The Drawbacks of an Open House

Open Houses are a Waste of TimeDo Open Houses Work?

Real estate open houses are one sales tactic that may be more about the hype than about results. Some real estate agents play up the benefits far more than they should, considering how many drawbacks there are to the process. The fact is, open houses are rarely conducted to sell a home. Sure, some agents still believe that the open house has a place in the sale of a home. There will always be home owners that do not know any better. However, the facts about open houses should discourage anyone from bothering with the process.

The debate over whether an open house is a good marketing activity almost always boils down to a battle between real estate agents who are at the pinnacle of their game (top producers) and those agents who need to do open houses to generate additional clients. In other words, real estate open houses can be significant prospecting activities for Realtors. Do open houses sell homes? The answer statistically is clear cut and dry – Rarely!

Some real estate agents have to do open houses, or they wouldn’t know where to find their next prospect if it hit them in the face. What consumers need to understand is that “real buyers” schedule appointments to see homes they are interested in viewing.

How many buyers who are ready, willing and able to purchase a home say to themselves – if those Realtors don’t have an open house – forget about it I’m not interested!” Sounds pretty moronic, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. When weighing the pros and cons of an open house, the cons come in ahead by a large margin! Open houses rarely work to sell a home and put sellers at undue risk.

Why You Shouldn’t Have an Open House

Security issues – One of the biggest drawbacks of an open house is the potential for theft. Letting strangers in off the street to wander around your home carries some obvious security risks. While the majority of visitors will most likely be there to view your home and learn more about it, some may be there for more nefarious reasons. The fact is, during an open house anyone can come in – even people who are looking for access points, security weaknesses, and valuables. This is something most real estate agents who tout open houses ever want to discuss. They will sweep this fact right under the rug at the seller’s expense just to keep the prospecting train rolling.

Last year in Hopkinton Massachusetts during the peak Spring selling season one of the agents in my office held an open house on a Sunday. The home, however, was listed on the prior Wednesday with no showings allowed until the open house. This, by the way, is the only truly effective means of holding an open house as it sets up the possibility of a frenzy of potentially interested buyers viewing the home at once.

The delay in showings creates pent-up demand for the home and the chance for multiple offers. The downside, however, was great. There were thirty to forty couples who visited the open house during the two-hour viewing window. The agent, God bless her, could not possibly watch every individual walking through the home at all times. This, unfortunately, cost the seller big time, as a $5000 painting was stolen right off the wall! The agent, of course, had no idea who could have taken the art work and neither could the police after visiting the home. Good thing for home insurance!

Open House RobberThe risk of theft – This ties into security issues, but it deserves its section. There have been documented cases of people breaking into houses for sale and stealing things, such as in this New York Times article on open houses. Sometimes they do it in unoccupied homes, and sometimes they do it in homes that people are still living in. The temptation is too much – they can walk into the open house, see what they want to take and how they can get in, and then they later burglarize the place. Folks this is not just an isolated example  – this happens all around the country! An open house is an open invitation to make theft more probable.

Unqualified prospects – Have you ever driven through a beautiful neighborhood and seen an open house – a lovely house – and thought about stopping in to check it out? Most people have at least considered it. There is not really anything wrong with doing so – how often do you get the chance to see how other people live and decorate? The problem is, often the people coming into your open house are doing the same thing. Just stopping in to check things out, not to buy. The ironic thing about this is that Realtors are always preaching to homeowners how they will go out of their way to make sure a buyer is qualified to buy their home. Yet when it comes to an open house this line of thinking is thrown out the window. Come on in everybody! As long as you have a pulse you are welcome here.

Nosy neighbors – An open house is like a beacon to neighbors curious about your home. They may be great neighbors or not so great neighbors. However good they are to live by, you may not want them wandering around your house. Unfortunately, there is no real way to stop them. Once you open your home, most anyone can walk though the doors. Expect the busy bees stopping by your home to be discussing it with all the rest of the neighbors who failed to show up. Yes, this means you need to be doubly certain not to leave your underwear and bra’s hanging around for everyone to see.

The Drawbacks of an Open HouseLack of one on one attention – Your Realtor may be motivated to sell your home, but he or she only has the ability to communicate with one set of buyers at a time. This means that if things get busy, there will be a lot of missed opportunities – people that may have been perfect prospective buyers that never even get to speak to the real estate agent. There is no way for an open house visit to compare to an actual home viewing with your agent. Most people who come by and visit are probably going to want to return at a later date to really check things out if they are serious buyers anyways.

Seller competition – Other people selling their homes are likely to stop by and see what you are doing with yours. This only makes sense, especially if they are in a similar neighborhood with a similar home to sell. However, these visitors do you no good. They will simply see what you are doing and take what works for them.

