What an Open House Is — Plus How to Make the Most of One
January 16, 2023
Attending—or hosting—open houses is an important part of the home buying and selling process. See what experts have to say to make the most of any open houses you’re a part of.
If you've ever listed your home for sale or driven by a newly listed home, you've likely heard about (or seen signs about) an open house. An open house is an invitation to the public to view a home to generate interest and offers in a newly listed property, an a well-attended open house can lead to a speedy sale.
Whether you're on the market to buy or sell, here's what you can expect during an open house.
What Is an Open House?
Open houses are held to generate interest, attract potential buyers, and help the agent selling the home, says Hao Li, broker with HouseSigma, an AI-powered online brokerage.
"When a seller lists a property for sale, the seller's agent will often hold an open house where anyone who's interested can come inside and tour the home at their own leisure," Li says. "Open houses usually last for about two hours and are normally held over the weekend."
An open house lets prospective buyers and their agents have a look at the property during a designated time, which makes coordinating visits easier on the seller and can attract more people all at once.
"The expectation is that buyers who are in the market for the type of property being offered would be able to view at their convenience," says Julie Longtin, broker-owner of Cityside Properties in Providence, Rhode Island. "You do not have to go through the formality of scheduling a private appointment."
While the goal is to sell the property at hand, agents are also looking to connect with prospective buyers who attend and might be selling their own homes down the road, Li says.
Open houses are usually held soon after a home is listed for sale.
"Seller's agents will typically hold open houses the first weekend of a new listing to capitalize on interest in a fresh, just-hit-the-market property," Li says.
Wait much longer to throw an open house, and chances are most potential buyers have already come across your property and either viewed it or ruled it out. Still, an open house can also revitalize interest in a property that's languishing on the market, especially in a highly competitive market.
"Agents are typically holding more open houses than usual for the same listing, because listings are sitting on the market longer," Li says. "Buyers are taking their time during this real estate cool down. In general, there are fewer buyers and fewer bidding wars, so homes just aren't selling as fast."
In 2021, an open house could end in multiple offers—not so today.
"Buyers are taking their time," Li says. "They no longer feel the need to rush to put in an offer. So sellers will have to be patient and actually wait for days for offers to come in, if any."
Even if an open house doesn't generate an offer, Longtin says it usually offers a real estate agent a ton of information they can use to adjust the listing price or make fixes to the home, especially if they're asking buyers the right questions.
"How well is the property received? Is the property priced right? How does it show to the average person? What are the pros and cons of the subject, and how does that affect the market value? A successful agent would have the tools and the dialogue to gently extract this feedback," she says.
How to Prepare for an Open House as the Seller
Sellers preparing to hold an open house should prepare the way they do for any showing by cleaning, removing personal effects, and leaving the house on the day of the event.
"The best way to hold an open house is to hire an agent who offers staging," Li says. "Clean the property, make sure there's plenty of light and a comfortable ambiance, and tuck personal items out of sight. Especially family photos. Buyers like to picture themselves in the home, so pictures of the current owners hanging on the walls doesn't help that image."
Longtin stresses that cleanliness is most important on the day of an open house or any showing.
"A clean and immaculate property both inside and out is always received better than the alternative," she says. "Make it smell as good as it looks! The more comfortable you make the environment, the longer people stay, the more success you will achieve."
On the day of the event, make yourself (and any family members, children, and pets) scarce and let your agent handle the rest.
"Sellers should stay away during the open house. Resist the urge to peek at what's happening, and whatever you do, do not set up hidden cameras," Li says. "You don't want potential buyers finding a hidden camera and submitting a complaint."
Don't worry if you feel your home gets lots of traffic from folks just browsing for fun.
"We all know that the 'Nosy Neighbor' may attend out of curiosity. Not to fret," Longtin says. "Neighbors may have friends or family members who may be a candidate, as well. So, when it comes to open houses, the wider the net, the more fish you can catch!"
What to Expect from an Open House as a Potential Buyer
Anyone can show up to an open house, regardless of whether they're seriously interested in the property.
"Not all buyers are ready to engage with a real estate agent until they have significantly narrowed down their properties of interest, but they are actively looking and are ready to purchase when they see the right property," says real estate agent Kirsten Abney of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene. "Open houses are a great way for this population of buyers to see the home in person and determine if they have serious interest."
In most regions, you don't need an invite or an RSVP to attend, and you don't have to come with an agent. Do your research on expectations in your area before showing up, though, just to make sure you don't need an appointment: In certain markets, including New York City, open house attendees are often asked to register in advance.
"As buyers, you can simply show up to an open house, even if you're just driving by, or just curious about the property," Li says. "There's no rule that says you must be interested in buying this property in order to attend. That's the advantage of an open house: The agent may just catch the eye of a passerby who becomes smitten with the property."
While visiting, if you do find yourself interested in the property, take your time to decide if the home is a contender—and don't just look at things with rose-colored glasses.
"Visiting an open house is just the same as viewing a home by appointment. Look for the qualities you're looking for in a home," Li says. "Furthermore, pay attention to see if there are any noticeable water stains, cracks on the wall/ceiling, molds in the washroom and kitchen, [or] signs of renovation or cosmetic touch ups. The list goes on, and the best way is to have an experienced agent along your side when viewing a home."
During an open house, Li says buyers should be asking some very basic questions about the sellers and their reason for moving, how long they stayed at the home and who lived there, including any pets. Ask about major renovations and any water, fire, or pest damage.
For a comprehensive look at the HVAC and electrical systems, and other non-visible features, talk to your agent.
"Good agents will generally have disclosures available at the open house or be willing to email them, so asking for the seller's disclosure is also good," Abney says.
Longtin says many of these questions are best asked by your agent, who can be sure to leverage a deal on your behalf.
"Let your buyer's broker ask the questions so that you do not reveal the level of your interest. Sample questions could be: What is the time frame of the seller? What are the occupancy expectations? Do you have any offers?" she says. "You really do not want to seem overly interested. Those are acceptable questions. People can detect your interest and spur competition! Be mindful of this!"
As you assess the property, consider making an offer as well. While buyers are in control of the market right now, you should always move quickly if you're interested in a property, especially if you've seen others attending the open house.
"Know what you are looking for, keep an open mind, and always be ready to make a move," Li says.
Source: What an Open House Is—Plus How to Make the Most of One Better Homes & Gardens (August 30, 2022) Kristen Gill