Open Houses From A Buyer’s Perspective

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We did an Sunday Open House run yesterday, checking out some of the the different neighborhoods available to us. Some observations:

Beware of the sign-in sheets. Address? Phone number? E-mail? No way. I’ve since realized that Open Houses are actually more for listing agents to gain new clients than anything else. Prospective buyers walk in, put down their personal information, and of course… would you like to sit down for a free consultation? Also, if you have a buyer’s agent and don’t put that down on the sheet, the seller’s agent can argue for the entire commission. All in all, it appears to offer nothing for the buyer.

Stop with the “creative” listing photos. I hate when you see a picture of a lake or something on the MLS listing and it turns out you had to stand on the roof and lean over 45 degrees in order to see that view. If it’s not available from inside the house and without gymnastic talent, then it doesn’t count.

Staging actually does work. Some of the houses that have been obviously “staged”, with zero clutter, nice place settings with candles on the dining table, neatly folded towels in the bathroom, and flowers everywhere. I thought I would hate it, but I actually quite liked it.

Too much personal stuff is bad. Then there are the people with the huge collection of dolls or nude statues lining the halls. I’m sorry, but your stuffed dogs are distracting and really hurting my own ability to visualize living in your house.

What, no cookies? For some reason, I read somewhere that you should always have something baking at an Open House. But out of the 10 houses we saw, I got no cookie action. So sad…

Despite some gripes, I do like the idea of Open Houses. It’s low-stress and is much more definitive than just pictures.

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  1. Good post. My wife and I just bought a condo in Chicago and probably went to 25-30 different open houses. I will say that we signed-in every time, without really giving it much thought. And we were only contacted once, and that was by a place that was for sale by owner and they emailed to let us know they were lowering the price. Maybe its different where you are.

    Oh, and we also never got any cookies. That would have been nice.

  2. I heard that sign in sheet are meant to know who came in order to deter theft in the house… Although If I came in a house to steal something I probably would not put my real name and phone #

  3. Danny at Money Socket says

    Staging is well worth the money and effort. It just makes the house more inviting. If the buyer can picture themselves living there, a purchase may happen. It won’t happen if the house is filled with clutter, ugly furniture and dirt.

    I’m a part time agent and I just hate those sign in sheets. My boss makes me tell every person to sign in then follow up with them…I just don’t see how it’s effective. Its a house, its not like they want to buy some bagels. Plus, its overly intrusive like you said to ask for so much info. If a buyer wants to buy a house and has no agent yet, they will likely be the first to start asking questions and hinting that they want to buy.

    Cookies do work too. But its more of a hassle. I usually just buy them at a store lol.

  4. In most markets, open houses don’t sell houses. They make sellers feel better, like their listing agent is doing something. And, as you mentioned, it can be a way to pick up a new client. The stats for homes sold via an open house would blow your mind. All those HGTV shows lead folks to think otherwise.

  5. In general I dislike staging because it is more fun to wonder about the people who live in a house based on photos, books and knickknacks they leave out.

    My favorite house was one whose decor apparently hadn’t been updated since Aunt Edna decorated it in 1937, except that there were also Jimi Hendrix posters on top of the gilded wallpaper, Star Wars action figures in the ornate china cabinets, and a pool table in the master bedroom.

  6. My wife and I are about to close escrow on our first house. We really liked going to open houses….for the first couple weekends. I think you’ll find it gets pretty tiring, especially if you live more than a few miles from the area you’re looking at. As you start writing offers and waiting for responses, the process will be more draining.

    We used an excellent local agent, who helped to cull through the listings and make those 2 hours on Sunday, as well as a few evening visits during the week, a little more productive. The second offer we wrote was accepted, so our hunt was mercifully short.

    Best of luck to you and your wife, since Bay Area real estate, like the weather, has many microclimates, some of which are still really hot.

  7. Open houses are fun, I still go to them occasionally. Sometimes I put down my information because I feel like I owe them something for coming in and asking questions. I’ll be looking for another house in a couple of years – so if they want my information early, so be it. After going through an agonizing purchase with a ‘for sale by owner’ house — I will gladly welcome a real estate agent, especially an experienced one.

    Yes, and I also like the staged houses — they make you feel at home and it gives you a good feeling. It makes me want to run home, clean up all my junk, and place daffodils in vases.

    At one particular open house (with a house that I wish I had bought 8 years ago) — I heard some people trying to say the house wasn’t this and that, deliberately in front of the agent, most likely for the future purpose of bidding down the asking price. I thought that was silly — it was a nice house (pretty obvious to everyone who came in), and a number of us were interested. I always say the house is nice (whether it is or not) and not insult the agent. If I want it — I’ll bid on it, otherwise I’ll smile and leave.

  8. ahahahhahhahaha “no cookie action”. Classic.

  9. ntguru: What are the stats?

    I sold and bought my last houses through open houses and my sister has bought and sold 3 through open houses.


  10. Hey, I can give you my old bosses information to put down on those sign up sheets. He was a real prick! 🙂

  11. Prospective. I think you might mean perspective?

  12. Hi Jonathan,

    This is a bit off topic but have you considered to buy a house. I’m thinking of using them but am not sure. They give 2/3rd of the buyer’s agent commission back to the buyer. I know you had posted about looking for a buyer’s agent before so was wondering if you considered redfin? What do you think?


