Daytona Beach, FL
Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices
This is interesting. Thank you for a very good tip.
Jan 19, 2008 05:12 PM
Mark Horan
Resident Team Realty, LLC & Toni's Property Management LLC - Saint Cloud, FL
"The Resident Chef" - Resident Team Realty LLC &
Greg- It happens to me all the time. Then I find out the email went into their spam folder.
Jan 19, 2008 05:46 PM
Greg Myers
G L Myers Real Estate Services - Chapel Hill, NC

"It was in my spam folder" is the current, adult equivalent of "my dog ate my homework." Although it can truly happen with much greater frequency than problem with a hungry dog, most people have the sense to make address book entries for people involved in a transaction. Spam filters on mail servers are not likely at all the label an RPost email as spam. The fee for the service is small, but any fee is enough to prevent use by a spammer; ISPs and spam filter companies are well aware of that fact. 

A follow-up phone call to an important message is always a good idea no matter how something was sent, email, fax, UPS, USPS, FedEx or carrier pigeon. As important as the message being delivered is, documenting the message was delivered is often just as important. That is where the RPost system makes an impact.

Jan 19, 2008 11:55 PM
Cynthia Tilghman, Realtor® Onslow County NC Home Specialist
Kingsbridge Realty, Inc - Hubert, NC
Hi Greg,
Interesting, never heard of it but will check it out.  I follow up important emails and faxes.  
Jan 20, 2008 12:01 PM
Kenneth M Rossman
Appraiser, Ken Rossman - Boynton Beach, FL
FL Certified General Real Estate Appraiser #RZ3504
If you use Outlook (in send options), in addition to a read receipt you can also get a delivery receipt and use voting buttons which require the recipient to respond (approve/reject, yes/no or yes/no/maybe). I use them frequently.  If I get a read or delivery receipt but no vote response, the next step shortly thereafter is a phone call.
Jan 20, 2008 01:35 PM
Vicki Burton
Southport Realty-Southport, North Carolina - Southport, NC
A local Buyer's Agent - Southport NC Real Estate

I've never heard of this either Greg. I've bookmarked the link. There definitely have been a couple times when an important email didn't go thorough that I showed it had been successfully sent. Great advice....thanks.


Jan 21, 2008 12:24 AM
Diane Aurit
LKN Realty, LLC - Mooresville, NC
Lake Norman Real Estate
This is great information...we do so much by email in real estate and I keep a file on each transaction but this takes it one step further.
Jan 21, 2008 01:50 AM
Robert DeFazio
Calabria Consulting - Buena Park, CA

E-mail as a certifiable vehicle for message delivery is problematic.  First, nearly all e-mail is delivered in clear text, meaning that what you type is absolutely readable by any and all parties that may want to inspect it along its delivery path.  Federal law now makes it completely legal and in some cases mandatory for ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to inspect and keep copies of certain e-mail messages. 

Furthermore, e-mail can be altered in the process of its delivery.  It does not occur frequently, but it should be understood that a naive implicit trust in the accurate delivery of e-mail is likely a misplaced trust. 

There are ways to ensure the delivery of documents and that they have been opened by the intended recipient, but all the ways that can guarantee that process require the willing participation of all parties to the transaction.  RSA, the security company, was recently acquired by a document management company whose combined offerings will guarantee such delivery and the tracking of each and every opening of such documents.  The solution is not cheap, however, and I don't see any ISPs rushing to their doors to implement it.

Some time ago, I had discussions with a US Postal Office representative in Washington, D.C., about the USPS becoming the e-mail clearinghouse for e-mail throughout the U.S.  It would centralize the delivery of e-mail, provide every citizen with a permanent and lifelong e-mail address, and it would allow the provision of comparable electronic versions of the services already provided by the Post Office with respect to the delivery of physical mail.  Things like registered mail and certified mail which now are acceptable forms of proof of delivery for legal purposes.  This can only happen if a large, technologically astute, and universal delivery management system is in place.  I can't think of a better organization than the USPS in conjunction with companies like IBM and Oracle to deliver such a service.  It would certainly make e-mail more reliable, secure, confidential, and capable of being audited for purposes of proof of delivery.

