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Rethinking the Open House

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By George W. Mantor

RISMEDIA, July 14, 2009-It’s a familiar weekend scene in American neighborhoods, the ubiquitous Open House; three signs, a flag and one seriously bored agent watching Rachel Ray reruns in the family room.

It is apparent from the Open Houses I have visited that many agents don’t know why they are there. Many are newer to the business, more on that in a moment. But, in all likelihood, the home they have selected is not their listing.

Their behavior toward me suggests that they believe that someone is actually going to walk through the door and buy the house, and with that view of their mission, it is no wonder that they come to view Open Houses as a waste of time.

The true purpose of an Open House is neither to sell the home nor to “pick-up” a ripe buyer. Nor, is it to placate the seller. The purpose of an Open House is to build listing dominance in the neighborhood surrounding the home. And, you will get potential buyers just as you would if you had aimed at them.

Select the right community.

If you do business in a region where there is reasonably priced new or newer construction, you might want to consider focusing there. Depending on the age of the homes, there may have been few, if any resales, and no other agent or brand will have established dominance.

If there is ongoing advertising by the builder, so much the better in terms of traffic, but you don’t need to advertise at all. Most buyers drive through areas they are interested in.

Become an expert in every floorplan, square footage, builder features, and amenities. Know the competition; know nearby communities with market values slightly lower and slightly higher than your target community.

Also, the design of newer communities often features limited access so you can concentrate signage for maximum effect.

Choose an area that you can be enthusiastic about; your intention is to focus your listing activity in this community so you had better like it. The Open House is how you get your toe-hold in the community. The Open House allows you to begin to reinforce your marketing.

Select the right home.

While luck and signage will bring buyers to the home, your goal of future listings requires that you send the right message to sellers. You want your showcase to look, feel, and smell great. Fresh paint, spruced up landscaping, clean windows, and no clutter are important evidence of what you advise sellers. Look for a home that is located near well travelled streets.

Assure Success

The success of your Open House should not be measured by how many possible buyers you picked up. The success of your Open House should be measured according to the neighbors you have made a positive impression upon. Think of it as a low key block party…you want the neighbors to stop in.

If you want people to come to your party, you have to invite them. I like a three pronged approach: tell them you will be inviting them, invite them, and remind them.

Run a title search and make a street by street list of owners. If the mailing address is different from the property address, it may be a rental. No problem, you are just looking for information. The residents of the community are people that you need to meet eventually and a proper Open House provides a wonderful opportunity.

1. The Pre-invitation

Sure, you could just mail them an invitation, but what if they don’t come? Not only have you wasted a stamp but you have made no progress in your quest to meet them. Walk the area between 10a.m. and 12 noon on the Saturday morning the week prior to your Open House

2. KNOCK-KNOCK

“Hi, I’m Ben Selling from Super Realty. Next Saturday, we are having a little barbecue across the street to help the owners sell their home. If you are interested, I could send you an invitation with all the information?”

Wait for it…it’s either going to be yes or no. If yes…

“Oh good, let me just confirm everything. “You are Mr. Skeptical. Do you prefer I contact you by email?”

You already have their address but you want to build a data base you can market to, and email is fast and free.

If not interested…

“No problem. Just in case you might know someone who is interested, I have prepared a price analysis; may I leave a copy with you?”

Just to get rid of you, they will take it. It’s a first step in the marketing process and it allows you one more shot.

“By the way, I routinely prepare similar reports in the area for other sellers, as well as neighbors who are refinancing and people wanting to make sure their property insurance is adequate. Is that something you might be interested in?”

3. Wait for it.

Continue through the neighborhood to talk to as many neighbors as you can about the barbecue. You won’t get them all, ever.

4. The invitation

It needn’t be anything fancy. Where, when, what, and why. Put the family name and property address on them and hit the neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon. If no answer, either leave it at the door or come back tomorrow and try again.

5. The reminder

The morning of the event make one more round of the area to try to get those you missed and remind those you were able to get to previously.

Sign Psychology

An Open House is a legal excuse to plaster the neighborhood with your name. Sign restrictions in most communities would never allow you to post signs all over the area, the exception being real estate Open House signs. Some communities also prohibit those and others have tried so if you can do it, don’t be stingy.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs. Signs that say who you are, signs that say how hard you work, signs that seem to be everywhere, signs that, without even being aware of them, reach people at a subliminal levels and say, “Wow, This Ben Selling really seems to be the go to guy around here.”

Put them where they will be seen by the neighborhood, not to get looky-loos to the property. Saturday is errand and kids recreation day. People are back and forth more times on Saturday than during the week. Experiment with both Saturday and Sunday and see which day has the busiest traffic. I have seen agents holding Open Houses during the week, and that may work in some communities, but I doubt that they will get the same payoff. With each subsequent Open House you have an opportunity to try to meet other neighbors and reinforce the impact of your signs.

Guest Book

Unless you already know them, ask them to register in your guest book as per the seller’s request. Have a column for email.

Display

Create a display of relevant and interesting community information. An Open House tour can sometimes turn into a sprint through the kitchen and bedrooms and a hasty exit. You got them to your Open House and now you want to amuse, amaze, surprise, and delight them with information.

Food

You can go as fancy as you want to, but hot dogs on the grill, chips, water, soda and coffee are all you really need. The idea is to slow them down so you can find out who they are and why they are there.

Loan Officer

Have a loan officer there to talk to potential buyers and to split the setup, hosting, and cleanup chores.

Handout

Create a handout of the attributes of other available properties without the addresses. As they compare the features and benefits of other nearby property, they will inquire about those that best meet their needs. This will help you get an idea about who they are, and how they fit into your business plan.

Remember, the purpose of the Open House is to attain listing dominance in an area that will benefit your business. The effort you put in, and the frequency and location of your signage will make its way into the minds of area residents.

George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his wealth building formula, Lx2+(U²)xTFP=$? and consumer education efforts. During a career that has spanned more than three decades, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing, and commercial and investment property. He is currently the founder and president of The Associates Financial Group, a real estate consulting firm.

Mantor can be reached at GWMantor@aol.com.

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