The Open House As A Home-Selling Tool?

Some home sellers view open houses as a right. If their agents balk at sitting in the living room for four or five hours on a nice spring Sunday afternoon waiting for prospects to come bouncing through the door, they feel cheated.

Others see them as a necessary evil. Even though they’ll have to make the beds, clean the kitchen and get put out of their homes, lock, stock and family pet, many sellers believe it is absolutely imperative that agents hold their houses open so anyone and everyone can come traipsing through.

But according to the National Assn. of Realtors’ latest profile of buyers and sellers, only 7% of all buyers visited open houses as a first step in their safari for a new house. Most people start their hunt on the Internet.

That’s not to say that open houses don’t work. They do, but not necessarily for the house in question. Rather, they help turn up new clients for your agent in the form of possible sellers of other houses. They also produce potential buyers of other houses that also are listed for sale.

But as a true selling tool? According to the association, few buyers found the place they bought at an open house.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Over the last two years, Carrie Georgitsis of Re/Max Signature has sold maybe eight houses to buyers who first saw the homes at open houses.

The third house that Kris Coutant of Balfour Realty ever sold was at an open. “I had never met the buyer,” she recalls. “She walked in, decided it was exactly what she wanted, and we wrote the contract right there.”

For the most part, though, agents prefer not to hold open houses unless their clients insist. And even then they’re more likely to persuade their offices’ rookies to baby-sit the house rather than sit there themselves. Actually, novice agents sometimes beg to hold an open house on behalf of their more experienced colleagues in hopes they can snare a client or two of their own. But in those instances, the seller sometimes doesn’t get the representation he’s paying for.

Robert King of Charles Rutenberg Realtors is one of the few realty pros who believe open houses are a good way to stand out in the crowd, but he says most agents he meets at opens he attends when not conducting his own “have the personality and conversation of a table waiter explaining the menu.”

Even in this slow market, when agents are pulling every trick they can think of out of their hats, open houses just don’t seem to work very well.

When houses were selling fast, the modus operandi was to list a home Thursday, hold it open Sunday and collect multiple offers by Tuesday. Buyers knew they had to spend their weekends visiting open houses so they didn’t miss new listings. And they knew if they didn’t act fast, the house wouldn’t be around the next weekend.

Now there is no longer that sense of urgency, says Don Fabrizio-Garcia of Keller Williams: “There is no need for buyers to see a home on our timetable. They can view homes with their agent on their own schedule.”

When open houses do draw people, says Debra Cochran of 1st Choice Better Homes & Land, they are more likely to be looking for decorating tips. And Sandra Newman of Keller Williams considers an open house a success if someone shows up. “Even if they don’t care for it, they will tell someone else,” she says. “It is free advertising, and word of mouth is the best advertising.”

Another reason to hold an open: instant feedback. Lookers will tell your agent what they don’t like about the place. If you get some similar reactions, you’ll know something needs to be addressed.

Still, if you insist on an open house, you might persuade your agent to schedule it during the week so other agents can preview it. Then, if your house happens to fit what one of their clients is looking for, the agent can bring the client back for a private showing.