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The Misconception About Open Houses

A couple weeks ago, one of my friends was telling me about the house for sale across the street from him. He expressed his concern about why the home has been sitting on the market for so long and said, “Clearly their real estate agent is working hard for them. She’s held open houses every weekend.” I chuckled and said, “Let me share a secret with you. Open houses do not sell homes.”

Prior to the mass availability of the internet, a potential buyer had no way of seeing the home other than going to see it in person. Holding an open house was one of a handful of sales techniques used to get potential buyers into the home. Oh sure, the listing agent could create a full-page flyer and showcase a few photos, but no more than four to six photos at the most. As a matter of fact, before desktop publishing became popular and accessible in the early 90’s, you pretty much had to visit your local REALTOR’S® office to see any photos of the home. That’s why REALTORS® held their listings open on the weekends; so anyone who happened to drive by could stop in to see what the home looked like on the inside. Yet 30 or so years later, some real estate agents are still doing the same old thing; holding an open house with a few helium-filled balloons tied to the mailbox and store-bought cookies for visitors to munch on.

With today’s high-speed internet, REALTORS® can provide high resolution photos, video tours, even advanced 3D technologies like Matterport virtual tours you can watch on your phone or tablet. You can now literally walk through the home step by step from anywhere in the world. I like to call these “virtual open houses” because you view them anytime you want from the privacy of your own home or office. These technologies became critical in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.

Don’t take my word for it. The National Association of REALTORS® statistics say less than 1% of the homes sold every year are sold directly because of the agent holding an open house. Just about everything else I do to market a home will get a better response rate than that! On top of this, there is a serious safety issue.

Every year several real estate agents are beaten, robbed, or even killed while holding an open house. It’s a growing fear in the real estate community. I also hear about the seller’s personal items mysteriously going missing after leaving their home on a Sunday afternoon so their agent can hold a three-hour open house. Many times the sellers may not realize something is missing for days or even weeks afterward, making it very hard for the police to track down the thieves.

At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “If open houses don’t sell my home and there is a risk of my real estate agent being assaulted or our home being robbed, then why in the world would an agent continue to do open houses?” That’s a great question, and here’s the answer: Because sometimes an “unrepresented buyer” stumbles in and your agent might get the chance to sell them a home. Not necessarily your home, but another home.

Do you have any idea how many real estate sales meetings and online training videos are devoted to open houses? Don’t take my word for it. Google the words, “open house scripts” and see what comes up. Click on a few links in YouTube and you’ll see pretty quickly these “sales training experts” are telling real estate agents to do open houses so they can “find buyers.” They talk about how you should be knocking on all the neighbors’ doors to invite them to your open house. The neighbors obviously don’t want to move across the street, but they’ll see how hard you are working to sell the neighbor’s home, and may be thinking about selling their home soon. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find information on any of these “sales training websites” about how the agent should be selling YOUR home. The conversation almost always centers on finding buyers and how to turn them into clients. Basically, they’re just using your home as bait so they can meet your neighbors and get new clients.

Now, having said all this, there are still some advantages of holding an open house for our seller clients in this current real estate market. Homes in 2021 are moving very fast and many agents are scrambling to get their buyers into a new home that just came on the market that day. If we hold the home open for 2-4 hours on a Saturday or even a week night, it allows many buyers to tour the home in person without having to work around their agent’s busy schedule. After seeing the photos online, they can simply pop in during the open house and see if it’s a good fit for them. That’s one reason why my real estate team still does them from time-to-time, but we always try to educate our sellers and help them understand why we’re doing the open house.

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