Open House Aren't What They Used to Be

So Realtor magazine is confirming today what I already knew -- open houses are not particularly helpful in selling a house.

In today's Daily News, they're reporting that while 80% of home buyers use the internet to search for homes, only 42% even visited a single open house in the past year. They didn't give the percentage of those buyers who wound up buying the open house they visited, but I suspect that number is very, very small.

When I was going through the various and sundry training sessions I received in the course of becoming a realtor, one thing became very clear to me. Realtors don't hold open houses to sell the houses they're holding open. They do open houses to get exposure to buyers to whom they can represent to buy other houses. It's a way of recruiting buyer clients. And, secondarily, as a way to show your sellers how very, very hard you're working to sell their house.

Still, once I got my license, I held a few open houses. I'd bring chocolate chip cookie dough, so that the smell of freshly baked cookied would make the house smell welcoming and home-y. Then I'd sit there. A few neighbors and looky-loos would trickle through. I'd eat all of those d**ed cookies myself (sometimes before they were even baked) and leave with a tummy ache.

As a rule, I don't do open houses any more. I have several reasons for that. One, they're notoriously ineffective at doing what they're supposed to do -- selling the house that's being held open. In the age of the internet, serious buyers don't spend their spare time driving around looking at open houses. They spend their spare time on the internet, where they can look at hundreds of houses in the time it takes to walk through one open house, all without using any gas or fending off an ambitious realtor trying to recruit them.

Second, they're relatively dangerous. To me, there's something very creepy about posting a sign that says "Mary Beth is sitting in this house alone. Please come in." More than a few realtors are assaulted and even murdered every year, and most of the time, it happens at an open house. Most realtors who do open houses have several stories about suspicious visitors, even threats and near-misses from known felons. Any why not? How many other situations are there where a woman posts a public notice that she's going to be alone somewhere? All kinds of personal safety devices are marketed to realtors in the name of keeping us safe at open houses. We can carry mace, alarms -- even firearms. I might take the risk and even "pack heat" if I thought it might result in the sale of a property for my clients. But the risk-benefit ratio just doesn't add up.

Third, I have other ways of finding buyer clients for myself. I build my business by referral, not by recrutiting strangers at open houses.

Fourth, I don't have to do "busy work" to convince my seller clients that I'm doing everything I can to sell their homes. They already know it. The staging, the pre-inspection, the mailings -- and most of us, the presence and prominence their listings receive on the internet, where the real buyers lurk, tell them everything they need to know about my commitment to selling their homes.

There are, of course, a very few exceptions. If a property is located in a particularly "hot" area with a lot of foot traffic, I'll try an open house. Most of the time I won't hold it myself, but rather give the opportunity to a new realtor who is using open houses to build business. Occasionally I've done them myself. And even in those situations, I find myself mostly sitting alone and eating a lot of cookie dough.

Open houses aren't what they used to be.