When a home hits the market, one of the first tasks for the seller is to put on an open house. If your home is listed with a real estate agent, your agent will tell you how to prepare your home and organize the open house. If you list your home without an agent, then it’s all up to you.
Either way, you and your agent can take steps to make sure the maximum number of people sees your home, increasing its chances of selling quickly for a better price. While technology has changed some aspects of open houses, others – such as the importance of making a good first impression – remain the same.
“It’s changed quite a bit with the Internet,” says Moureen Hardy, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in Irvine, California. “Years ago, you’d put an ad in the paper and put a few signs around. Now it’s like a pop-up store. They find out about us on the Internet. A lot of people who come to open houses today do not follow the signs in.”
In fact, her daughter, Amy Hardy, who works with her, notes that you can use a smartphone app to find open houses near you when you’re out and about, as well as view sale prices for comparable homes and competing listings.
According to 2014 data from the National Association of Realtors, 92 percent of homebuyers use the Internet in their search, and that makes listing your open house online important. Your agent can enter the open house dates in the multiple listing service and have it syndicated to other services, such as Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow. If you’re doing your own marketing, you’ll have to enter the listings yourself.
“Home sellers today are missing the boat if they’re not promoting their homes online,” says P.J. Mitchell, CEO of Fizber.com, which provides resources for people who want to sell their homes themselves. That includes information on how to stage your home for sale and how to put on an open house. “It doesn’t really matter how prepared you are or how beautiful your house is if you don’t tell people about it,” Mitchell says.
He advises sellers to share their listings and open house dates through all their social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Friends, neighbors, colleagues and relatives could know someone who is looking, plus you never know who outside your direct network might stumble across your tweet or Facebook post.
Agents disagree over whether open houses really sell homes. Some believe that open houses help agents find new clients but are less effective at selling a specific home. But many sellers and agents do find them valuable and suggest holding an open house the first weekend the house is listed.
“Redfin really stresses the importance of open houses,” says Ronee Chenault, a Redfin agent in suburban Chicago. “For me, it’s just another avenue for marketing and getting the word out there.”
Many times neighbors attend open houses, even if they’re not looking to move, out of curiosity. Most agents encourage that, and some even send flyers to neighbors because they may have friends and relatives who are looking for a home.
“The more people that come by a property, the better chance you have to sell it,” Moureen Hardy says.
If your home is listed with an agent, he or she is likely to put on a broker’s open house, in which lunch or snacks are served and agents are invited to tour the house, usually without clients. “Brokers’ open houses are very important,” Chenault says.
Here are 14 tips for holding a flawless open house.
Make a good first impression. You want to freshen up the landscaping and exterior paint, plus consider purchasing a few new items, including a garage door, mailbox, exterior door and house numbers. Clean the driveway and walkways, and get the cars out of the driveway and from in front of the house.
Clean, clean, clean. “The property has to be in pristine condition when you have the open house,” Moureen Hardy says. That could mean hiring professional house cleaners, having the windows washed and having the carpets cleaned.
Stage your home with furniture and accessories. Cannon Christian, president of the Southern California-based Renovation Realty, says his company adds furniture and accessories to vacant homes. If you’re living in the house, consider some small touches such as fresh towels in the bathroom, vases of flowers and a few well-chosen accessories. With furniture, less is often more. Wild-colored walls should be painted and, depending on your budget, you may want to paint kitchen cabinets, add new hardware or change faucets.
Get rid of clutter. If the house has too many pieces of furniture and knickknacks, it’s hard for potential buyers to see the home’s features. Sellers should start packing before the house goes on the market, making the home as sparse and streamlined as possible.
Remove personal items. “Homebuyers want to walk into the house and visualize it as their new home,” Mitchell says. When a potential buyer sees your family photos and your children’s crayon drawings on the refrigerator during your open house, that becomes more difficult.
Remove pets if possible. Dogs, cats or other pets should neither be seen nor heard during the open house. If they can’t be removed from the house, they need to be confined to a less trafficked space.
Spread the word. Make sure your open house is listed in the multiple listing service as well as on all the major real estate portals and Craigslist. Christian likes to send flyers to the neighbors, and you can also share the information on Nextdoor.com and neighborhood email lists. Share the information with friends via email and social media. “Do what you can to get the most people in the door,” Christian says.
Put up signs. In addition to putting a sign on your front lawn, put signs at major intersections directing people to the house. Tying balloons to the signs makes them more visible. “If people can’t find the house, you’re shooting yourself in the foot,” Christian says.
Let there be light. Open up all the curtains and blinds and turn on lights in every room, even on a sunny day. “Make it as bright and cheerful as you can,” Chenault says.
Provide information. You or your agent should provide information for prospective buyers to take with them, including a brochure or flyer with photos of the house, information on comparable home sales and perhaps school or community information. Mitchell also gets a local lender to provide information on payments with a few loan scenarios. “You don’t want homebuyers to leave your home empty-handed,” he says. “This is not going to be the only house they’re going to tour that day. It’s hard to remember all the different homes that they walked through.”
Yes, bake or buy cookies. Not all agents agree on the importance of refreshments, but most think they’re a good idea. Christian sometimes invites food trucks to his open houses and gives away sports tickets, notebooks or other trinkets. He also likes the fact that serving cookies and drinks gets the visitors to stop and interact with the agent or seller.
Stay in the background if you’re there at all. If a real estate agent is organizing the open house, the sellers should not be present. If you’re doing your own open house, you want to be as professional and unobtrusive as possible so visitors will feel free to imagine themselves living in the house and discuss its flaws without fear of offending you.
Listen to feedback. One valuable takeaway from an open house is being able to hear what people think about the price and features. If six neighbors think the home is overpriced, it probably is. “If you don’t get opinions and people’s thoughts, you’re wasting a lot of audience,” Christian says. Collect names and contact information from everyone who visits and contact them afterward to see what they thought of the house. Your agent will do that if you have one.