How to hold a real estate open house

Our Open House Playbook

Dear Glen, 

My house is going up for sale in about two weeks. I am trying to plan the first open house, but I keep hearing that open houses are a waste of time. I am on the fence about using a Realtor, and the one I am talking with says that open houses are dying and that, with COVID and all, I should just get a great virtual tour and be done with it.

My gut says you need to see my house to do it justice. The Realtor has been doing this for a while, and this is my first time selling a home, so what should I do? Also, if I do have an open house, any advice?

Thank you,

Puzzled in Parma

Dear Puzzled, 

First, I’m a little concerned about the agent. You and your agent need to be on the same page. I don’t mind a little healthy debate, but fundamentally, you two are not on the same page. That’s never a good sign this early in the process. You could go it alone, but the marketing power you give up by going FSBO (For Sale By Owner) is significant and should not be lightly ignored.

At this point, if you are misaligned with your potential agent, it only gets worse from here. How are you going to take advice from someone you don’t trust or agree with on the major issues? Answer? You won’t, and that’s no bueno. I believe firmly in the open house process, and since you asked, I’ll give you my open house playbook. But first, a word…

Get yourself in the MLS, but don’t pay 6% to do it. Use a Flat Fee Broker, which I can help you locate, and go that route. You’ll have much more control over the process, and you’ll save a fortune. If you’re in Ohio, you’ve come to the right place. (See the bottom of this post.)

Yes, that was a shameless plug for my business model. No, I won’t apologize. Feel free to get your own blog and shamelessly plug your business. All the cool kids are doing it these days.

Anywho, get the house ready to sell and put together an amazing description and flyer. But beware—when you’re writing your ad, do not try to sell the house by giving 20 paragraphs of description, 150 photos, and a 60-minute virtual tour.

As much as I would love to tell you otherwise, you are never going to sell the house using your ad or your virtual tour. The only goal of your entire marketing plan is to make people want to see your house in person. Anything else is a probably waste of time and effort.

The most likely way to sell your house is to get the buyer physically there to see the house in person.

Therefore, we need to get as many of these potential buyers as possible into your house. Once buyers go from virtual tours to actual live tours, your odds of selling go way up.

With COVID, there are certain precautions you can and should take, such as limiting the total number of people in the house at once, requiring masks to be worn by all, offering (strongly) hand sanitizer at the entrance, and the like. COVID just means that, like grocery shopping, you need to be smart about it, but it can be done.

Bring on the open house!

St. George Utah's MLS Open House List For Labor Day Weekend - St. George Utah MLS Real Estate For Sale

Some Realtors love to say that open houses are a waste of time and that nobody ever buys at these events. Well, since we know that many people like to dispense self-serving advice, we can safely assume this holds true for their negative opinions of open houses.

I am a Realtor, and I’ve logged more open house hours than I care to count. Some worked, and some didn’t, and the nice part of having lots of hours with nothing to do is that you tend to figure out some patterns. So, for your enjoyment, here is what we’ve learned about how to go from  “hopin’ house” to SOLD.

There are still Realtors out there who love to hold open houses. When Realtors hold an open house, they usually do it for two reasons, and here’s the dirty secret—neither of these reasons has anything to do with selling your house.

First and foremost, just like advertising, Realtors hold open houses to get more buyer clients. By hanging out at an open house, contrary to popular belief, actual live buyers do show up at these things. Not all, but most that come through an open house are viable prospects.

As a Realtor, being in the same room with buyers that are spending their time looking at homes—is not a bad thing. It’s an opportunity for the agent to start establishing a relationship with those buyers which could very well lead to a commission.

The second reason Realtors hold open houses is to quiet down the seller and help justify their 6% commission. Sellers want to see some tangible activity from their high-priced agent, so why not have them spend their weekend sitting at an open house? I know, bananas–but this is how it really works.

Since neither of these goals works for you, let’s refocus your open house approach to reach your goals. Roll up your sleeves, and let’s get to it.

Ok—Now that we’ve decided that holding an open house is clearly the way to go, there are things you need to do each and every time to maximize your open house traffic. We call this the Open House Playbook. (Note: you don’t have to call it that, but you’ll be much cooler if you do…just saying.)

