Real Estate Prospecting - Turning Cheese into Soul - Open Houses

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open house

After a week away (thank you Robin!), I'm back in the saddle, talking about turning Prospecting Cheese into Soul... Today's topic is the non-cheesy Open House.

First, allow me to pontificate for a moment that I believe the first priority of any open-house-giver is to attempt to sell that house. After all, someone owns that house and has hired you, or an associate of yours to care enough about his listing to try to sell it. And no matter what you tell a seller ahead of time, he really does expect the offers to start pouring in at 4:05. 

So, just remember that your primary obligation is to the seller, not yourself. Lecture over.

(For a discussion on whether or not to even hold open houses, click here for my series on the topic).

All that said, most of us do look at an open house as an opportunity to pick up buyers. Maybe even sellers. So, how can you do that without resorting to Old School Cheese? (That sound kinda gross, doesn't it?)

My best advice for figuring out what NOT to do is to spend a sunny Sunday visiting other agents' open houses. Egads, some of us are cheesy. Or, if not cheesy, just plain dumb, aka, unprepared. I visited an open house last winter and eavesdropped in as a visitor asked the agent how old the furnace was. The agent smiled brightly and said those magic words: "I don't know, but I'd be happy to find out for you!" This piqued my curiosity, so I actually went into the basement and, get this - LOOKED at the furnace. It was obviously brand new. I'd think that anyone who had ever seen a furnace could tell that. Of course, that would have meant that the agent would have had to have made that long journey down the stairs to see for herself - but clearly that was too much to ask.

I've also heard rumors of agents requiring ID before allowing visitors into the property. Okay, maybe in a multi-gazillion dollar home, but your run-of-the-mill listing? Puh-leeeeeaze.

Do I require sign-in? No, I don't. I just don't feel comfy doing it, but it's not something I advise against. When I hold an open house, I'm looking for quality over quantity. I'm hoping to connect with one or two visitors; someone I have a natural rapport with. When I find that rapport with a visitor, it's easy for me to draw them into a conversation about real estate and most of the time; they ask ME for my card. I like that. If I had people sign-in, I know I wouldn't follow-up unless I felt that rapport, so I just don't bother.

When you hold an open house, pretend that there's a hidden camera watching your every move (who knows?). Don't do anything the seller wouldn't approve of. Don't criticize the house (that guest you're talking to might know the seller and report back, or he might be a seller prospect himself and be less than impressed with your professionalism!), or aggressively direct visitors toward your fancy list of "other properties they might consider instead."  It's far less cheesy (and effective) to be able to simply discuss the market conversationally, rather than push a pre-prepared package on guests.

(If you're enrolled in the SWS Winter of Soul, we'll be doing a thorough discussion of Open House Strategies on January 23!)

Next up... non-cheesy greeting cards...

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  1. D B 12/13/2009 11:18 AM
Real Estate Sales and Marketing
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Jennifer Allan-Hagedorn
Sell with Soul - Pensacola Beach, FL
Author of Sell with Soul

Jackie - that's what I figure - if "most" people are uncomfortable doing something, and I'm uncomfortable asking them to - well, then I'll just not do that!

Karen - What's inspiring to me is how poorly other agents handle their open houses! I went to one where there were no signs on the corners (the agent had run out before she got close to the house!), the OPEN HOUSE sign in the yard was placed where you couldn't see it from the corners and she'd left her brochures in the car ("oops - guess I better go get them!"). Although, I will say that some of the best open houses I've had were ones where I ran out of brochures!

Terrylynn - EXACTLY. You nailed it. Figure out what works for you and what is comfortable for you and do that. Don't let anyone (myself included) talk you out of your gut instinct!

Dec 12, 2009 11:56 PM #40
Julia Odom
Select Realty Professionals - Chattanooga, TN
Chattanooga Homes for Sale

My opinion of the sign in sheet is that you should have one but not make the attendees feel like it's required. I'm a buyer's agent so I don't often do open houses but when I do, the sign in sheet is there to give people the option of signing up for my newsletter.

Many new buyers - especially first timers - are more comfortable going to an open house than just calling up an agent and suddenly having the focus on themselves. Give them a chance and they'll come up with lots of questions. If you don't make them feel stupid you've won half the battle of building rapport and gaining trust. That's when I point them toward the sign in sheet.

