Do You Really Need an Open House?

By Jon Miller, Realtor®

Do you really need an Open House when selling your home? If we lived in a world without the internet then home buyers may have trouble finding homes for sale. They’d ask their friends and neighbors if they knew anyone who was selling a house, they’d go to a local real estate office and ask which homes are for sale, or they’d drive around on Sunday afternoons looking for “Open House” signs in hopes of finding a home that matched their needs and budget.

We don’t live in that world. Every potential home buyer is looking online for their next home. Most get automatic listing alerts from 2-3 sites like Zillow and Realtor.com. The most serious buyers are also getting updates of new listings from their real estate agent. It’s pretty much impossible to keep a home a secret.

When a potential home buyer is ready to buy, ie. they’re actually in the market to buy now and no longer “Just Looking,” they’ll schedule a private showing with their agent to see the home. They don’t need to wait for an Open House because they can get easy access to the home on their schedule. Rarely will a serious buyer who loves your home wait for an Open House, they’ll just schedule a private showing.

Who Visits Open Houses?

The vast majority of Open House visitors are curious neighbors and “Just Looking” buyers who are months or years away from buying a home. They like to visit Open Houses because there’s no commitment to work with a real estate agent or talk with a lender to narrow down their budget and get mortgage pre-approval. A small number of Open House attendees may be ready, willing, and able to buy your home but the majority of buyers will schedule a showing with their real estate agent. Here’s a closer look at who visits Open Houses . . .

1. Curious Neighbors

Neighbors love to stop in at Open Houses just to see what your home looks like. More than likely, they’re either a little bit curious about what you’ve done with your home or they may be curious about the potential value of their home so they’re using your home as a comparison. These neighbors have no intention of buying your home so they won’t take the initiative to contact a real estate agent to set up a showing but an Open House allows them the opportunity to visit without any obligation at all. In my experience, curious neighbors will make up about 50% of the traffic at an Open House.

2. “Just Looking”

I remember the first time that my wife and I went into an Open House (this was before I before I became a Realtor). We were in the Fairmount neighborhood in Philadelphia for lunch on a Sunday morning. Afterward, we decided to take a walk through the neighborhood and we couldn’t resist going into an Open House on Aspen Street. It was a little cold and it seemed like a good place to warm up plus it seemed interesting to see what homes in the neighborhood looked like. At that point in our lives we had been dating for a few months and hadn’t had any discussions about the future. We had ZERO intention of buying a house any time soon. In fact, it was nearly 3 years later when we actually did. After the curious neighbors, we were in the second biggest category of Open House visitors . . . the “Just Looking” group.

In our case, we just saw the sign and went in (By the way, do you really want people doing that in your home?). There’s another “Just Looking” group that visits Open Houses, too. This group actually found your home online and specifically went to see it. There may be some hope of someone in this group buying your home but the chances are pretty small. If they really wanted to buy your home they wouldn’t wait for an Open House, they’d call an agent and get in to see it as soon as possible so they could make an offer before someone else beat them to it. Nobody has ever said “This house is perfect but I won’t go see it unless there’s an Open House.”

The “Just Looking” group loves Open Houses because they can go in and see your home without having to get mortgage pre-approval or talk with an agent who may require a mortgage pre-approval before scheduling a showing on the house. People in this group aren’t ready to buy so they don’t want to go through these steps. So why would you want them in your home?

3. Ready, Willing, and Able Buyers

Some of these buyers will come to an Open House though they are the smallest category of Open House attendees. Why is that? A ready, willing, and able buyer who loves their first look at your home (on their phone or computer screen) will schedule a private showing instead of waiting for an Open House. They don’t need Open Houses.

Safety Issues with Open Houses

At what other time would you open the doors to your home for anyone off the street to walk in and look around? Would you also advertise online that anyone is welcome to come through your home? It’s just not a good idea but somehow it seems reasonable in the context of selling one’s home. As a Realtor I can tell you that I’d never have an Open House when it’s time to sell our home. I want potential buyers to have taken the step of contacting a real estate agent who (hopefully) will know their clients and have gotten loan pre-approval before coming through my house. I think that you should want the same.

If you open your home to anyone then be sure to remove valuables like jewelry and prescription medicines. A busy Open House will provide those with ill intent plenty of opportunity to steal. Limiting showings to buyers with an agent minimizes that possibility.

Good Reasons to Have an Open House

Is Access an Issue?

For some homeowners access to their home is an issue. If you have young kids or pets that you’ll need to remove, it may be a lot easier to limit access to your home to certain times. If this is the case, funneling potential buyers into a narrow window on a Sunday afternoon may be the best option. Likewise, if someone in the home has health issues and they can only be away for a limited time an Open House can be a way to solve that issue. However, most homeowners will be able to accommodate showing appointments with a little bit of notice.

Feedback

The feedback that you get from Open Houses can be valuable. While I wouldn’t expect much feedback in the way of specific action like “replace the carpet,” the real feedback is in your traffic. If your Open House is advertised to real estate agents and their buying clients and it’s advertised on Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. and nobody shows up then you can pretty quickly tell that something needs to change. If a lot of people show up then you may not need to make any major changes before getting offers. You can also figure this out without an Open House based on how many showings get scheduled. If you don’t have any showings, something needs to change. If you have lots of showings, you shouldn’t need to any major changes.

Sense of Urgency

A sense of urgency is one of the greatest sales tools you can use when selling your home. You can build that sense of urgency with an Open House. Some buyers will see that an Open House is on the schedule and they’ll want to get into the home and make an offer before the Open House. It can help though I’d argue that the majority of those buyers already know a home will sell quickly once they see it online so they won’t hesitate to schedule a showing, this is especially true in Seller’s Markets when they’ve likely already missed out on a few great homes.

Do You Really Need an Open House?

If a new rule were made that said that we couldn’t have any more Open Houses in Philadelphia, I don’t believe that it would change the number of homes sold or home values. The majority of Open House visitors will be neighbors and people who plan to buy in the future. Those who are ready to buy a home now will prefer to schedule a showing with their agent rather than go to an Open House and shop with others.

When working with home sellers I always ask them if they prefer to have an Open House or not. Before making the decision I want to make sure they understand the positives and negatives and let them make the decision from there and few choose to include Open Houses as part of their home sale.

Jon Miller, RealtorJon Miller is a resident of the Roxborough-Manayunk area and a Realtor® with Compass Real Estate. Each week Jon puts together a list of the best local events and activities which you can find here

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