If you're selling your house, an open house is a great way to increase its visibility and bring in people who might not have made an appointment for a personal visit. Your real estate agent, assuming you have one, should take care of many of the tasks described below.
In fact, your real estate agent will probably suggest that you spend the open house hours away from home. Whether you stay for the open house or not, however, here are some important ways that you can help.
1. Hire a babysitter or dog-walker. Even if you plan to stay home during the open house, your children and pets should not. Children may run around underfoot or blurt out something that you'd rather a prospective buyer not hear. Arrange for them to visit a friend or relative during open house times. And although your pets would probably charm some visitors, they might also scare some or cause allergies. Worse yet, pets might escape through doors and windows that visitors leave ajar. Best to find a friend or a dog-walker to take them for a few hours.
2. Advise your immediate neighbors (ideally, a few days in advance). They'll no doubt appreciate knowing that a herd of cars and people are about to fill your street. Better yet, you can invite them to the open house. More visitors adds an air of excitement. Besides, if your neighbors like what they see, they may pass the word to friends whom they'd always wished lived near them.
3. Add final touches to make the house look its best. In preparation to sell, your house should already be cleared of extra clutter and as clean and nicely decorated as can be. Now look at it with an extra critical eye. Throw open the curtains, turn on lights, wipe off any recent dust or dirt, add a vase of flowers to a dark corner, and clear out any oversized furniture or extra knickknacks that scream of your own personality or make the space look cramped. Tidy up outside, too -- especially in the front, where potential buyers develop their first impressions.
For more tips on how to make your home look its best, see Preparing Your House for Showings.
4. Put out open house signs. (This advice is just for FSBO sellers -- those with real estate agents can count on them to take care of this task, although it there's a key intersection or busy area the agent might not know about, such as a local farmer's market happening on the same day, mention it.) Putting up several signs -- six or so -- on the major streets and intersections near your house is crucial. Make sure the signs are visible and either point straight up a road leading directly to the house or lead people to another sign that does. (You don't want to send drivers on wild-goose chases, uncertain of where to go next.)
5. Prepare any customary or required paperwork. Again, your agent, if you have one, will take care of this, but you can make helpful suggestions. At most open houses, the agents will offer prospective buyers a flyer with attractive photos of the house plus a summary of its features and price. The main purpose of this is to provide key information and remind them of the details when they get home (they're probably visiting several homes in one day). Custom in your area may also dictate having the results of a pest report or other disclosures or inspection results on hand. And you can always offer additional materials to get buyers excited, such as recent press coverage about restaurants, community events, or other great things about your immediate area.
6. Anticipate buyers' questions. Think about buyers' practical needs and probable questions, and advise your real estate agent of the answers before the open house. For example:
- Estimate the walking or driving time to important locations like grocery stores, schools, or nearby commute train or bus stations. Buyers may want to know important facts about the house, too, like what sort of wood the paneling is made of, the date upon which the water heater was last replaced, or whether there's insulation in the attic. Make sure you or your real estate agent know these details.
- Go through your home with a view toward its potential -- for example, adding a room in the basement, remodeling the bathroom to add a stall shower, enclosing the porch, or whatever might strike a buyer's fancy. (But never, if you have personal discussions with buyers, make any claims about the feasibility or cost of such improvements.)
- Understand your legal obligation to disclose material facts about the property. This may mean having copies of pest or inspection reports ready. (For more information, see Required Disclosures When Selling Property.)
7. Be ready a little early. People will probably start arriving as soon as they see the first sign or as soon as the appointed hour strikes, whichever comes first. You don't want to keep your public waiting.
8. Have a sign-in sheet ready to accompany your property fact sheets. Remember, you are exchanging facts with your visitors. If they have the right to enter your house and learn things about it, you have a right to know who they are. A sign-in sheet will also help you evaluate the effectiveness of your advertising. Your real estate agent may prepare such a sheet for you. If not, you can prepare your own sheet, asking visitors to provide their:
- phone number, and
- how they learned about the house.
9. Be prepared for people who aren't serious buyers or worse. You're bound to attract some "lookie lous" who just go looking at houses for the fun of it when they have no intention of making a purchase. Then there are the "nosy nerds" -- neighbors who look at houses in their immediate neighborhood, in order to pat themselves on the back or console themselves concerning their own homes -- even though they have no intention of selling in the near future. The good news is, if they like your place, they may call a friend who's househunting.
In the worst case, however, your house may be visited by people whose only interest is to pocket some silver, cash, keys, prescription medications, or your ATM card. Hide or lock away all valuables.
10. Be prepared to talk with potential buyers. If you'll be at home during the open house, make small talk about neutral subjects, such as family and neighborhood. Don't go overboard praising your house or its amenities. Too much praise may seem phony. Many people look at hundreds of homes; others check out houses as a hobby and don't ever really plan to buy one. If one person doesn't seem clearly interested, concentrate on someone who does.
11. Don't volunteer personal information that may be used against you. If you'll be personally interacting with buyers, don't tell them things like, "I'm hoping to get this sold in time to start my new job out-of-state," or "The great thing is, I bought this place 12 years ago for cheap." Instead, listen carefully to buyers' questions and comments, which will offer clues to their underlying interests. For example, if prospective buyers seem intent on verifying district boundaries of local schools, they obviously have or are planning to have children. Focus your discussion on the school district and other child-related attractions, such as a nearby park or day care center.
If you are getting ready to put your house on the market, Selling Your House: Nolo's Essential Guide, by Ilona Bray, includes advice on open houses, other marketing techniques, and much more.