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The 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 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, ditch the Realtor. You can do this yourself. You’re obviously reading up on how to do this and you’re not afraid to ask questions. To me, this is a great recipe for success. Now, price the house right and follow these instructions. 

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 do this yourself. 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 likely misuse of time and effort. 

The most likely way to sell your house is to get the buyer physically there to see the house first hand. Therefore, we need to get as many of these potential buyers as possible into your house. Once buyers go from virtual tour to actual live tour, your odds of selling go way up. 

With COVID, there are certainly precautions you can and should take, such as limiting the total number of people in the house at once, requiring masks 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 tell you that open houses are a waste of time and that nobody ever buys at these events. Well, since we know that many Realtors 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 that 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 I’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 a house that is for sale, 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 a buyer or 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 that buyer 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? 

Since neither of these goals work 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. Let’s 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.)

Announcing Your Open House

First off, there are two basic families of open houses. While most happen after the house has been on the market for a while, the very first open house, the one that happens right after you go public, is the one we will discuss first. It gets a special place because it is arguably the most important open house you will have.  About a week before you go live with your new listing, start advertising your open house.

If at all possible, this open house should be the first time anyone outside your family should see the house. 

You need to be strong, grasshopper. People, especially agents, will lie their asses off to get into the house ahead of the rest of the world. Get ready 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 in the MLS, you need to let your agent know by Wednesday that you are planning an open house. Earlier is fine, but Wednesday is about the latest you want your open house to show up on the MLS. From the MLS, your open house will populate to Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. so any potential buyer should get notified or be able to see the open house banner on your listing online. If you are in “coming soon” status, it’s likely that your listing is only visible in the MLS, so you will need to add the open house banner to your Zillow listing yourself while you still control the feed. Once your house goes public in the MLS, you will likely lose control over Zillow and Trulia.

If you’ve gone public and have been on the market for a while, the marketing process is basically the same as above, you just don’t have to worry about the “coming soon” status on your listing.  

One thing I would strongly urge you to do if you’ve been on the market for a while is change the price midweek and then announce the open house. If you’ve been on the market a few weeks and have not sold, chances are the original traffic is starting to fade. A mid-week price correction gets you more attention with alerts and drops you into a new pool of buyers.

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

Decide on the Duration

First, decide when and how long. My advice is 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. 

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 its early, you will go to that one first. The one’s that are open from 12-6pm 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. 

Advertising Your Open House

Now that we know the when, let’s talk about how to get the word out and get people to show up. 

  • Starting Thursday, you will want to start your own social media campaign. Get the information on Facebook 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 a Facebook Live event with promotion a few days prior. Go live right before the open house and shout it out to your FB community that you are open—finally. Facebook Live events are six times more likely to get attention and engagement and show up in people’s newsfeeds. With that kind of attention, you will definitely increase attendance. 

Cross promote your open house on all of your other social media platforms. Most people don’t use every social media platform so while Facebook is more universal, Linked In, Twitter and Instagram are also extremely 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 either a sign rider announcing your open house day and time or get a separate open house sign with date/time. Plant it next to your main open house 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 phone message. Change your outgoing message for the phone (the number that’s on your sign/in your advertising) 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 streets that lead to your house. An hour or so 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. 
  • 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 in 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 them 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. 
  • 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. 

How ever 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. 

You should of course, run through my post on showing the house before the open house, almost all of it applies here. 

  • 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 to 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 by doing it yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll let you take all the credit. You’re secret is safe with me. 

Take care,

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