In fact, if they look over your home and think it looks pretty darn good they will probably be dropping the price of their home to be more competitive. This is an excellent example of helping the competition. Most sellers who are competing against you wouldn’t schedule a showing to do the same snooping they would do at an open house.

Agent’s ulterior motives – Some agents may be excited to do an open house and be firmly convinced that it is a valid sales method. However, a lot of agents use open houses to meet other clients. All of those unwanted visitors – with the exception of the burglars – are potential customers for the agent.

Your nosy neighbors may want to sell later, so the open house is a great place to build rapport with these people. More than anything else the agent will be meeting people who are not qualified to purchase your home but they are buyers none the less. If you are selling a $500,000 home, a buyer who can only spend $400,000 is not going to be buying your place. Right? Guess what, though – this $400,000 buyer is going purchase a home at that price point somewhere else. The agent holding the open house at your place knows this. This is a prospect for the Realtor. Does it help you in any way –  no it certainly doesn’t. Plenty of agents know that open houses are a good way to look busy while seeking other clients for future work. Getting new clients is the biggest reason why real estate agents hold open houses.

Rarely results in sales – This is the biggest reason to be wary of an agent that lauds his or her open house practices. The fact is, homes are rarely sold as a result of an open house. According to the National Association of Realtors, the number of homes sold due to an open house is staggeringly low – a measly 2%. NO – you did not read that wrong. This is not a promising number. If fact, it is low enough to make you question the worth of even having an open house.

The Positives of an Open House

After reading about the drawbacks of an open house, you are hopefully questioning the validity of why they are important. The fact of the matter is open houses are clearly not necessary to sell a home, especially in the digital age. They are an archaic means of marketing a property. Could you get lucky and sell your home at an open house? Anything is possible, but if you are planning on it, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. From a sellers standpoint, there is only one positive that an open house provides – the ability to set a certain time on a particular day where people are allowed to come and look.

Could you get lucky and sell your home at an open house? Anything is possible, but if you are planning on it, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. From a sellers standpoint, there is only one positive that an open house provides – the ability to set a certain time on a particular day where people are allowed to come and look.

This is beneficial to some sellers who may work out of the home and have a hard time vacating the property during the week. By setting up a day/time in advance, some buyers may choose just to come by on the day of the scheduled open house. There are also some homeowners who have moved out of their home before selling and could care less about having their weekend interrupted by an open house. For these sellers, an agent hanging around their home all Sunday afternoon is perfectly fine. Bang your head against the wall and have a grand ole time!

For those of you who don’t fall into these categories and are convinced you still need to have one make sure you don’t make any of the most common open house mistakes. Be wary of not making your home as presentable as possible. Just like any other showing, your home should sparkle.

Final Thoughts on Open Houses and Real Estate Agents

Real Estate Agents Who Taught Open HousesIf you have interviewed a few real estate agents and you are choosing one because open houses are a big part of their marketing plan, then you are making a mistake! This clearly should not be the basis for selecting a Realtor to work with. When deciding on which real estate agent to choose look for these qualities instead:

  • Has a dominant online presence locally – An agent that appears in competitive local searches understand what’s necessary for bringing in business.
  • Provides exceptional photography –  First impressions are everything in real estate sales. You want your home to standout online as a property people want come and view.
  • Uses vivid descriptions of your home in all of their marketing. Does the agent take the time to craft something that captures the essence of your homes best features or did they just slap something together?
  • Goes above and beyond with other creative forms of real estate marketing such as video tours, floor plans, feature sheets, improvement lists, etc.
  • Clearly, has excellent communications skills – how quickly does the agent call or email you back. I am talking about before you hire them. This will be an indication of things to come if you select them.
  • Is honest, trustworthy and doesn’t care where their next sale comes from – What this means is you will always get the best advice from an agent that doesn’t need a sale, not one that is dependent on their next commission check.

As you can see the drawbacks far out, weigh the benefits when it comes to an open house. The serious buyers looking for a home in your area will be calling to see your place with their agent. Don’t fall for one of the greatest Realtor myths of all time – open houses not are necessary to sell homes!

Other Worthwhile Open House Resources

Use these additional resources to determine if having an open house is something you feel is necessary to sell your home.

About the author: The above Real Estate information on the drawbacks of a real estate open house was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 29+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service Real Estate sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton and Uxbridge MA.

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  1. says

    Bill – well written article. I had a client that demanded I host an Open House earlier in 2014. The home was a rehab and vacant. The day after the open house I received a call from my client stating that the home had been broken into and all copper had been removed. We had over 20 folks show up for a 1 hour open house and there was one couple I had noted to my sellers after I called with feedback, that came in quickly (while it was the busiest) and split up. When I looked for them to get them to sign in, they said they were all set and left. There really wasn’t anything I could do.

