- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Despite the fact that homes in the region often sell in a matter of days — sometimes hours — Realtors say open houses still play a big part in the home-selling process. Open houses provide additional exposure for a property, which can result in competing offers and a faster selling time.

An open house, traditionally held on a Sunday afternoon, allows a seller to open up his home so prospective buyers can walk through with a discerning eye. The listing agent acts as host, on hand to market the home, answer questions and pass out property fact sheets.

It’s one sure way to attract a wide variety of people to view a home within a short time span, Realtors say.

“An open house will have a much friendlier atmosphere than a normal showing,” says Harry Brubaker of ZipRealty in Arlington. Mr. Brubaker says he encourages sellers to make the house smell nice by baking cookies or bread. He says he likes to play music in the background to create a festive atmosphere.

“At ZipRealty, when families come in for an open house, we also like to keep the kids busy by offering crayons and books so that the parents can concentrate on looking at the home,” Mr. Brubaker says.

Open houses also differ from ordinary showings because potential buyers expect the house to be 100 percent ready to view. This takes some preparation, Realtors say.

Mr. Brubaker suggests fixing anything in the house that is broken, moving items out of closets to short-term storage outside the home, and taking any pets out of the home.

“An open house is advantageous to both the seller and the buyer,” says Atul Garg of Eva Realty in the District. “It limits the disruptions to the seller by letting many people at one time come and view the home, and it helps the buyer because the listing agent is present and can answer all of their questions on the spot.”

Even in the current seller’s market, having an open house can prove beneficial, Realtors say.

“The market is very hot inside and close to the Beltway,” Mr. Brubaker says. “Realtors don’t need to do an open house in terms of getting it sold, but in an already hot market, an open house will offer additional exposure and create a buyer frenzy with multiple people bidding on the home.

“Outside the Beltway, where there are a lot more properties, it’s less expensive and there’s more competition, open houses are still necessary to sell a home,” Mr. Brubaker says.

Dixie Meadows of RE/MAX Sails — that’s the way the office spells it — in College Park says, “There are some people who won’t schedule appointments and only go to open houses.”

While she says that open houses are mostly helpful, Mrs. Meadows warns against having too many open houses for one property. “Back-to-back open houses aren’t good because it reminds the buyers that the home is still on the market, but it may be OK if the Realtor focuses on a different aspect of the property,” she says.

Sonia Stenvall of Begg/Long & Foster Realtors in Georgetown disagrees. She says she sees no disadvantages to having open houses early and often.

“It doesn’t hurt to have an open house as many times as you want. It’s one way to get a better price. Open houses are basically a good thing,” she says.

At what point should Realtors and sellers consider hosting an open house? The general consensus is as soon as the ‘For Sale’ sign is put up in the front yard, plans for an open house should be discussed in order for it to be most effective.

“You better do it fast and furious, right at the beginning,” Mr. Brubaker says. “The longer a home sits on the market, it has a bad connotation to it.”

“Do it immediately. When a property enters the market, it’s a way of introducing the property to the public,” Mrs. Meadows says. “In this market, you usually just need to have one, but in a normal market, you may have two or three open houses.”

Mr. Garg agrees. “The sooner the better,” he says, “even within the first weekend. It’s a good idea to get it in early because if the house has been sitting for a while, buyers may question what’s wrong with the home.”

Open houses often are used to help the Realtor and seller gauge how much interest there is in the home and what can be done to make it more marketable.

“If there are any problems, an open house will let you know what might need to be corrected,” Mr. Garg says.

Real estate experts say poor attendance is a reasonable indication that the home may be overpriced for its location and condition or that there is stiff competition in the marketplace.

While an open house might attract curious neighbors and people just out for a leisurely afternoon drive, Realtors say not to count these people out. Word of mouth is a key sales tool.

“I think most people who attend open houses are sincerely interested in purchasing a home, while 20 percent are just lookers who have nothing else to do,” Mrs. Meadows says. “However, neighbors are often an excellent source of business. They can tell friends who are looking and mention something about the home, such as it has an extra-large family room.”

“A person’s time is more valuable,” Mr. Brubaker says, “and while you may have neighbors looking, nowadays there is a higher percentage of people who are serious about buying a home.”

Realtors say that despite the popularity, an open house alone rarely sells a home. “Open houses have a low percentage of buyers,” Mrs. Meadows says.

However, experts say, chances are that having several prospects — or even browsers — come through the doors in a compressed time helps get the word out. It’s a good bet that the lookers include someone who knows someone looking to buy a home, Realtors say.

The success of an open house depends largely on publicity, too.

“It’s a waste of an agent’s time unless there are plenty of signs and advertising in a major newspaper,” Mrs. Meadows says. “Advertising and positioning signs play a big part in having an open house.”

“We like to make the open house a major event,” Mr. Brubaker says. “They are advertised on our Web page, where we have an open-house schedule. All of our homes have virtual tours on the Internet, and we put out signage within a one-mile radius. I like to go overboard on the signs to direct people the right way. Sturdy A-frame signs are what we use to make people spot it easily.”

In preparing for an open house, Realtors suggest having plenty of copies of the fact sheet on hand, as well as photos. If possible, have mortgage lenders either on-site or readily available to talk with a buyer, and make sure the home is in immaculate condition with everything in working order.

“Overall, open houses are very good to have,” Mrs. Meadows says. “You want to do everything you can to get more exposure for the home, and this is one way of doing it.”

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