Secret No. 2: Open Houses Rarely Sell Your House

The Internet and other 21st century innovations make it almost unnecessary to continue with this traditional sales method.

Recently, real estate writer Julie Clairmont-Baratta shared the first of " Here is the second "secret."

Open houses are as synonymous with real estate as for sale signs and lock-boxes. Even the term Open House sounds like a special event at which something significant is taking place, much like Grand Opening or Opening Day.

Yet, most people don't realize that the open house rarely sells the house. According to the National Association of Realtors, open houses are responsible for only about one percent of real-estate sales.

Why then has this custom become part and parcel of selling a home and such a strong tradition among real estate agents and sellers? Perhaps, it's because not all that long ago, it wasn't so easy for agents to show property to prospective buyers.  Before the Internet and the Multiple Listing Service—the database of homes used by agents—they used to have to lug around phone book-like lists of homes for sale that had to be updated constantly as homes sold or prices changed or new properties came on the market.

People didn't even have answering machines, much less cellphones and voicemail for making appointments. Even when I started in the business 11 years ago, I had to carry around a pile of dog-eared city maps in my trunk. We now have electronic "keys" and lock-boxes, the Internet and GPS devices. The open house was an easy way to provide access to a house. Open house ads in the newspapers were the only way to advertise and signs were set up to lead the way.

These days, clients zoom in on houses on Google maps and research what the house sold for last on Zillow. It's a different era, but the open house remains much more than a custom. Sellers see it as an integral part of selling their homes. The truth is, it's not necessary. It's an option if you would like one, but if you don't like the idea of your nosey neighbors poking around your house for remodeling tips or scoping out your walk-in closet, relax. Your home will sell anyway.

It's much more important to pay attention to how well your home is presented, how realistically you have priced it, and how wide of a net your agent is casting in finding buyers through avenues that are much more important, namely the Internet. With almost 80 percent of buyers searching the Internet for their next home, that's the exposure you really need.

Now, I surely expect to get a slew of hate mail from my fellow agents for daring to say out loud that the emperor has no clothes, but it had to be said. Sellers are widely convinced that the open house is pretty much the most important way to sell their house. Realtors go along with this for several reasons. First of all, it sounds like blasphemy for an agent to say open houses aren't important. People always look at me with surprise and skepticism. We've all been programmed to believe that this is simply what you do... and agents don't want to appear as if they don't want to hold open houses or are not providing full service.

Of course, the more important reason is that open houses are great exposure—for agents. They get to put up their signs all over the neighborhood and it's a common way to pick up buyers and potential sellers. A lot of the people who come to open houses are neighbors (who might want to sell their home someday) and buyers who are just starting to look. They pick up an open house guide in the Sunday paper and start driving around looking. It doesn't matter that the house is too expensive or not the right size, they haven't figured all that out and they might not have an agent yet. Bingo, you've got a new client.

Open houses do serve one important purpose. They are held on Sundays, a common day for people to look at houses because it's their day off. The Catch-22 is that their agent might not be available because, you guessed it, they're busy holding an open house! They can then simply send their client to the open house, even if they're not available to be there. 


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