Dec 13, 2009 12:29 AM #41
Bernadine Hunter, SFR, ACRE
Keller Williams Greater Columbus Realty - Pickerington, OH
"Finding Solution to Your Real Estate Needs"

I plan to do several open houses in the coming month, so I will certainly appreciate your post. I'll subscribe to your blog.

Dec 13, 2009 12:36 AM #42
Blatt + Cutino
Keller Williams Coastal Estates - Monterey, CA
Broker-Associate 831/206-8070*Call today*

I love your blogs and do subsribe! You always an interesting perspective!

Dec 13, 2009 12:48 AM #43
Not In Real Estate Any Longer
Autaugaville, AL

Hi Jennifer,

Wow! Great blog...certainly has generated conversation, and I'd like to put in my two cents, if I may...

First, I just want to say that doing open houses is not one my favourite jobs in the industry, but I do do them if the client wishes (presently, I work on a team and we all take our turns in conducting open houses for the clients).

Now, that being said, even though I dislike doing them, I take my responsiblities very seriously. I find out everything I can about the house so I have the answers to the questions...most people want to know the age of the furnace, the roof, and the windows, which typically isn't provided in the listing sheet unless they've just recently replaced :).

I also use a sign in sheet and I usually don't allow people in if they don't sign. Why? Because it is my job. I don't like it, but it is necessary to protect my sellers.

On the Real Estate Council of Ontario's Web site it specifically instructs consumers to ask (among other things) if the registered salesperson is going to ask for ID (

At the very least I would like to say that I insist visitors sign in before allowing them enter my client's private home.

One time during an open house, a visitor got very irate because I wanted him to sign in. He left angrily and later when I was collecting my signs I found one of them on the ground, pulled apart.

I don't believe this was a coincidence that some random person just decided to destroy my sign, and I was glad I didn't let this guy through. He obviously had issues.

Dec 13, 2009 02:29 AM #44
Tamara Inzunza
RE/MAX Executives - Alexandria, VA
Close-In Alexandria and Arlington Living

I definitely depends on the area.  I think open houses in an urban are are a lot better because there's more pedestrian traffic, better WalkScores.  In the suburbs, I usually will not hold an open house because I don't feel that it's safe.  It's also good to have a lender there with you or another agent/partner.

Dec 13, 2009 02:34 AM #45
Lexie Longstreet
Savvy + Co. Real Estate - Charlotte, NC

I like doing open houses... and really like doing them with a "group".  We get other agents to hold their homes open and try and pull in more people.... more signs, more balloons, more for them to see.  But in order to really pick up buyers from this ... you have to be on top of the rest of the listings.  It really works to have two agents at the house, and know all the vacant homes.  That way one can take the buyers to show them some vacant houses... while the other agent works the open house.  A team approach!

Dec 13, 2009 04:52 AM #46
Bill Gillhespy
16 Sunview Blvd - Fort Myers Beach, FL
Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos

Hi Jennifer,  I do a ton of opens and always for name, cell # and email for my database.

Dec 13, 2009 05:39 AM #47
Mark Horan
Resident Team Realty, LLC & Toni's Property Management LLC - Saint Cloud, FL
"The Resident Chef" - Resident Team Realty LLC &

Jennifer- All great points. You are there to represent the seller and sell the house. Leads are a bonus not the task. Most agents are so transparent with their motivation. Keep up the soul.

Dec 13, 2009 06:35 AM #48
Rick Schwartz
William Raveis Real Estate - Danbury, CT

I think you are dead on that you have to keep the seller as the primary reason.  Your point of knowing the house seems so simple yet it is amazing that there seem to, imo, to be a lot of Realtors who fall into the category of your example of not having walked to the basement to see the furnace.

I host a lot of open houses for other Realtors.  If I haven't previewed the house already, I always make a point of doing so a few days before the open house.  I try to do this preview when the seller is home so they can give me the tour and point out the highlights.

This knowledge goes a long way in the secondary mission of the Open House - new buyers.   If a prospective buyer walks in and the Realtor doesn't even know the details of the house he is sitting in, what kind of an impression will the buyers have of that Realtor?

Dec 13, 2009 07:05 AM #49
Patricia Aulson
Realtor - Portsmouth NH Homes-Hampton NH Homes

I don't usually enjoy Open Houses.....Every now and then I've had a good one. Mostly curiosity seekers.


