3 Properties Where Open Houses Work

Agents often think of open houses as a waste of time because they don’t always attract serious buyers. But if you use it to showcase the lifestyle a home offers, it could do the trick. Here are three instances where open houses closed the deal.

January 1, 2016

Many agents like Nicholas Yale say open houses aren’t good selling tactics because they don’t attract serious buyers. They mostly bring out looky-loos, he argues, who don’t plan to purchase right away but use open houses to gauge what’s on the market. “As a listing agent, my job is to sell the house, not pick up other buyers for other houses,” says Yale, ABR, CRS, a sales associate with Realty Executives in Phoenix.

While it’s true that many people don’t come to an open house with the intention of making an offer, what are you doing once they’re there to make them consider the listing more seriously? Your goal for an open house can’t be simply to increase foot traffic. You have to use the open house as an opportunity to demonstrate the experience of living in the home. Give visitors the perspective of being the owner and you could convert looky-loos into serious buyers.

In these three scenarios, real estate professionals used an open house in interesting ways to show visitors what their life would look like if they were the owner. And in each case, the open house brought an offer to the table.

Urban Properties: Show Commuters the Convenience

Commute time is a big factor in many home buyers’ purchase decisions. For listings in close proximity to transportation and business hubs, holding an open house during the evening rush hour can give visitors a built-in opportunity to see what their travel time between work and home would be like if they lived there. That will be of high value to those who are looking to cut back on their commute. Here’s how brokers Dulcinea Myers-Newcomb and Aryne Blumklotz of Living Room Realty in Portland, Ore., used this open-house concept to sell a home they co-listed.

The house: Two-story, three-bedroom Victorian with large kitchen, formal living and dining rooms, and quiet gardens.

The location: Northeast Portland; walking distance to a light rail line and two busy bike routes leading to downtown.

The open house: The duo held the open house from 5 to 7 p.m. on a Friday evening so commuters returning home from work could easily stop by on their way. “We thought we’d promote this lush haven in the midst of the city by highlighting its proximity to downtown, which is great for work commuters, [along with] the beauty and serenity of the home’s gardens and yard,” Myers-Newcomb says. About 40 people showed up, including a handful on bikes.

Two days later, on a Sunday, Myers-Newcomb and Blumklotz held another open house where they got repeat visitors. “Friday evening open houses are just so festive, whereas Sundays are a bit more relaxed,” Myers-Newcomb says. “I think it’s great to bring buyers into a home in different states of mind. What would it be like to come home to this property after a long week of work, and what would it be like to wake up in this house on a lazy Sunday morning?”

The result: The listing garnered three offers that weekend, all over the $479,000 asking price. The house sold for $530,000.

The takeaway: This is a great way to apply the benefits of a home’s location to house hunters’ everyday lives. The argument for holding an end-of-week open house is that it’s the least stressful time in most people’s workweek, so they’ll be more relaxed and receptive to an open house. Oftentimes, they’ll return over the weekend.

Historic Properties: Let Buyers Relive the Past

The backstory of a home is sometimes the most important part to buyers, particularly when the home has historical value in the community. Create a sort of historical tour at the open house complete with speakers who have direct knowledge of the home’s past. It will offer exclusive insights to visitors that they can’t get anywhere else. Sara Rose Bytnar, partner at Beth Rose Real Estate & Auctions, used this format for an open house at a luxury property in suburban Detroit that was up for auction.

The house: 8,800-square-foot Italian Renassaince–style home built in 1926.

The location: Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.

The open house: Bytnar invited Cynthia Dean Navarro, the daughter of the home’s original owner, and Steven Keyes, the grandson of the architect, to answer questions at the open house. Keyes gave visitors a walk through time by explaining that the home is a shining example of the formal grandeur that was typical of the area’s housing stock in the 1920s. The picturesque, romantic architecture of the eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom house (which also has eight fireplaces) is one of the few structures that has remained a private residence through modern times.

Navarro also shared intimate details about how her mother had every bit as much influence in creating the design of the home as the architect himself. She clued visitors into details of the home, pointing out that the doorknobs, stained glass windows, and wrought iron railings were original. “The market has changed, and people aren’t as impulsive [about purchases],” Bytnar says. “This gave them a couple of opportunities to experience the house and for us to get to know the buyers.”

The result: Over the course of two open houses, more than 180 buyers showed up and 13 made a bid. The final sale price was less than the $1.6 million ask but more than what Bytnar thought the home would get. It was in good condition overall, and the kitchen had even been updated. But it had languished on the market with no serious offers, so the sellers decided to go the auction route. The sellers were happy with the sale, Bytnar said, because the open houses helped bring more serious buyers.

The takeaway: Buyers who are attracted to historic properties rarely get the opportunity to learn intimate details about the home’s character from someone with firsthand knowledge. Even if you can’t find a previous owner or someone who once lived in the home, it could help to bring in someone who knows of the home’s history and can turn the open house into an educational or cultural event.

Uber-Luxury Properties: Show Off a Work of Art

You can turn an open house into a showcase event for a home with exceptionally unique design and architectural features. Joe Kunkel, a sales associate with Baird & Warner in Frankfort, Ill., hosted a quasi-exhibit at the open house for a glass box home reminiscent of a museum.

The house: A 3,600-square-foot Modernist glass-box home on the edge of a bluff, designed by H.P. Davis Rockwell, a student of famous German architect Mies van der Rohe.

Location: Olympia Fields, Ill.; secluded in the woods.

The open house: “It’s a highly unusual architectural design we knew many people would want to tour,” Kunkel says. Made of concrete, glass, and steel, the glass-box home’s natural elements, including loose-gravel sidewalks, patios, and gardens, blend with the scenic woodlands around it. “The integration with nature was part of the design,” Kunkel adds. “The property is a work of art beyond just being a house.” The home is one of the few glass-box structures from the era that can still be lived in; the rest have become museums.

At the open house, Kunkel hung old photos of the construction phase of the home, taken by famed architectural photographer Richard Nickel (who is noted for helping spearhead the historic preservation movement in Chicago). It gave visitors not only a look at the history of the home but a glimpse at how it was put together.

The result: Around 100 people came through on a Sunday afternoon. Many visitors at the open house requested private showings, which led to an offer above the $619,000 ask. The home is currently under contract.

The takeaway: Homes with atypical features might seem niche and likely to appeal only to a certain segment of buyers, but its differentiation from the norm is a strength. Using an open house to show it off as a model of exclusivity can attract buyers who want something no one else has. It can also generate a lot of word-of-mouth buzz.

freelance writer

Mary Beth Klatt is a freelance writer with a passion for architecture and home design.