Decide on the Duration

First, decide when and how long. My advice is to target Saturday or Sunday (not both) and keep it short. 60-90 minutes at the most. Why? Wow, you ask a lot of questions, but ok.

Pretend you’re a buyer. You are planning your weekend tour of homes. You make a list of all the open houses you want to attend. If you see one that is only an hour long and it’s early, you will go to that one first. The ones that are open from 12-6 pm Saturday and Sunday will get pushed to the bottom of the list because the window is so big. The shorter window means you have to go there first—so the shorter window wins.

Bonus reason: By having a shorter window, more buyers are likely to show up at the same time. One of my many rules for buyer behavior is this:

Nothing—and I do mean nothing—motivates a buyer like seeing another buyer. 

Now that you know “when,” it’s time to get the word out, so here are a few ways to make sure the entire buying public knows about your open house. With any luck, they will all show up, and a bidding war will break out. Hey…it happens all the time.

Announcing Your Open House

There are two basic families of open houses. There’s your first open house, and then all the others after that.  The very first open house, the one that happens right after you go public, gets a special place. That’s because it is arguably the most important open house you will ever have.

About a week before you go live with your new listing, start advertising your open house. Plant your sign in the yard with a nice “Coming Soon” rider on it, and start building anticipation among potential buyers and agents.

If at all possible, this open house should be the first time buyers see inside the house. 

You need to be strong, grasshopper. People, especially agents, will lie their fannies off to get into the house before the rest of the world. Brace yourself to hear the stories about the amazing “Out of Town CASH Buyer” that can’t come any other time. If that happens, here’s the kryptonite for that one:

“Sure thing. Send me a recent bank statement showing they have enough money to buy and also showing their “out of town” address. Once we have that, we can talk. Until then, see you at the open house. “

If you’re listed in the MLS, let your agent know to key your open house by Wednesday. Earlier is fine, but ideally, Wednesday is the best day for your open house to show up on the MLS.

From the MLS, your open house will be syndicated to hundreds of public Realtor sites, so any potential buyer will get notified or be able to see the open house banner online. If you are in “coming soon” status, it’s likely that your listing is only visible in the MLS, but MLS alerts are still very valuable. Once your house goes public in the MLS the day of or before your open house, the entire buying world will see it and get notified. Very bueno.

Insider secret: If you’re in “Coming Soon” status and your listing is not populating to the public sites, have your agent switch you to “Active” status the evening before your open house. Showing up after supper or after dark will likely avoid having anyone try to schedule a showing before your open house. You can even put in a restriction that no showings will happen until after your open house ends. ShowingTime and other showing software give your agent the option of adding a short showing restriction. Give it a try. 

That covers announcing your first open house. But if you’ve been on the market a while, here’s another way to create some buzz from your next open house.

The price drop/open house combo is a great way to re-energize your buyer traffic. 

If this open house happens after you’ve been on the market a while, the process is basically the same as above. You just don’t have to worry about the “coming soon” status on your listing.

Once you’ve been active for a few weeks, if you haven’t gotten a good offer, I strongly urge you to adjust the price. Do it midweek and then announce an open house. By this point, the original traffic burst is probably fading. A mid-week price correction gets you more attention with new alerts and gets you in front of a new pool of buyers.

Advertising Your Open House

Now that you’ve covered the MLS announcement let’s talk about how to get the word out even further and get more people to show up.

  • Starting Thursday, start your own social media campaign. Get the information on the socials and keep it there. Repost it every day, including an hour or so prior to your open house. Ask your friends and network to share this for you. Lord knows you’ve shared all their stupid posts and chain letters, so they pretty much owe you now. Time to pay up!

If you aren’t shy, try using Live Posts a few days prior. Go live right before the open house and shout it out to your social media community that you are open—finally. By the way, Live events are six times more likely to get attention and engagement and show up in people’s feeds. With that kind of attention, you will definitely increase attendance.

