Are open houses a good way to sell homes?

Are open houses a good way to sell homes?

Few issues divide estate agents more than the subject of open houses (also known as open days) where multiple potential buyers can view a home, often without an appointment, on a set day. Some agents recommended them to high heaven, believing they can lead to higher offers, whereas others remain doubting Thomases, who prefer to arrange viewings in the traditional way instead.  

But who’s right? There’s no black and white answer. Therefore, we’re going to play two roles simultaneously below: a little cartoon angel on your right shoulder, who argues that open houses are the answer to all your prayers, and a cute devil with a pitchfork on the left, who’ll try to undermine your faith. You’ll then be able to weigh up the arguments and decide whether open houses are a good idea for yourself. 

Open houses - a miracle solution?

With our wee halo firmly in place, we’ll begin by arguing that open houses create an initial buzz that often leads to a quick sale. Marketing folk love a launch with a bit of fanfare, and this is precisely what open days do: they present homes as something desirable and worth seeing. Potential buyers will want to see what the fuss is about.

Open houses are also often associated with higher offers. This is because buyers will see other parties looking around a property, occasionally cross paths with them, and assume that interest is high. This gets their juices flowing and prompts them to make a decisive offer to secure the home before anyone else does. Showing homes to multiple parties in a short space of time can also spark bidding wars - the Holy Grail for sellers. 

There are practical, as well as psychological, reasons to recommend open houses, too. For starters, it saves the vendor a vat of elbow grease. Preparing your home for viewings is hard. You’ve got to clean, hoover, dust, de-clutter and scrub so that your property looks its best. Doing this multiple times, over a series of weeks, can be exhausting for sellers. Open days, on the other hand, promise to secure a buyer in one swift stroke. 

Open houses also give vendors plenty of time to prepare - unlike annoying last-minute viewings when you’ve got to drop everything and run the hoover around at short notice. Keeping a home in tip-top condition day after day is tough when you’ve got a family and/or a busy lifestyle.

Finally, open days can be good for buyers, too. For starters, they don’t necessarily have to go through the rigmarole of registering with an agent and booking an appointment beforehand. Furthermore, prospective buyers can walk around the property at their leisure without an agent breathing down their neck or fishing for feedback. 

Open houses - let’s play devil’s advocate

Ignore that pesky angel. Open houses are a bad idea for several reasons. So let’s condemn the positive arguments one by one, starting with the idea that open days lead to higher offers and a quick sale…

Sadly, the prospect of an open day followed by a bidding war puts off many buyers from the get-go. Very few people, especially us traditionally reserved British folk, want an arm wrestle to secure a home. What’s more, buyers need to take their time over what’s likely to be the biggest purchase of their life. Open days deny them this right. They pile on the pressure and push people away. And those who do actually make an offer might regret it later and pull out - thus wasting everyone’s time. 

There are practical drawbacks to open houses as well - not least the fact that some serious buyers won’t be able to make the date. Open days don’t create the right environment for viewings, either. Seeing a house alongside rival buyers is awkward, and it’s harder for interested parties to picture themselves living there. In addition, it’s tough for them to ask the agent important questions if they’re dealing with several buyers at once. 

Vendors should be reluctant, too. After all, who wants multiple parties traipsing around their home, and wearing out the carpets, at the same time? It’s also hard to keep track of these people. Who are they? Are they just nosey neighbours with no intention of buying? Or perhaps they’re potential burglars casing the joint. Beware false prophets, folks. 

Judgement day

Now that you’ve heard both sides, it’s time to answer the big question: are open houses heavenly or hellish? The truth is somewhere in between. If you’re selling a unique home, and the market is buoyant, then an open house can be a one-way ticket to property nirvana. But if the market is slow, and the property is similar to others already available, then the big day could go down like a box office raspberry. 

It might be a good idea, therefore, to invite potential buyers to an organised launch day with pre-arranged back-to-back viewings, rather than a true ‘open day’ when anyone can pop round at any time. Pre-arranged appointments give agents a chance to vet potential buyers, cut out time wasters, and also spend quality time with each interested party on the day.

Although there’s no harm if those finishing their viewing see fresh buyers arrive - it proves that the property is in demand - you don’t want interested parties to feel too pressured or rush into a decision that may backfire later on. Basically, there’s a balance to be struck. And it’s up to agents to create the right environment. 

It’s also important to remember that open days aren’t an either/or situation. If you don’t attract the interest you’d hoped for, and no acceptable offers materialise, it doesn’t prevent you from marketing the property through the normal channels afterwards. What’s more, buyers who come to your property with fresh eyes won’t necessarily know (or care) that there was an open house once upon a time. So what have you got to lose? Sometimes in life you’ve just got to take a leap of faith.

There endeth the lesson.

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