Jan 23, 2008 08:17 AM
Leigh Brown
Leigh Brown & Associates, RE/MAX Executive - Charlotte, NC
CEO, Dream Maker - Charlotte, NC
I love it-thanks for sharing!
Jan 23, 2008 12:57 PM
Greg Myers
G L Myers Real Estate Services - Chapel Hill, NC
Robert, your comment is generally accurate; however, in light of what the RPost system does I can't help but wonder if you took the time to investigate the service by clicking on the link to their site.
Jan 23, 2008 01:17 PM

There are companies that are offering one form or another of presumably secure e-mail, but the problem with individualized, non-standards-based offerings is best exemplified by the market experience of the Linux operating system.  Linux was supposed to be the open source competitor to Windows.  At first the anything-but-Microsoft sentiment propelled it to minor prominence.  It gained a small foothold among server manufacturers, particularly companies like IBM that made both servers and which produced server software targeted at specific industries.  Linux costs nothing to install or license which is great for companies trying to push their server solutions out to a specific market.

But as a desktop operating system, it is simply not there.  Technical support for it is a joke, and the number of different flavors of the operating system is reminiscent of Unix operating systems that have been tinkered with at every educational institution that has ever had its hands on it. 

So, when it comes to a quasi-universal e-mail delivery system that offers security, audit capabilities, guaranteed delivery, and the kind of universality of access that e-mail users have come to expect, what is needed is a centralized, standards-based system.  It would serve several purposes among which would be the elimination of junk mail from Nigeria, Russia, and China offering us a million dollars to process payments for some poor soul whose rights to the national treasury of some third world country have been usurped by an evil dictator.  It would give everyone the same kind of service in an electronic medium as that now available with conventional mail, and it could be regulated for the safety of all who use it in the same fashion just as securities brokerage, banking, real estate appraisal, and other activities that are critical to the health of our nation are regulated. 

It seems that no one wants to regulate anything that has anything to do with the Internet, yet everyone gripes about junk e-mail, the lack of security in electronic correspondence, and the invasion of personal privacy.  Look at how much money has been spent collectively on the these issues by a host of companies who subscribe to the principle of NIH (not invented here).  The duplication of effort, lack of cooperation, and subterfuge exhibited have ended up costing the economy far more in loss of opportunity than the small gains made to date that have actually benefitted customers of private companies. 

It has also cost the companies themselves more than the benefits they have received.  The best example is Microsoft.  The European Union, which reflects a very different mindset from that here in the United States, seems determined to reduce that company to nothing more than a docile competitor of WordPerfect. 

And that is the real problem.  Companies that are global in their business scope must produce products that have global acceptance.  They cannot economically produce a product that has distinct nuances for each and every country in which they market their services and products.  An e-mail solution that works well within the legal framework of the United States may not work at all well within England or France or Hungary.  Since we live in the United States, the objective should be to produce something that works here! 

There is an appropriate time and place for a certain degree of business parochialism.  The question is, what organization in the case of e-mail delivery is best suited to the production and setting of standards for an e-mail delivery system that addresses the concerns of the United States and its citizens.  I don't think Microsoft or IBM or any other particular company is.  A consortium of companies in consultation with those in the position to regulate is.  E-mail can flow in and out of the country easily, but as long as the American consensus is that pornography in e-mail, unsolicited commercial offers, and the publication of e-mail addresses is viewed as objectionable, it requires an American standard for an acceptable solution that can be enforced.

Some may think that the USPS is the last organization that should control anything.  That's open for debate, but the business model that the USPS has developed and the product paradigms it has produced exactly satisfy our needs for an electronic message delivery system.  So, let them work it out with companies like IBM and others that have the technical capability to develop a practical plan to solve the problem, and then let it be subjected to necessary regulation to prevent abuse.  Only then will we have an e-mail system that keeps out the wolves, lets in the sheep, and has the capability to prove that something delivered has actually been read by the intended party.

