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Balancing Act: 10 Ideas for Hosting a Successful Open House while Keeping Your Client Happy

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By Dan Steward

RISMEDIA, April 18, 2011—While some real estate markets are picking up as we head out of winter, it’s a reality that in many markets, home prices are going down. Prices in 20 major metropolitan areas decreased 1% in November from October, according to the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index released on January 25th. The index has fallen 1.6% from a year ago.

While that’s hardly a scary slope downward, the lagging numbers mean many houses are on the market longer—and, in many cases, that means more interest-generating initiatives are essential. Chief of these is the good, old open house.

While some think open houses are only a marginally good way to get buyers in—citing the fact that sometimes more nosy neighbors show up than anyone else—many REALTORS® still swear by open houses, and anyone who’s made a sale based on one will vouch for them for life.

No matter where you stand on the open-house topic, one thing is clear: It’s not easy to tell clients to leave for six Saturdays in a row. Open houses can be one of the biggest agent/client relationship stressors, and if you open the door to your client’s home too wide, without considering their needs, you could be staring at a fed-up client. To avoid that outcome, here are 10 tips on how to conduct open houses, while keeping your home seller happy:

1. Don’t go week by week. When you’re presenting an open house schedule to a client, it should be just that—a schedule. Tell your clients about all open houses you plan to have in the next four weeks, so they can plan their lives around that schedule. Mentioning an open house four days in advance is never a good idea.

2. Put in a little prep work. You already convinced your clients to put a 100-piece porcelain collection in storage, paint an apricot-colored guest bedroom white, hide the kids’ stuffed animals indefinitely—and have the whole house professionally cleaned. You don’t want to have them do even more work every Sunday morning before an open house. Give them a general guideline of how the house should look (i.e., no obvious clutter) and have the clients leave an hour before the open house. Then show up early and do a little organizing yourself. Obviously you’re not going to be cleaning the bathrooms—just do a little tidying-up and organizing. If more is needed, spring for a professional cleaner to clean for an hour or two before the open house so the clients can be absolved of that task.

3. Explain to the client why their absence is important. We all know that the presence of a homeowner at an open house can seriously squelch the party, making potential buyers uncomfortable. But don’t just tell your client to leave without an explanation. Explain to the client that it can make potential buyers feel a bit uncomfortable for a homeowner to be there during the open house. Reiterate to them that this isn’t something you’re doing because you think they’re difficult or annoying—assert that this is something you recommend for every home seller.

4. Give the client some say. Just because the client isn’t there doesn’t mean they have no opinion over things they’re sensitive about. Ask if they have any needs or requirements. If they’re within reason—like asking potential buyers to take their shoes off when they come in the house, or asking that the beds be off-limits to jumping kids (and their germs)—do your best to accommodate those needs, and show them you’re doing so (i.e., have a local artist make an attractive little “please take off your shoes” sign and hang it on the door).

5. A little gift never hurts. After a handful of open houses, even though the client knows what the schedule is, they might wake up and not be super-thrilled to have to leave for hours. That’s why springing for a little gift is a smart idea—a relaxing massage or spa treatment for a single or couple, or amusement-park passes for a family, to pass the time.

6. Set hours. And stick to them. Don’t just tell a homeowner to leave “for the day”—that may inspire anxiety in them, as they might wonder, “When do I come back? What if it’s too early?” Tell them exactly when to leave and when to come back, and make sure the open house is done by then. Establish that if an extremely interested potential buyer is staying late, you will call or text your client to let them know.

7. Communicate. Don’t dash out the minute the open house is done. Wait for the homeowners to return and spend 15 to 20 minutes telling them how the open house went: what went well, what could have been improved, who showed up, the feedback you got. This will enable your client to truly understand the value of an open house. (Of course, some clients won’t want a play-by-play after every open house. This is something you can establish early on).

8. Cut the fat. A lot of REALTORS® go completely over the top for an open house, wasting not only money but time and energy. Do you really need a surf-and-turf buffet table at the event? Creative hors d’oeuvres like mini sliders make for a much easier bite: They aren’t just a money-saving measure on your end, they’re easier to eat and keeps people’s focus on the house, not down at their plate. A little food or drink is fine—great, in fact—just don’t overdo it. This will also show your client that you’re most concerned with results rather than hat tricks, and that you believe that their house’s strong points, rather than a 30-pound Chateaubriand, are enough to get it sold.

9. Bring the incidentals. You’ve already had your clients work to get their home in good shape; it’s not fair to make them buy scented candles too. It’s smart to have mood-setters at an open house—not just candles, but things like flower or fruit arrangements—but bring those yourself. And leave them there after the open house for your clients to enjoy.

10. Do a final check. After the open house is done, give the house one final walk-through to make sure things are back to normal. Even something as simple as shutting the cabinets that visitors opened, or smoothing out the pillows where someone tested out the sofa will show your client that you care about their home and are trying to be as minimally disruptive of their life as possible.

Dan Steward is president of Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspections. For more information, visit www.pillartopost.com.

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