Tips for better open houses

Maximize every marketing tool out there—including the open house

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Tips for better open houses (Getty Images / Martin Barraud)

Tips for better open houses (Getty Images / Martin Barraud)

When selling your home you have one purpose: To find a buyer.

If you’ve agreed to work with a realtor, at some point the discussion will turn to whether or not you should hold an open house. And despite what headlines state—that open houses are outdated, only help realtors, or result in less than 2% of all home sales—this is a marketing tool you really should use.

Two words: strategic marketing.

Why open houses can work

Years ago, I got so excited when a semi-detached on Balliol—a street in the Davisville-Mount Pleasant Road area—came on the market in my price range. So, off I trotted to the scheduled open house. As soon as I pulled onto the street I understood why the list price was so low for the area: The home backed on to a KFC franchise. All I could smell was fried chicken and grease.

Still, the house didn’t sit long on the market—I guess the smell didn’t bother the new owners. But it was an invaluable lesson for me: I realized that even less-than-ideal homes will benefit from strategic marketing.

If the those Balliol home owners had decided to forego an open house—due to their less-than-ideal location—the house probably would’ve stayed on the market a lot longer, driving the price down. Why? Because would-be buyers, like me, can be fickle. Fact is, I’ve lost count on the number of houses I’ve parked outside only to have a buyer strike it off the list without even crossing the threshold. Reason? Too close to the railway tracks. Too far from the bus stop. Too small. Too old. You name it, I’ve heard the rational.

That’s not to say these buyers are wrong. If the house doesn’t suit them, then moving on is prudent. But just getting would-be buyers to your house is tough enough—why would you limit it to people who just came across your listing based on one set of criteria? Why not open up your home to any potential looky-loo and nosey neighbour. Who knows? One of them might just have a friend or relative who’d be perfect as the new home owner.

That said, if you or your realtor decide to hold an open house consider the following tips:

#1. Cater to the agents, but open it to the public

Of course you should hold an open house and advertise it with lawn signs, door flyers and even newspaper ads. But don’t forget the agent open house—exclusive viewings of your home held only for real estate agents, brokers and, sometimes, mortgage agents. While not publicly advertised, these agent open houses can be exceptionally powerful tools to get agents representing potential buyers excited about your particular property for sale.

#2. Keep your timing tight

There was a time when open house events lasted for a few hours, say from 12pm to 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. But these days savvy agents are tightening up the times. Now open houses run for two hours, maximum.

“Open houses are marketing tools so you want to generate the right impression,” explains one B.C.-based realtor. “Shorter time windows create the perception that there’s more people interested in the property, because more people will filter through the house in a shorter period of time.” He continues: “The hope is that would-be buyers feel a bit more pressure to act and put in an offer, or risk losing out.”

#3. Who said we only do weekends?

Have you ever driven home from work on a Thursday night, only to see open house signs prominently displayed at well-trafficked intersection corners? More and more agents realize that open houses are about attracting attention to a property—and if the potential buyers are commuters, this attention can include how faster it is to get to a particular neighbourhood. So don’t limit your open house strategy to weekends. Consider who may be good potential buyers and then target their movements and routines.

#4. Make it social

Don’t consider an open house just an unfriendly housing inspection. Instead, throw a Friday night social, invite your neighbours and spread the word. If potential buyers stroll up to a convivial atmosphere where people are chatting and laughing they’ll get a better impression of the neighbourhood—and your home. Just remember, though, that alcohol can lead to problems, so keep the social light with non-alcoholic beverages.

Of course, there’s plenty written on the relatively ineffective open houses are in selling homes. According to the U.S.-based National Association of Realtors, only 11% of buyers found their home through an open house and less than 2% of home sales were a direct result of an open house. Compare this to statistics that show that more than 90% of would-be sellers start their search online and the debates start to rage about online vs. open house, which is better. Thing is, this isn’t a zero-sum debate. If you market online—say through the Realtor.ca site—that doesn’t exclude you from holding an open house. And if holding an open house means finding that one person who wants to make your home their new home, then it’s worth it.

Read more from Romana King at Home Owner on Facebook »

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