Using Gmail & Thunderbird for Complete Real Estate Transaction Email Management

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Using Gmail & Thunderbird for Complete Real Estate Transaction Email Management

If you've not been concerned about how you retain and can recover your emails related to real estate transactions, you should be. Read here about federal law and email in pre-trial discovery. The problem is that it's a real hassle to try to pull together a system that will not take up a bunch of your time and will be error proof to:
  • Capture all emails, incoming and outgoing, related to a transaction.


  • File those emails where you can locate them quickly later.
  • Allow you to print them for permanent filing readable by anyone.

I spent months trying to tie together solutions, especially since I prefer to use Gmail, and it doesn't allow multiple printing of emails. It also doesn't allow automatic Bcc of email, nor forwarding or reliable filtering of your outgoing mail. While you can get a Firefox add-on Greasemonkey script for auto Bcc, that doesn't help me when I'm communicating from my iPad, which is becoming much more common these days. So, I needed all of these issues resolved whether at my desk or on the road, and Gmail needed some help. But, those are all of the negatives, and Gmail has so many positives that I can't change. But, I'm going to give you a bonus here too. I'll show you how to get all of this done. You'll also now have a complete backup on your hard drive of all of your Gmail, in and out, and it won't take any effort on your part after you set it up.

I'm going to assume that you already use Gmail, or that you'll go get your free account started right away.

I am not giving instructions for that here, but Gmail walks you through it. And, I'm not going to go through with all of the benefits of Gmail labels and filters, as you can get those at the links or from Gmail help. Actually, we're going to couple the free Thunderbird email software with Gmail, and you'll not even need to label or filter transaction emails to get precisely what you want. It will just happen...technology magic if you will!

So, get Gmail, and download Thunderbird free here. Now, let's go to the one step we need to take to get Gmail ready.

Enabling Imap in Gmail for Thunderbird Syncing

As you can see in the image, this is simple and fast. In Gmail, just go to Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP and enable Imap as shown. That's it. We'll do the rest of our setup in Thunderbird. And, you'll see that we don't even have to worry about labels or filters in Gmail, as Thunderbird is going to capture all of our transaction emails into one folder where we can access them and print them at will.

Setting Up IMAP in Thunderbird to Talk to Gmail

Now that you have your Thunderbird software installed, open the program and go to Tools > Account Settings, and start a new email account. The image shows the first of a few screens we'll need to set up to make sure that Thunderbird brings ALL of our Gmail into the software. I had more than 30,000 messages in Gmail, and it took a few hours, but I was able to work and complete other tasks while it worked in the background.
Here we just give Thunderbird the basic information about our Gmail account for access.

Giving Thunderbird Setup Instructions for Google Mail IMAP

In the image, we see that we've moved down one item on the left, to where we set up the server settings for Thunderbird to access our Gmail server for IMAP. This will allow Thunderbird to access all of our email on the Gmail server, downloading it for our backup and further processing in Thunderbird.

Thunderbird Gmail Download Instructions

The image here helps to clarify that this item instructs Thunderbird to pull down ALL of our Gmail. Just use the settings you see, as we want all of our Gmail to be pulled into Thunderbird. Don't worry about the other setting options on the left now, as the defaults will work fine for our purposes.
Here's what we've accomplished when we save our new account settings.
  • Thunderbird will act like it's Gmail, getting all incoming and outgoing messages from Gmail.


  • We aren't interested in most of the Tbird settings, as we're not going to use it to email or check mail, just as a storage, filtering and reporting resource.
  • Thunderbird will pull down all of our Gmail, and we'll now build a sample transaction email gathering filter and folder to bring it all together in one place.

In the next step we see how we can use Thunderbird to build a permanent "folder search" to create a folder of all emails related to a transaction, and update it as new emails come in or go out.

Step 1 of Setting Up a Saved Search Folder

This is a quick step, in that I wanted to show you in the image precisely where to go to set up a saved search folder. In other words, we're going to create a custom search of all of our email that will continually keep track of new emails in or out that match our criteria, placing them in the saved search folder.

Now all we do when we begin a new transaction is to tell Thunderbird who is involved so that emails to and from them can be captured in our saved search folder. Thunderbird makes it easy, with one criteria that will look for their email address in To, Cc, Bcc or From fields of the email. So, as long as a client or other transaction contact's email address is involved in any way, we'll get that email into this folder.
Get everyone involved, but don't go too far with title company or others, as they could be involved in more than one transaction at the same time, causing you to get unwanted emails in your folders.

Just be sure to Cc or Bcc your client when those emails are involved, and you'll get the appropriate email into the appropriate folder. So, if Jane Jones is the closer on more than one of your deals, just Cc or Bcc your client for the appropriate transaction in emails to and from Jane. Everything will get where it's supposed to be.

If multiple clients or email addresses are involved, just keep hitting that "+" button and adding till you get them all. Once you save this search, a new folder will appear at the left as you named it. Every time Thunderbird is opened, it will do a new load of that folder with the latest search. Every email related to the transaction will be there.

Once you close on a transaction, you can print all of the emails involved from Thunderbird. It's easy, as you need only go to your transaction folder and highlight all of the emails, then print them. When there are a whole lot of them, you might break them up into date ranges, making each print a little more manageable.

That's it! You're now not going to do anything you haven't been doing before, just emailing to and from your transaction contacts and clients.

You don't have to Bcc to get your file built, or change your habits in any way. Just do what you do, and Gmail and Thunderbird will do the rest for you.

**Bonus - If you want to save some trees and print to a PDF, you'll find that there's only one problem...Thunderbird considers each email a separate file. This doesn't matter when it's going to a regular printer, as they'll just print one after the other. However, if you are using PDF printer software, usually it will require that you sit there and authorize each file to print one at a time. That's not fun if you have a hundred emails.

Just download free PDF Creator software here. It will install as a printer on your system. When you're ready to print, first open PDFCreator software windo, then print the first email in the list only. It pulls it up into the PDF Creator list of files, and you click on the Collect/Wait button at the bottom. Then highlight all of the rest of the emails and tell Thunderbird to print. They'll all go to that PDF Creator file list.

Then just highlight them all there, right click on the highlighted emails and select "combine all to tell the software to combine them into one file. You'll get a single file with all of the emails.

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