Cross-promote your open house on all social media platforms. Most people don’t use every social media platform, so while (as of this writing) Facebook and IG are more universal, Linked In, Twitter, and many others are also viable options. If you are not on those platforms, you may need to beg and borrow from your friends’ followers, but get the word out.

  • Your sign in the yard should also be involved in your open house party. Starting Wednesday or Thursday, add a sign rider announcing your open house day and time. Or get a separate open house sign with the date/time. Plant it next to your main yard sign. If you are not showing the house right now, your main sign should say “coming soon” somewhere above or over your sign.
  • Update your outgoing voice message for the number that’s on your sign to include the date/time of your open house. People may not leave a message, but you can still plant the seed that you are having an open house. Don’t miss the opportunity.
  • Next, go to the main corners of any streets that lead to your house. A few hours or the night before your open house, put out your “directional” open house signs pointing the way down the street to your house. If you need to bribe the person on the corner, have some $5 food gift cards or a plate of cookies, but under no circumstances should you plant your directional sign in someone’s yard without getting their permission. The technical term for that is a “dick move,” so let’s not go there.
  • On the day of your open house, do another round of social media posts and add some balloons to your sign. It’s cheap, and it works.
  • Make up a flyer. This can be the same flyer you have in your sign flyer box, but have them inside the house for people to take with them when they leave. But, on the back of your open house flyer, print instructions telling buyers on how to make an offer.

Always plan for success… plus people just love it when you give them clear instructions.

  • Your instructions should say something like: “Now that you’re totally in love with this house, here’s how you make it yours.” Then, let them know how to make an offer. There are plenty of ways to do this. Oh…you want a bulleted list. Alrighty:
    • If you have an agent or attorney, have that person’s name, company, phone, and email address clearly spelled out on the instructions.
    • If you are using your own forms, have buyers email you to get the offer form.
    • If you are super clever, instead of an outright offer form, just list a series of questions that would be enough to put together the offer.
      • How much would you like to offer?
      • How will you pay for the house? (Conventional, FHA, VA, Cash, etc.)
      • Do you need to sell your house first?
      • Which appliances do you want to stay?
      • What, if any, inspections are you planning to do?
      • What day would you like to close?
      • What day would you like to get the keys/possession?
      • Anything else we should know? (Good catch-all question)
  • New School: If you are tech-savvy, set up a one-page website to gather all of this information and make it really easy for you and the buyers. Google Forms is free and pretty easy to use, or so I’m told.
  • Old-school (my personal favorite): make an appointment for the buyer to come back, put on a pot of coffee, and hash this deal out together. Never underestimate the power of bonding with your future buyer. That bond will serve you well for the rest of the journey, and hey…you might make a friend.
  • Regardless of how you decide to approach this, have a plan and spell that plan out on the back of your flyer. Leave nothing to chance. If you don’t tell people what to do next, they may never come to it on their own. Trust me—this is 20 years of watching indecisive people wander around, making no decisions. Give clear instructions. Thank me later.
  • Put the flyer out at the entrance on a table and make sure everyone takes one. Now, they will have your house flyer on one side to remind them about your fabulous house and clear instructions on the other side to guide them the rest of the way.
  • Last, you will need some type of registration. You can use a basic one LIKE THIS, or you can go modern and use your iPad, but with the aforementioned COVID concerns, that might not be the best option. As much as I love electronic open house registrations, now might not be the time for it. I’ll discuss that down the road when all of this insanity is in the history books.

Until then, I’d say you now have what you need to not only have the Rockin-est open house but also set yourself up for success.

As always, keep the questions coming, and I look forward to hearing you brag about how fast your house sold and how much money you saved in the process.

Hit me up HERE with your thoughts and comments. I read and respond to every email…eventually.  Don’t worry; I’ll let you take all the credit. You’re secret is safe with me.

One last thing…before you actually stick that sign in the yard, make sure you and your property are 100% ready. Our Ultimate Seller Bundle is a free comprehensive collection of tools that cover everything from prep to closing and everything in between. With over 50 pages of forms, checklists, and templates, you won’t miss a thing. Pick up your free set here.

Take care,

glen whitten ohio mls flat fee real estate broker

Ohio Property Group, LLC
Author: “You Can Sell It”

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