Reinventing the Open House

 Bob Corcoran  |    March 03, 2011

 It’s that time of year — you can feel the early beginnings of spring when old man winter stands up and shakes off the brittle shards of ice from his shoulders. Snow is melting, cold is fading and soon the leaves will be growing again.

And speaking of leaves, it just might be time to turn a new leaf this year with your open houses.

If you’re like some agents I know, you might cringe when you hear those two words “open houses”— the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard syndrome. Yes, I know many feel they’re a necessary evil and that you only do them to make the sellers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth and that you’re earning your keep as an agent.

Honestly, many open houses end up benefiting you more than they do sellers. They’re a great way to meet other agents and brokers, share your listings with each other and shore up those relationships. And of course, they’re a perfect way to meet new prospective buyers and sellers.

I think open houses can be frustrating when you start off without a clear goal of what you want the open house to accomplish. Obviously in the back of your mind you’re thinking you want to show and sell the house, but then these objectives actually get in the way and muddy the waters.

My first suggestion is to start by outlining specifically what your goals are for every open house you hold. Spell it out and talk it over with your sellers. Explain to sellers the real story behind open houses – you have the know-how and the experience and they don’t. Explain to them that yes, sometimes they do benefit agents and brokers more and explain why that’s so. But also work together to see what you can do as a team, to develop ways to boost the possibilities of selling the property through an open house.

Open houses can — and do — actually sell homes. But you have to be committed to creating and holding the best possible open house you can. And you have to be open to new ideas.

With that in mind, here are a few tips you might not have considered to give open houses a new, spring-like freshness and, yes, profitability:

1. If you’re gonna promote your open house, promote it BIG.

I once heard the story about a sign maker who had a REALTOR® come in to buy 60 open house directional signs. He asked what she was going to do with that many signs and she simply said, “Get some attention.”

A few days later, he saw a photo on the front page of the real estate section of her listing and another photo inset of all the signs with balloons attached about every 100 feet pointing to the house. And guess what, she sold the home – in one day.

I’ve always been a big proponent of signage. The more the better. We know from surveys that most people who attend open houses do so because of the directional signs. Start from where you can garner the attention of large groups – shopping malls, grocery stores, churches, etc. and lead them with your signs. And don’t forget those spring and summer yard sales — you can piggy back on that traffic as well.

2. Promote it big, part.

For an open house to sell, it comes down to a numbers game. The more prospective buyers who see it, the more likely you’ll be to sell it. So that’s why I’m devoting another tip to promotion: both online and offline via more traditional media. We know the Internet is drawing more and more eyeballs every day and that means you can’t afford to ignore it. This includes using mass e-mails, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Craigslist, online forums, and of course, your own website.

That doesn’t mean you should necessarily avoid the older forms of traditional media, especially newspaper classified ads. And I still highly recommend sending out postcards and direct mail to area apartment complexes. Also, don’t be afraid to send out press releases about the open house. You might persuade a reporter to do a story on the state of open houses in today’s real estate market. You never know.

3. Branch out from the weekends.

It’s become a cliché to hold open houses on the weekend. But just because that’s “the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t mean that’s the way you have to keep doing it. Yes, most people work Monday through Friday, but now many people telecommute to work and lots of folks are devoting their weekends to family time and hobbies. So consider holding open houses in the late afternoons and early evenings of weekdays – between 4 p.m. and 7 or 8 p.m. Mix things up. Give it a shot. You might be surprised at the results.

And remember: If you’re holding an open house just for other agents and brokers, choose a weekday, not a weekend when they’re all busy doing their own open houses for the general public.

4. Learn why people would want to attend the open house.

Details sell. Go over your listing with a fine-tooth comb and note what one thing really makes this house worth it for people to get in their cars and make the trip. That one thing becomes – in the words of marketers – your “unique selling proposition.” That is, something people would be hard pressed to see at other homes and that they’d feel compelled to come see. People are drawn to the different, the unique, and the strange. So promote that one thing in all of your marketing efforts – make it irresistible.

5. Share all the specifics.

Along the same lines as number 4, details sell because that’s what people need to make a decision – especially when it comes to making a decision on something as big as a house. If you’re scratching your head because your open houses aren’t selling the home, stop a minute and see if you’re sharing enough information about the home in the first place. Bring useful and informative take-a-ways. Consider having copies of the MLS public handout, a flier with just photos and a sheet on estimated payments by your favorite mortgage officer. It’s time to think beyond just the listing book on the dining room table.

6. Add in the extras to make it memorable.

Ever stop and think about how far people will drive and how much they’ll pay for concerts? (Or other events like the Super Bowl – though of course when Green Bay is playing, it’s worth it!) Kevin Maney, author of “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t,” explains that people will often trade convenience for a high-fidelity experience. In other words, they’ll travel and spend like crazy to go to the Super Bowl even though it may be extremely inconvenient. “All in all, we tend to get most excited about products or services at one end or the other — either high fidelity or high convenience. Stuff that lands in the middle — not quite enough of either — makes us feel more apathetic,” he says.

So think about that when you decide what kind of open house you’ll have. If you can make it a fun experience for those who attend, you’re on your way to having a more successful situation. Consider giving your open houses more of a party atmosphere. Give car washes. Have prize drawings. When it’s football season again, why not hold a tailgate party to celebrate your world-champion Packers? Grill up some hot dogs in the driveway. Have a football throwing contest. Make the open house an event to remember!

And for higher-end homes, consider more luxury events — maybe wine and cheese, a performance by a violinist or pianist, a fashion show — go big, go fancy.

7. Stage your open house to appeal to all the senses.

Yes, you want the visual appeal – the curb appeal, super clean, no clutter, lots of light and all the basics. But don’t forget about the sounds, smells and even tastes. Think about ways to stir all of the visitors’ senses to slow them down and get them talking. Bake cookies to get the air smelling good, have soft music playing in the background, serve light refreshments. All of these touches will make your open house stand apart from the hum-drum and feel more like an event and less like a sales floor. Make everyone feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible.

But let’s go back to the visual impact and its vital importance for online staging. I believe you need to go to whatever lengths you can muster and afford to make the house look irresistible in the online MLS photos to generate interest from potential buyers in the first place. High-quality, captivating MLS photographs online from the get-go is absolutely essential because so many potential homebuyers start their searches online before they decide to go visit.

8. Be a sponge.

You might be surprised what you can learn from your competition. Commit to becoming an expert on open houses by taking time to visit more open houses than you currently do. Go in with a completely open (and sponge-like) mind and soak up as many ideas and tips as you can. Ask yourself, “What would I do to make this open house 10 times better than it is now?” Challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box so much so that you end up in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s best open house! For a copy of my Open House Check list, e-mail

Bob Corcoran is a nationally recognized speaker and author who is founder and president of Corcoran Consulting Inc. (, 800-957-8353), an international consulting and coaching company that specializes in performance coaching and the implementation of sound business systems into the residential or commercial broker or agent’s existing practice.

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