    I am not a fan of open houses – and after years of selling real estate this year was the oddest. I ran 3 open houses this year and had never sold a home at an open house…but one in Mansfield in early summer had nearly 40 attendees and I had 4 offers in-hand before the end of the open house (we had delayed any showings until the open house). It did create a frenzy – and some odd behavior. One agent actually made a production of coming in with the offer…announcing she was making an offer and then SLAMMED it on the table very loudly. I think if there were “royal trumpeters” available, she would have hired them to announce her entrance. I knew she was trying to spook the room and deter people but it just made it worse. If she had come in quietly I probably would have only had that one offer by the end of the open house and would have had to have worked harder to get the other offers.


    • says

      Thanks Ryan. Just another good example of an unprofessional Realtor. Who in their right mind would do something like that? I have found that most sellers will completely change their mind about doing an open house once I explain who the majority of people coming through the door will be.

      It is also hard to argue the fact that a “real” buyer will always schedule a showing to see a home they are interested in.

      There will always be real estate agents who deceive the public about the need for open houses.

  2. says

    Great and accurate post Bill.

    I’ve hosted three open houses this year as a courtesy to other agents in my office while they were out of town. These open houses were requested by the home owners in hopes an offer would come through. In one open house I had modest traffic with no offers that actually ended up not being a good house to hold open since it had easy to remedy cosmetic issues left unaddressed. The other two I hosted ended up having no one come at all with the owner for one commenting that same thing happened the last time his agent held it open. Maybe that should have told him something.


    • says

      Paul it doesn’t surprise me in the least that the open houses haven’t been effective. The vast majority of times where they can be effective is when the home first comes on the market and you don’t let anyone in until the open house on Sunday. Other than that why bother – any real buyer will schedule a showing if they want to see the home.

  3. says

    Years ago — at really the last open house I ever did for one of my own listings — prescription medication went missing. In my mind, I know who did it, but because she came in when it was most crowded, it was possible for her to go straight to the medicine cabinet, grab the bottle, and leave without looking anyone in the eye. As she was coming down the stairs, I interrupted the conversation I was having and asked her if she had any questions. She just waved me off and *WHOOSH* she was gone out the front door. The missing medicine was not noticed until hours later. On a weekend evening, it was difficult for the seller to get it replaced.

    I have noticed that the top agents in my office almost never hold open houses. If their listings are vacant, they might provide open house opportunities to other agents seeking to build up their clientele, but rarely hold opens themselves.

    • says

      Randall there is no question that open houses present the perfect opportunity for anyone to walk in and take what they want. Any Realtor that doesn’t discuss this is making a big mistake. Who is the seller going to blame when it happens?

  4. says

    I am an agent in Toronto. I enjoy reading your articles. Good job. I guess it depends on the market. I am an agent in the Toronto Beaches Riverdale area and open houses are the norm and are also essential. In certain neighbourhoods in Toronto good properties sell within a week. Buyer agents rely on open houses for their clients to see new listings over the weekend. Buyer agents normally do agent-inspections as soon as the property comes out and send a list of open houses to the buyers. Open houses are usually 2 to 4 Saturdays and Sundays and provide an opportunity for the buyers to see these properties outside of their work schedules. If they see any they like, the agent would then book a showing so he/she can come in with the client to discuss the property in detail. You are right, security is an issue. We have buyers sign in and sometimes we will look at their id. If necessary we will have more than one agent work the open house.

    I recently did an open house where we had more than 120 people through over the weekend. We looked at 7 offers on the following Tuesday and sold the house for $63,000 over asking.

    • says

      Stuart if homes are selling within a week why would you need to do an open house? What you are describing is a booming housing market. By the sounds of it an open house is completely unnecessary. If there are that many people coming through on a given day/time period then the seller is certainly at risk for theft because there is no way one or even two people could watch every individual.

      While this sounds like tradition and a common practice my bet is that if there were no open houses it would not slow down sales one bit. What you a describing can happen here on occasion but in those scenarios the seller is putting themselves at great risk of theft in their home. Careful observation has proved over and over again the seller can achieve the same results without subjecting themselves to those risks.

  5. says

    We do open houses now really only to appease sellers. They may or may not work depending on the location of the house. Some properties get great exposure in which case an open house would work great. On those homes that are out in the boonies, no one cares about an open house. It’s really about marketing online and making sure the images and presence is known. Great post Bill.

    • says

      Don I am curious if you ever discuss the drawbacks of an open house with your clients? In my experience 99% of the sellers I have ever worked with decide against having an open house once explaining the pro’s and con’s.

      What real estate agents need to keep in mind when explaining open houses is that any of the “real” buyers who would attend would also schedule a showing if there wasn’t one. Real buyers always schedule as showing.

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