Well honestly, there are no truths, only opinions. And there are few real estate issues where opinions are more numerous and more nuanced than the open house. Some agents love them; some consider them a necessary evil or a service to keep clients happy, others outright despise them. Sellers might demand one or one every week or refuse to allow them at all. FSBOs seem to think they are the key to selling a house without an agent, and buyers generally love them.

You know what. They all have a point.



Agents are open house adverse for a number of reasons. First, open houses can be monumentally boring. Agents who used to hate crossword puzzles have completed dozens on strangers' dining room tables while praying that at least one customer would show up. Alternatively there can be chaos and an agent hard pressed to keep track of five or six different groups of customers with unruly children and poor manners. Murphy's Law of Open Houses decrees that 115 minutes of a two hour open house will lend itself to watching a playoff game but mobs of visitors will arrive within a ten minute period. This usually happens when the agent has turned off the lights and music and has started to lock up.

Sunday is prime-time for selling real estate (although in the South many offices are closed and sellers won't allow even individual showings) and listing agents prefer to spend open house time working with their own buyers. They sometimes view open houses as a baby sitting service for agents who send their customers to the open house so they can tend to the rest of their clientele.

Of course the latter send customers to open houses at their peril. Many agents find that a long-term customer bought at an open house; sometimes because they didn't understand the process ("Thank you, I have an agent and I will present any offer through him/her,)" sometimes because they were coerced by an aggressive listing agent into ditching their original representative.

Agents who love open houses have often sold homes right at the dining room table or, failing that, have picked up new customers or augmented their contact list. There are a lot of unattached buyers wondering around on a weekend and with the right technique even reluctant ones can be converted to customers.

Sellers tend to be fanatic about open houses. They are either sure that it is the key to selling their home or that their agent is forcing the event down his throat in order to fatten his contact list. A small group is convinced that every cat burglar in the county will stroll in, check out the security system, case the contents for future acquisitions, and walk out with their prized velvet Elvis under their arm. The major fear, however, seems to be that the neighbors will troop through en mass and then dish about the house at the next block party. Of course they will. Why do you care, you are moving?

FSBOs are the true open house aficionados. They seem only to see the bright side of open houses and are sure they can run one in their sleep. All they have to do is place an ad in the local paper, put out a few signs, settle back with a latt' and wait for the offers. This conviction lasts until they are pinned against the refrigerator by an aggressive buyer questioning the asking price while three children jump up and down on the suede couch; a stranger plays a thunderous bit of Vivaldi on the baby grand, and that velvet Elvis disappears out the door.

So are open houses good or bad? As we said up front, the answer is nuanced.

For the seller. Many buyers rely on the Internet and open houses in their home search. Whether they regard this as a time saver or are reluctant to commit to an agent is unknown, but the phenomenon is very real. Many free-lance buyers are newer Americans who don't quite understand and are thus afraid of the process or younger and tech savvy persons who really want to do it themselves. If there are no open houses these buyers may never see your property. That this is the buyer's loss as much as the seller's is academic, it is still a lost opportunity.

For the listing agent. For the same reasons that open houses can be good for the seller, they are increasingly good for the agent. They are an excellent way to connect with new customers and orphan buyers do come through. If it is their house and they are unattached they will be particularly grateful to be taken under wing and walked through the process. On a personal note, 20 percent of my residential listings were sold through such a scenario.

Aside from the advantages and disadvantages of the open house there remain a lot of issues. Among them are security, ethics, and protecting one's turf. We will take these up in a subsequent article. As always your comments are welcomed.