It’s a sunny spring Sunday (wait, have we had one of those yet?) and you’re coming back from brunch. You stumble upon an open house sign down the street from your condo. “I think I will go in and peek,” you say to yourself. You’ll probably want a bigger place in a year or two – so why not? You mosey into the house and are greeted by a real estate agent. It is your assumption that they are the listing agent for the property and that they are there solely to sell the property to you. Alas, you are not entirely correct.
It is true that the agent hosting an open house is tasked with representing the interests of the seller during that open house. In reality, though, open houses are generally among the less effective tools to sell a property. If you were looking seriously for a property and were already prequalified, you’d probably already have an agent to represent your own interests – who would make an appointment and go to the house with you. As a matter of scheduling, buyers working with agents do of course go by open houses unaccompanied and report back to their agents on what they saw. Usually, though, the lack of availability of the open house would not deter them from making an appointment to come by if their interest level were high enough.
The agent standing in the house on a Sunday afternoon may not even be the actual listing agent. Busier listing agents tend to have multiple houses open in a weekend and the ones they can’t get to personally are great opportunities for their colleagues to meet unrepresented buyers. In fact, it’s the way most of us start our careers. Sellers tend to believe in the value of open houses because they want to make sure their property gets as much market exposure as possible. As an experienced listing agent, I’m somewhat less convinced.
But open houses are not a total loss for sellers. Most of the people who attend open houses are actually neighbors – and neighbors can be great evangelists for a property. Neighbors may have family or friends that they want in close proximity. They’re only a nuisance when they walk in and say things like “is this the house that had the fire” in front of someone who’s actually interested.
The brokerage community has a strong interest in keeping open houses going, even if they aren’t the most powerful tools for the seller. An end to open houses would probably put some limited-service brokers out of business. Their business model often involves sending buyers to open houses because their compensation structure doesn’t allow them to do the same legwork that a full-service broker can do and absent easy access through the open house, the buyers might use a full-service buyer broker.
Buyers should know when they go into an open house that they are being vetted by the agent standing there – and have an opportunity to vet agents themselves. Sellers should know that this type of exposure is one of many tools to help a property sell – but the most powerful tools are the right presentation and the right price.
Sammy Dweck is an Associate Broker and top-producing agent at Evers & Co.’s downtown office. He is licensed in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.