For a home on the market, a Sunday open house feels like a tradition to most home sellers, real estate agents and curious neighbors who love to peek inside properties on their street.
The coronavirus pandemic halted open houses in some parts of the U.S. for nearly a year, and in other areas properties are selling so fast there’s not even time to have an open house in 2021. “The imbalance of supply and demand is so outrageous, we’re finding that lot of (agents) just aren’t doing them because the properties don’t last long enough,” says Joey Sheehan, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and author of “Open House!” a book about residential real estate for agents and consumers.
Still, an open house can be a productive way to show a home, take a tour and connect with a real estate professional. Here are 10 tips for both buyers and sellers to make for a successful open house:
Make Your Home Tour-Ready
Even in a hot seller’s market where there are more buyers vying for a home than there are properties for sale, you’ll set yourself up for failure if you have an open house before your home is in good shape.
Eager buyers won’t overlook major flaws in your home — they’ll either opt to pass or make an offer below what you feel your home is worth. Mow the lawn, plant flowers, paint the front door if it’s seen better days and repair any issues.
“Fix the red flags. Do not let live buyers come to your property if you did not fix your septic problem first, or you didn’t fix the mold problem in the basement,” Sheehan says.
Clean and Declutter
Beyond the larger projects you should undertake to prepare your home for tours, don’t forget to depersonalize, remove items from closets and surfaces and give the entire place a deep clean.
Clean the floors, vacuum, wipe down baseboards and windows. Shoes, laundry and dishes should be out of sight. Any valuables should be moved out of the house or locked away for safe keeping.
If you’re the kind of person who’s used to making your bed in the morning and not letting dishes pile up, preparing for an open house should require only a few extra steps. “I don’t know that it’s particularly difficult for a fastidious homeowner to prepare for a Sunday open,” Sheehan says.
Let People Know
In order to have people show up to your open house, they have to know about it. Your real estate agent will likely take the reins in marketing the open house with signs in front of your house and around your neighborhood as well as posting on the local multiple listing service and consumer-facing listing sites like Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.
The more people who know about the open house, the more you’re likely to tap into the large buyer pool. Todd Szwajkowski, a real estate broker and president of SwakeGroup at Dream Town Realty in Chicago, says that an open house the first weekend a property is on the market tends to lead to multiple offers in the current competitive environment.
Stay Away From the House
Once the house is open to the public, make yourself scarce. Just as you remove any family photos around the house, buyers don’t want to meet the seller while they’re trying to form an honest opinion of the property.
Take your pets with you during the open house as well. People may be allergic, and not everyone is a fan of dogs or cats, even if they’re friendly. Evidence of a pet in the house can also be a turnoff for some buyers — which is why deep cleaning to remove any residual pet smell is a must.
Let Your Agent Take Control
As the seller, make sure you pick a listing agent whom you trust with your home. During an open house, you have to be willing to relinquish control to your agent, and trust him or her to show off your property in the best light.
If you’re a buyer attending an open house to consider making an offer, you have to be ready to move fast. Realtor.com reports that the inventory of homes for sale in April decreased by 53% over that past year. The average number of days on market in the U.S. was just 43 days in April, which includes time spent under contract, and is 20 days less than in April 2020, according to realtor.com.
If a home you’re serious about has an open house its first weekend on the market, come to the open house prepared with an understanding of your financial situation, a loan preapproval when possible and a willingness to make an offer after touring.
Bring Your Own Agent, When Possible
If you’re already represented by a real estate agent, try to visit open houses together as you would a private showing. Your agent can also speak to the listing agent on your behalf — a necessity if you’re serious about making an offer.
“The pleasant and seemingly helpful open house host is not there to represent your best interest. They are there to represent the seller’s best interest,” said Ken Reid, owner of Buyers Brokers of Arizona in an April press release from the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents about the importance of having a buyer agent at an open house. “They are there to sell you their client’s home and collect information that will put their client in a better position to negotiate should you decide to make an offer on the home.”
Try for a Private Showing as Well
If you can, schedule a private showing outside of the open house hours. This will give you the chance to take your time and form an opinion without other competing buyers serving as a distraction.
Especially if you expect the home to have multiple offers its first weekend on the market, try to see the home privately ahead of time. Or, if that’s not possible, attend the open house and schedule a private showing afterward to finalize your opinion. Sheehan notes she has foregone open houses for some current listings simply because there are enough requests for private showings that an open house gets in the way.
If the house meets your needs on paper, take the tour with your checklist of must-haves in mind and point out issues that may be deal-breakers. A crack in the wall or sign of a possible water leak are worth jotting down to ask the listing agent or an inspector about.
With the market moving as fast as it is, notes will help you remember the pros and cons of each home you tour, which will otherwise start to blend together if you view more than a couple houses in a day.
Talk to the Agent
If you’re not serious about shopping for a home yet, the agent hosting the open house can be a helpful resource, though you should consider working with a different agent if you’re serious about buying the house you’re touring.
The listing agent will likely offer you his or her services as a buyer agent, or even to list your current house, but be sure to thoroughly vet any agent as a good fit before signing a contract for representation. How the agent talks about the listing with the open house can show you what to expect when working with you in the future.
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Update 05/27/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.