Opening Up About Open Houses

J Philip Faranda June 11, 2011

Open HouseThere have been several thought provoking articles written recently on open houses and why some agents really do them. The point that agents would offer to hold a listing open while surreptitiously using them to just prospect for buyer clients is actually a rather old modus operandi; however, my experience has been different.

I have run into sellers who complained to me that they found out that their last agent was using their home as “buyer bait” to be sure, but more often than not their complaint was that their last agent did NOT hold their house open. In my neck of the woods, many sellers still believe that open houses are effective marketing. I disagree. Open houses for me have been by and large a chance to catch up on emails and wish I was home with my kids. 

While they are very effective in markets like Manhattan, I view open houses in Westchester as a relic of a bygone era. Years ago, there were no published photos of homes for sale. The only way for a consumer to see the interior was to walk through. Today, with 30 photos on our local MLS, virtual tours, Youtube and other media, they are virtually obsolete. 

Think about it. We as listing agents promise that only pre-approved buyers will come look at the listing. Then, for 2 hours on a weekend afternoon, we allow anyone who can walk on their hind legs and sign what we hope is their real name to walk through. It’s inconsistent. And in my experience, it is ineffective. The chance that a person is not a nozy neighbor and truly qualified for a house is low. We’re just swinging blindly. And that’s no way to do business. 

I do, upon occasion, hold a listing open. But I prefer that it be under the umbrella of a proactive marketing plan as opposed to a reactive plan. In a reactive markeing plan (which is about 95% of the market), a seller in my area would call the listing agent and demand an open house because nothing is happening. The listing agent, guilty that there are no offers and eager to please, holds the open house. The plan? They hope someone walks in and they get lucky. In cases  like this, a seller will only agree to reduce their price after an open house- if it doesn’t sell. That’s no way to do business. 

In a proactive marketing plan, an open house isn’t held to pacify a nervous seller. It is done to attract lurkers, which is to say silent consumers who watch homes online but seldom inquire, to come and look without having to make an appointment or engage an agent that they may not want to commit to using. In proactive marketing, an open house is not only heavily publicized and well planned, it will be used to announce a price improvement and add some sizzle to the steak. In proactive marketing, you aren’t pacifying a nervous seller. And even then, you might not (and probably won’t) sell it, but you can own the outcome. 

By far, the Internet has changed the game of how real estate is sold. In Westchester, open houses are, in my view, mostly relics that some sellers cling to as a means of doing something because a property has not sold. In some of those cases, an open may indicate a reactive marketing plan. As for picking up buyers? I’d rather pick up my daughter. 

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