- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

In the midst of a heated market with low inventory, you might wonder why Realtors even need to hold open houses. Won't the house sell without having to present it to the public first?
Yes, it could. However, agency laws dictate that agents represent the fiduciary interests of the seller for whom they work. That means agents are required to do all they can to help that seller bring in the highest dollar on each property.
In today's real estate market there are several reasons to hold an open house (and it seems they are again becoming more popular since midsummer).
As mentioned before, the first priority of a listing agent is to look after the financial interest of the seller. This means getting the house in front of as many buyers as possible. While the Realtor-owned multiple listing system is the primary means of advertising property to fellow agents and thus their buyers it's not the only practice used to sell a house.
An open house brings potential buyers into the home to look it over and hopefully write a contract. In a heated market, contracts many times will be written in the driveway right after a potential buyer views the property, ensuring a place in line at the negotiation table. The more contracts a seller receives, the better the chance of acquiring a higher sales price.
Holding an open house is also a great way for Realtors to find more houses to put on the market. Despite all the hype about e-commerce, there's no substitute for pressing the flesh with potential buyers and sellers at face-to-face meetings. Experienced practitioners will always ask visiting buyers whether they have a house to sell before moving and when it needs to go on the market.
While this might seem like a nosy question, most owners and buyers appreciate an agent who can help them determine what must be done to their present home before it can be sold. An agent can also help them create a time line for selling their present house and moving to the next one without a glitch.
As you visit open houses, here are some practices you may encounter and why they are used:
Guest list: Your first thought may be "I don't want Realtors bugging me after I visit an open house, so I'll refuse to sign in." Before you lay blame on the Realtors for taking names, put yourself in the seller's shoes. He or she wants to know how many people came into the house, their likes and dislikes, and, most importantly, what they thought of the price. The agent acts as the liaison between the buyers and the seller to answer those questions.
Questionnaire: Many Realtors want to know how to best serve the visiting home shoppers. If you weren't interested in buying a house, you wouldn't be walking in the door. Many times, buyers have no idea what they're doing no offense. But with nearly half of all sales occurring to first-time buyers, it is not unusual for purchasers to walk into a house that is way over their price range (on the other hand, they may be eligible to purchase a much larger home and not even know it). The questionnaire is simply a tool to help the Realtor help the shopper make the best home-buying decision.
Pre-qualifying on the spot: In today's fast-paced market, top agents use the services of loan officers to help with the open house. It's a great service to the buyers, but it also helps the agent handle the flow of people through during the few hours he or she is there. I have heard tales of nearly 100 buyers coming through some open houses in just a matter of a few hours.
The loan officer can help take the mystery out of the home-buying question for many purchasers. If you come across a loan officer at an open house, go ahead and take advantage of the services he or she is offering. It will save you time and answer some questions.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate issues for 11 years. Direct your comments to 8411 Arlington Blvd., Fairfax Va. 22031; or send e-mail to macarr@nvar.com.

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