Open Houses: Who Needs Them?

by Sponsor February 17, 2015 at 4:55 pm 0

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This regularly scheduled, sponsored Q&A column is written by Tom Faison of ReMax Allegiance at Eastern Market. Please submit your questions via email.

The season started early this year. No, I’m not talking about bird-hunting or baseball or chasing votes down the hallowed halls. Open house trials began in January, pitting big engine classics against sleek hybrids in a three-hour Sunday showdown barely less exciting than bowling and grueling for men, absent cold beer.

Open houses are a spectator sport on Capitol Hill — an architectural Super Bowl. A poor man’s house and garden tour on any given Sunday, another agent up at bat with every door chime, teeth shining, asking you to sign their book. But do open houses, with all the requisite balloons and banners, have anything to do with your home winning the pennant?

Once a key way to attract prospective buyers, open houses are now the dinosaurs of the marketing world. According to a 2011 report from the National Association of Realtors, nearly 90 percent of buyers search online for homes, while only half that number visit open houses. And open houses are rarely used as a first step to a home search; 35 percent of buyers start their search online, while only 4 percent start at open houses. Online listings are now the most popular source for finding a home, followed by real estate agents, according to NAR. Sunday open houses rank third.

So here’s how the process looks today:

  • “We might be moving, so let’s look online to find out what houses and neighborhoods we like.”
  • “This area looks good and the price is right, so let’s call a local agent/expert.”
  • “We think we’ve found the house we want but can’t get in Friday afternoon. We’ll hit the open house Sunday.”

It is not:

  • “Better sit down. I stopped in at an open house on the way back from Eastern Market, and I think I’d like to move.”
  • “We better get on the phone, call an agent to send the forms, call the bank to send some money and hope a moving truck shows up eventually.”
  • “Our offer’s accepted! Quick, get online and find out if we paid too much!”

In my experience, the ultimate buyer has left work on a Thursday and is in the home with their agent, pencils sharpened, within four hours of the home coming online. Why then, with so little impact on results, do open houses account for so much apparent effort?

With few exceptions, public open houses are vehicles for agents and brokers to promote their businesses. In realtor jargon, it’s all about “picking up” potential clients, buyers or sellers who, actively or passively, sooner or later, are looking to move. Aren’t we all, sooner or later? It’s a wonderful business where agents/brokers are paid to sell the very platform upon which they are selling themselves. (The true work of realtors is not nearly as simple as the open house stage suggests. The presentation of the product, coaching of the players and working well with colleagues inside and outside of the office makes or breaks an agent’s long-term career.)

But for a successful sale, full exposure is key, even to (especially to) the other broker’s buyer. This is particularly important in Washington, where schedules are tight and traffic rules. So it’s crucial to allow open, easy, and unencumbered access to those buyers who either can’t otherwise see the home or who can’t coordinate with their buyer’s agent.

As for open houses, since I often say when selling that no stone or opportunity should be left unturned, there are very few reasons not to have an open house. Just don’t take it too seriously. A family of five in their Sunday best wandering through your two-bedroom house off Barracks Row is a small price to pay to make sure you reach all potential buyers.

Looking for value in this column?

  • Sellers, don’t bake cookies. It’s almost apologetic, unless something recently died in your crawl space. Then, by all means hire a baker.
  • Buyers, hide your children. They can sometimes signal extreme motivation to an alert agent.
  • Agents, pay attention to the quiet ones. And if they happen to have a child in tow, or even one on the way, do everything within your power to earn their trust. Even if you have to use a rope.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of


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