Open Houses – are they worth it?

One of the realtor’s tools is the Open House. These are most often held on Sunday afternoons, although sometimes you’ll see them on Saturdays or an evening.

There are two different kinds of Open Houses. The first is for realtors. (In Quebec, they call it a “caravan.”) These are usually held on Thursday mornings and they’re an opportunity for other agents to drop by and give feedback to the listing agent concerning presentation and price.

The Agent Open House is sometimes advertised on the MLS listing, but usually an inter-office email  goes out the day before, telling other agents the time and place, perhaps attaching a feature sheet, and indicating whether refreshments will be served. (Some agents go all out; I’ve even seen some that offered champagne!)

The second kind of Open House is the one that most people are familiar with, the public one. I’m sure you’ve seen those realtor sandwich boards out on a Sunday morning at most intersections directing people to the house in question.

A lot of the Open Houses in Ottawa are advertised in what we call a back-page ad in the Ottawa Citizen. The Citizen publishes a list of Open Houses throughout the city organized by region (Central, South, West etc.), which we pay for. Then, there are the individual ads in the real estate section of the paper, again paid for by the agent. (I usually put an ad on Kijiji as well; that one’s free.)

Turn-out can be highly variable depending on the time of year and the weather. I’ve had Open Houses that had forty or more people show up, and ones with maybe one or two.  I’ve held Open Houses that were partnered with events, like an Artists Studio Tour in Stittsville, where I was able to get some of the local artists to hang their art in the vacant property I had listed, so that we could do cross-promotion. But a rainy day will almost guarantee a poor turnout.

I often tell clients that Open Houses don’t sell houses; they sell agents. The Open House is an opportunity for a realtor to identify “prospects,” people who are actually interested in buying. Sometimes the people who drop by an Open House are just neighbours, curious to see the interior of a house they may never have been inside, or “tire-kickers,” people who are thinking about buying but aren’t really serious.

On the other hand, the right property can attract extremely serious buyers. For example, I had an Open House one year in the Civic Hospital area where about thirty couples went through. I called the ones that left contact information when the neighbouring identical property came on the market about eight or nine months later. Every single person I spoke to told me they’d purchased a home in the area in the intervening months.

So, for an agent, the Open House is a chance to meet potential clients. (Although these days, Open Houses are less successful as a source of introductions. A lot of people who come to them provide false contact information, or already have agents, or are planning to sell their own homes and simply want to see what the competition looks like.)

The odds of someone buying a house they see  at an Open House are statistically very low. The vast majority of homes are sold via agents who bring their clients through. They know what their clients are looking for, and will source properties that best meet their clients’ needs.

Since Open Houses are inconvenient (the owners have to go away for a few hours, and may have to relocate pets or find an activity for the children), the question is are they worth it?

I’d say yes, despite the disruption.  Even if the public Open House doesn’t generate the ultimate buyer for your property, the feedback your realtor will get from prospective buyers will tell you whether the home shows well, whether there are things that should be done to it, and more importantly, whether it’s priced to sell.

And there’s always that  chance that your buyer will see that sign on the corner and decide to pop in; it does happen! If you  want to sell your house, shouldn’t you use every single tool at your disposal?

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