  13. Gah. Between prospective buyer, and buyer’s perspective, I somehow got the worst combo of both.

  14. Prospective is correct.

  15. I found my condo at an open house. I thought for sure that I was going to write a contract on a place I saw on Saturday. So my realtor and I had an appointment for Monday morning. Then I decided that I’d better keep my options open just in case I was outbid for the place I found on Saturday. So I hopped in my car on Sunday and saw an awesome little unit near some friends. Wonder of wonders, I called my realtor and told her we were writing a contract for the place I saw on Sunday. Voila! Three years later, happy as a clam and so glad I didn’t have a monster kitchen renovation for the Saturday unit.

    They definitely aren’t an efficient way to find a house, but I think every first-time buyer has to put in some time doing them. That way they see a lot of places and get a feel for what is important to them or not. You learn neighborhoods that way and can browse around with a lot less pressure. I always feel like I’m wasting my realtor’s time when I step into a place for 2 minutes and hate it. At least my realtor isn’t tethered to my whims at an open house visit.

    Sign in sheets? Sign in sheets might have helped police talk to more folks in the open house killing of a realtor. Sure, I hate spam, but I just leave my out of state cellphone number so I don’t get lots of marketing crap thrown at me.

    Cookies? You are funny. I agree about staging and the personal stuff. I’m decorating cheaply with some ugly self-portraits I painted for school. No way am I having strangers eyeball those. Heck, I am embarrassed that my friends can see them when they come over.

  16. Ted Valentine says

    RE: Personal items/warm cookies baking

    My wife and I still laugh at some of the houses we saw. One had a collection that of Boston Terrier knick knacks covered almost every inch of the home. Another had two mini monkeys in the basement. The smell was just awful due to the urine and feces thrown everywhere.

  17. If it’s your first purchase, I recommend checking out as many open houses as you can, in different areas. After a while, you will begin to realize which area you prefer to live.
    Most of all, you realize what you can get for your money. My opinion of using an agent is they have the negotiation skills to close the deal and get you other incentive into the purchase price, besides the knowledge and resources. It?s important to find a good agent
    that has your best interest.

  18. I agree about staging and baked goods. Nothing makes a house feel like mom or gramma’s home more than the smell of fresh bread, cake, or cookies still permeating in the air. Fresh bread smell alone could be the different in moving a house or having it sit on todays market.

  19. “Cookies do work too. But its more of a hassle. I usually just buy them at a store lol.”

    Danny, I think the main point is to have the aroma of fresh-baked cookies wafting through the house…If you’re going the store-bought route, at least get the ready to bake kind and throw them in the oven. 😉

  20. I had an open house for my condo 2 years ago and I found that the majority of people who came lived in the complex and wanted to see what else was out there.

    BTW, I had a bowl with M&M Peanuts out and to this day one of my neighbors remembers it.

  21. I don’t mean to be Johnny Raincloud here, but Jonathan why are you even considering buying a house now? Take an hour and read over and you will feel sick. Now is a terrible time to purchase.

  22. Wow, that is a mess. “Huge glut of empty houses?” not from where I am sitting. “Return to traditional lending standards?” not in my lifetime. I just love housing articles with no numbers and no market.

    I have been to many open houses to get a feel for the market. I hate sign-in sheets. I just give a fake name. It takes more than a sign-in sheet for a salesman to get private information out of me.

  23. I didn’t attend many open houses when I was actively looking for a house. But I was looking during a time when the market was crazy and many potential buyers were in a house at one time. I saw some places where you would think the seller had no advice on how to make the house look before putting it on the market. The staged houses looked much better.

  24. BGinIndy says

    I’m a three-time buyer or seller in the past two years and I’d be the last to endorse an industry that fights so hard to protect its monopoly on market data. But the advice, time savings, market knowledge (esp. as it applies to negotiating position) and confidence-building gained by working with a real estate agent/broker were invaluable to us on both sides of the transactions. Yes, open houses merely give sellers a sense their agent is “doing something” and provide a means for rookies to troll for clients. But a smart client gives good information about his/her needs and preferences and a smart agent culls listings and professional knowledge to create a customized tour of properties that meet the client’s needs. This happens seven days a week, not just from noon-4 on Sunday afternoons. So for us, the open house concept is a yawner…it’s a hassle for sellers and offers nothing to buyers that their agent can’t already arrange for them on their own schedule. (Caveat: SOP in this industry varies wildly on a regional basis in the U.S., so YMMV.)

  25. sfordinarygirl says

    My friend’s boyfriend has two houses on the market – one in Contra Costa County and one in the East Bay for a year now. He’s not even getting people to come to the open houses – neither locations are ideal unfortunately.

    My mom and aunt went an open house event for new homes in Contra Costa County – I think it was Antioch for the free lunch buffet style. There was all this great chicken, beef, pork, salad, potatoes to attract people to buy there. One person ended up putting a deposit so I guess free food does work.

  26. jasonlewisfan says

    I heard that it’s less than 2% of houses sell as a result of an open house.

    As a Realtor, I still do them, but I’m up front with my sellers that we are giving folks who are not yet working with an agent the opportunity to see the house, but not to expect it to be sold when you come home.

    And don’t believe all the hype. Here in Cincinnati sales are up 8% from last year this time. I hardly call that a bust. Good houses still sell.

  27. I thought David Bach’s comments may be a relevant post here….
    “The best way to save on a mortgage is to make biweekly payments”

  28. Whenyou attend an Open House you are entering someones home… it is a very private thing being made very public. The very least you can do is list your name, addy and number to make all parties feel safer.

  29. “When you attend an Open House you are entering someones home… it is a very private thing being made very public. The very least you can do is list your name, addy and number to make all parties feel safer.”

    Sorry, I don’t buy that reasoning. If I was really a crook, do you really think that I would provide accurate information? Having a stranger sign some piece of paper would not make me feel safer.

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