Dec 13, 2009 09:15 AM #50
Bob Willis
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Orange, CA
Orange County & L.A. County Real Estate Agent

I used to use a sign in sheet every time; but lately, over the past 3-4 months, I have had it out on the table or counter, but have not insisted on people signing in.  I haven't decided whether I am going to continue in this way.  In the past I built up my database with the sign in sheets, and just this week had a call from a lady who had come to one of my open houses 2.5 years ago.  The reason she contacted me is because I had them on my mailing list, and she liked my newsletters.  If I had not made them sign in, I never would have heard from her.

Dec 13, 2009 12:30 PM #51
Susan Thompson-Solomons
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services McNelis Group Properties - Solomons, MD
Southern MD Real Estate-Solomons Specialist

Occasionally an open house sells the property. Depending on the property - location, etc. - it's more likely than in other cases. By doing the open house myself, I don't believe in having other agents do them, I have actually had the opportunity to "sell" the house pointing out special features about the house when agents have brought clients by on a weekend afternoon during their showing schedule for that day.

If nothing else, it does help keep people in the market - people generally like to satisfy their curiosity, and you never know, it may spur someone to think about buying who hadn't been thinking about it before. I do use sign in sheets. This has been an important prospecting piece for me - depending on your market, maybe that's not the case.

Dec 14, 2009 01:18 AM #52
Lisa Schmitt
Coldwell Banker Honig-Bell - Plainfield, IL

Open Houses are still popular in my marketplace and I have to say that I can trace a good amount of business back to people I've met at open houses. Sure, I've had many Sundays where I've sat at a home and nobody showed up, but in almost 4 years I've also sold 3 homes directly because of the open house. That was worth it to me!

I've learned to be very selective about when & where I hold an open house. I'm in the Chicago suburbs, so weather is always a concern. I've learned the hard way that people generally don't visit Opens during December and January. Or when the Bears are playing in the afternoon (though after last night it just might not matter anymore!). I like Open Houses and they are definitely a big part of my business model

Dec 14, 2009 01:33 AM #53
Corey Chase
Silvercreek Realty Group - Meridian, ID

Great post Jennifer... I have definitely been to a few open houses with agents to be the onsite lender.  I can say there is an extreme difference from one agent to the next on their preperation for an open house.  Sometimes the extreme lack of effort really puts the thought out there Why do it?  If you are not going to take the time to do it right why do it?  The two balloons on the mailbox just enough to have potential buyers feel the urge to stop in.  Unless you have more balloons for their kids.  I think open houses are a great way for buyers and sellers to meet agents.  In a way they can interview them without them knowing they are being interviewed.

Dec 14, 2009 02:07 AM #54
Melissa Brown
Helen Adams Realty - Charlotte, NC
Realtor - South Charlotte NC Homes for Sale

You know me...I hate asking for sign in information.  I get too many Mickey Mouses.  I always try to establish rapport first, and if they seem interested in the house/neighborhood, I'll ask them if they want my neighborhood update.

Dec 15, 2009 11:40 PM #55
Cara Pearlman
Frankly Real Estate, Inc - Bethesda, MD
Realtor - ABR, SFR

I have found that in the 6.5 years that I have been in real estate - I have sold one house that was the actually home I held open. It was well worth it as I ended up getting a listing out of it as well and selling almost 3 million in volume! Opens aren't my favorite but it is a necessary service to provide to seller's that feel it is important. When business is slow and I'm not having as much luck meeting new prospects through my normal business practices I will pick an open or two a month. 

Dec 17, 2009 07:16 AM #56
BuyLA 247
Arcadia, CA
Arcadia - San Marino - Pasadena - San Gabriel Vall

yeah, i don't ask the visitors to sign in first when they come to my open houses.
after i give them a tour and build on rapport, they would usually leave their contact information.

Apr 11, 2011 01:14 PM #57
Donna Foerster
HomeSmart Realty Group - Parker, CO
Metro Denver Real Estate Assistant

Jennifer~ I'm so glad I found your blog.  You have so many great ideas.  I love the idea of touring other open houses.  Spring is a great time to do that!  I also love that you don't have people sign in.  If I can build rapport during their visit then I can ask for their contact information because I'm going to be sending them valuable information about buying or selling depending on their needs!  Awesome!

Apr 15, 2012 03:23 AM #58
This is excellent info but you need to cpimole it together and put it into a book and sale it. By the way, PLEASE tell me that isn't a picture of Bush behind you! LOL..I guess that it may well be because you did say that you were from Texas..hey what can I say.
Apr 30, 2012 07:30 PM #59
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