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Follow rules to ensure mail delivery

I am a Realtor, and, since I hate to receive phone calls to be solicited for everything, I do not "cold call." It is costly to do bulk mail but easier than calling a hostile homeowner.

My problem is the post office. Did you know that now the post office has a main 800 number, and all other numbers are unlisted or unpublished? It's true.

I mail about 300 pieces of bulk mail every 30 to 45 days. For my mailings, I use the city directory, 1998 issue from Hill-Donnelly. The post office keeps sending back pieces saying not at this address, no such address, etc. I have even sent my mail first class with the same results.

I spend a lot of money on mailouts that are not delivered for no real reason. I get as much junk mail as everyone. I read all of my mail and trash anything I can't use of file it away for the future. My mailouts generate about 40 percent of my business. What can I do to get my bulk mail delivered on a regular basis? Mary Hoke-Singer

Response: Clearwater postmaster J.L. Short said you have been contacted by Tom LeGare, manager of customer services at the Clearwater main office, who has gone over all the problems you have been having and explained why some mail was being returned. If you have problems in the future, you should contact LeGare directly, and he will investigate the matter for you.

We couldn't let this opportunity escape without passing along mail hints to your fellow readers, so we called LeGare and asked what heads the list in importance when using the U.S. Postal Service. Address hygiene, he said. This was a novel concept to us until he explained, then it made sense.

It's almost embarrassingly obvious, but being able to read the address is vital. The same goes for using the correct address.

Pay attention now. LeGare said using the correct ZIP code is the most crucial element, followed by the directionals, N, NW, S, etc. Use the proper state and city that the post office has assigned. Consider that folks who live in Belleair have a Clearwater ZIP code.

LeGare said the correct ZIP code is important because, in its quest for speed and efficiency, the U.S. Postal Service is using more and more automation. If a ZIP code is incorrect, incomplete or illegible, the machine kicks out that piece of mail for manual processing, and that slows things down.

Have you ever filled out a magazine subscription or other form and not had enough space to include your whole address? For instance, your street address might require 28 of those irritatingly little boxes, and yet there are only 20? In such cases, LeGare said to be sure to use the abbreviations recognized by the Postal Service, and please don't leave out such critical information as apartment or suite numbers. If you're unsure how to "shrink" your address, check with your post office.

Which brings us to the one-phone-number-for-all-calls.

LeGare said the Postal Service made the decision to centralize the phone service since most questions to it are of a general nature, such as ZIP codes, changes of address and customer service issues. Questions it cannot answer you'll have to take to your local post office.

With regard to mail that is returned to sender, this happens for many different reasons, as was the case with your mail. Reasons range from inability to read a street name to ZIP codes having changed. Also, mail addressed to "(or) current resident" will be returned if the property is vacant.

A piece of mail that is unidentifiable or missing a return address goes to a mail recovery center. The one for Florida is in Atlanta.

There, humans investigate the address. They have the authority to open the mail and review the contents in an effort to return it to the sender.

LeGare gave the example of mailing a payment and not including a return address. The address on the check would then be used as the return address.

Following simple guidelines will keep you, the scanning and sorting machines and the Postal Service's employees happy:

+ Capitalize everything, using plain block letters. The machines can read this more easily than script.

+ Omit punctuation but hyphenate the ZIP+4 code.

+ Use the two-letter state abbreviations.

+ Use complete, correct ZIP codes. Use the ZIP+4 code when known.

+ Use the accepted abbreviations: AVE (Avenue); ST (Street); RD (Road); PL (Place); CIR (Circle); E (East); RM (Room); STE (Suite): APT (Apartment). Contact your post office for others.

When a post office box number and a street address are both used, the mail is delivered to the address just above the city. Make sure the ZIP code corresponds to that address.

For more detailed information, contact the U.S. Postal Service or visit its Web site at http://www.usps.gov.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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