Jan 24, 2008 03:22 AM
Greg Myers
G L Myers Real Estate Services - Chapel Hill, NC

Standards don't work when mandated from "on high." Standards that work are based on products that exist in the market. RPost has a system that works as well as a physical, registered letter sent through the USPS to confirm delivery. Just as one cannot prove a letter was read when sent through the mail, one cannot prove the email was read. Unless one monitors the brainwaves of the recipient, proving anything was ever read is impossible.

It is all well and good to talk about global acceptance, but the fact is countries have laws that are mutually exclusive. Different systems for worlds is just part of life.

(This post, like all my work, was created on a computer running under Unix.) 

Jan 24, 2008 07:25 AM
John Fariss
Fariss Appraisal Services - Bakersfield, CA
Appraiser - Bakersfield, CA
True, there is no way to tell if any message has been read by the viewer, but some certified email systems can tell the sender when the email was viewed. This gives you proof that not only was the email delivered, but the email was open and the content of the email viewed. As one commenter already noted, a la mode offers a system called SureReceipts through their CertMail system. Whenever I have problems delivering an appraisal report, i use this system: I get an email notification when the email is viewed and another when the appraisal report is downloaded.
Jan 25, 2008 07:05 AM
Todd Clark - Retired
eXp Realty LLC - Tigard, OR
Principle Broker Oregon

What a great idea and you are right there are times that it is important that some e-mails are confirmed with a security code and I am certainly going to check out this company.


Jan 28, 2008 04:10 PM
Cynthia Tilghman, Realtor® Onslow County NC Home Specialist
Kingsbridge Realty, Inc - Hubert, NC
Just wanted to drop by and thank you for the comment on my post.  How are things going in Chapel Hill, one of my very favorite places in the world?
Feb 04, 2008 10:06 PM
Robert DeFazio
Calabria Consulting - Buena Park, CA


I read yesterday that the Universal Postal Union which is comprised of 189 member nations is considering doing what I had mentioned in my earlier postings, i.e. developing a universal electronic implementation of the various services now present in physical mail.  Likely this will take several years to adopt for all nations, but the more technologically advanced nations will show signs of this initiative earlier than the others. 

What amazes me is that things I had been doing nearly 20 years ago are now being thought of as "innovative."  I include things like delivering an electronic version of a letter to a foreign country, having it printed after transmission, and then delivered as conventional mail.  It saved money, and it gave the impression and sense of immediacy that only a physical letter can. 

Governments are slow adopters of technology.  The reasons are manifold, but a lot has to do with the unwillingness to adopt rooted in labor relations, fear of job losses, and fear of being found out as one who regulates but does not understand. 

Feb 05, 2008 02:04 AM
Greg Myers
G L Myers Real Estate Services - Chapel Hill, NC

Cynthia, things are going well in Chapel Hill. Major growth is about to occur in the Northern part of town now that guidelines are in place and the moratorium on development has expired. Time will tell if that is a good thing or a bad thing for the town, but it will be very good for the real estate business.

Robert, 20 to 30 years behind is typical for government when it comes to technology. As you say, there are many reasons for that, and labor (voter) fears are one of them. Regulating without understanding is not a big secret, but I do suppose there are those that like to pretend people don't know they are ignorant. I believe one of the main reasons behind the lack of taxes on the Internet is the inability to understand how to implement them in an enforceable manner.

For now we have systems like RPost that can confirm when something was received by a mail server, and what that something was. It's does not fill every need, but it does fill some needs. Someday a new mail protocol will come out which will handle confirmations all along the way and virtually eliminate spam. I'm sure it will happen, but I doubt government will have anything to do with it's invention or adoption.

Feb 05, 2008 04:26 AM
Jesse & Kathy Clifton
Jesse Clifton & Associates, REALTORS® - Fairbanks, AK
Interesting.  I've been using a secure encryption server for certain documents, but this is a whole new ball of wax.  It could prove very useful.  Thanks, Greg.
Feb 06, 2008 06:46 PM
Michael Gubliano

You might be interested in a service called . They do not directly certify that an email has been received but you can proof that you have sent it. Its pretty straightforward.

Aug 15, 2009 04:55 AM