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How to Host a Successful Open House


So, you’ve decided to sell your home by owner instead of hiring a realtor, which can be a smart financial move; according to FSBO, sellers that go this route save an average of $14,760. However, it also means that all the marketing is up to you.

One question that sellers often ask is, “Should I host an open house?”

Of course, you can sell your home without an open house. People do it all the time. But an open house can be a great way to increase visibility and get potential buyers through the door.

Let’s look at how to prepare for an open house, and what you need to do to make yours a success.

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Are Open Houses Worth It?

The question of whether an open house is worth the investment is tricky because there’s no clear answer. Some agents believe that open houses don’t pull their weight like they used to, simply because buyers can now shop for homes online and take virtual tours.

However, other agents believe that open houses are an important part of the buying and selling process. After all, you can’t get a real feel for a home through a virtual tour. Open houses allow buyers to talk directly to the homeowner and discover details about the home that aren’t included in a property listing sheet. This can be a huge time-saver for potential buyers.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 8% of buyers find their home through an open house. However, this number might be higher for homes listed For Sale By Owner.

Before you jump into hosting an open house, stop and think about whether it’s worth it for you. If your home is out in the country, you probably won’t get a lot of traffic, so an open house might not be worth your time. Instead, it might be more effective to focus your efforts on Internet marketing.

However, if you live in a high-traffic or desirable area, and especially if you’re near a park or school, an open house might be a great investment.

Open Houses WorthPrepare for Your Open House

Preparing for an open house takes a lot of work. The more time and energy you put into getting your home ready, the better your home is going to look to potential buyers.

Step 1: Declutter

Before you do anything, you need to declutter your home. Reducing clutter allows buyers to focus on the home itself (and not your stuff). It will also reduce the chance of theft during your open house.

Focus on creating clean, open surfaces. For example, your kitchen should have a minimum number of appliances on the countertops; this will make the space look bigger.

Declutter and organize every cabinet and closet. Buyers will look into these spaces, and if they’re crammed full of stuff, it will make them think the home doesn’t have enough storage.

You can host a garage sale to get rid of unwanted items, sell items on Craigslist, or donate items to charity. If, after decluttering, your home is still too full, consider renting a storage unit and storing at least half of what you see.

Step 2: Clean, and Then Clean Some More

Once you’ve cleared the closets and countertops, it’s time to focus on cleaning.

Your home needs to be in pristine condition for an open house, which means giving it a top-to-bottom spring cleaning. Every nook and cranny, from the cobwebs in the corners to the crusties in the oven, need to be scrubbed clean.

Pay particular attention to kitchen cabinets, switch plates, drawers, baseboards, the refrigerator, the laundry room, and the garage; these areas are often overlooked by homeowners, but buyers will notice if they are dirty. All laundry should be put away, every dish should be washed, and there should be no leftovers in the fridge. Buyers will look everywhere. Don’t give them any reason to be turned off by your home.

If you don’t feel you’re up to the task, hire professional cleaners to come in and do the job.

Step 3: Stage

It’s a good idea to stage your home before your open house. This means keeping furniture to a minimum, painting the walls in fresh, neutral colors, putting plants and flowers in living areas, and completing any home improvement projects that are left undone.

Remove personal items from your home whenever possible. This includes things like family photographs and your child’s baseball trophies. Buyers need to be able to envision their family in the home, and personal items make this harder to do. You’ll also want to put away any religious or political items.

Get some staging ideas by browsing homes for sale on Zillow. When you look at each house, pay attention to what you like and don’t like. Often, what you don’t like can provide important clues you can use when staging your own home.

If your home has a lot of blank wall space, ask local galleries if they would be interested in hanging some paintings for your open house. The artists benefit because they get more exposure, and you’ll benefit because this is a unique way to make your home stand out. If you do this, make sure you include this information in all your marketing to attract the greatest number of visitors.

Don’t forget your home’s curb appeal. Cut the grass, weed the flower beds, and put out a fresh layer of mulch (especially if it’s winter, as this can freshen up vacant beds). Put out some fresh, seasonal potted flowers by the front door, and make sure the front porch and entryway are clean and free of dead leaves and spiderwebs.

Step 4: Find a Home for Pets

Your pets should not be home during your open house, so try to find them a temporary home for the day. This could be at a friend or family member’s home, or a neighbor’s backyard. If you can’t find anywhere for them to stay, put them in pet day care or board them for the day.

You also need to remove all evidence of your pet, including litter boxes, and make sure your home doesn’t smell like animals live there.

Host an Effective Open House

So, your home is clean, decluttered and ready for buyers to walk through the door. What do you need to do to host a successful open house?

1. Visit Other Open Houses

Start by visiting other open houses in your area.

As you look around, pay attention to how the home is staged. What details make this home feel special to you? How could you incorporate some of these design elements or selling tricks into your own home?

You also need to listen to the realtor talk to potential buyers. Professionals know what buyers are most interested in, so they’ll likely point out these features or details first.

Make notes after you go through each open house. If you go through several in a day, the details will start to blur together and you might forget some important ideas.

2. Schedule Effectively

Before you pick a date for your open house, look at what’s going on in your neighborhood or community. If there is a weekend event taking place close by, such as a neighborhood garage sale or community art walk, schedule your open house the same day. This allows you to take advantage of the increased traffic in the area.

You’ll also want to research the annual Nationwide Open House Weekend hosted by the National Association of Realtors. The dates change each year (and sometimes it isn’t hosted at all), but typically takes place in late spring or summer. Scheduling your open house during this weekend can increase your traffic significantly.

3. Market, Market, Market

The Internet is an essential part of the home-buying process today. According to the National Association of Realtors, 90% of buyers used the Internet in their home search (and that was in 2014). Put simply, you can’t sell a home, or host an open house, without using the Internet.

There are several ways to market your open house.

First, make sure your open house dates are highlighted on your For Sale By Owner listing. You can also list your home for free on Zillow, another great marketing platform. Use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to let friends and family know about your open house.

Consider making flyers or door hangers and putting them up in your community. While your neighbors might not be ready to move a few houses down the street, they might have friends or family who are looking. Post flyers on public bulletin boards at your library, gym, or workplace.

Some of the traffic you get during your open house is going to be from your neighbors who, again, have no intention of buying. Many just want to see what your home looks like. While this can be a test to your patience, remember that your neighbors can do a lot to market your home. Try to welcome them through the door with open arms.

Another important marketing tool is the open house sign. Signs placed at busy intersections can bring in quite a bit of traffic. Try to get at least 10 signs for your open house, and of course, more is better. Start putting out signage two to four hours before your open house begins, and make sure your signs clearly lead people back to your home. You can also add balloons to make your signs more visible.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to other For Sale By Owner homes in your area. Talk to these sellers and consider organizing all your open houses on the same day. Then, make a map you can give to potential buyers that highlight where all the other open houses are in the area. This kind of “partnership mentality” can benefit everyone by driving more traffic to each home.

Making your open house unique is another great marketing tactic. For example, you could hire a food truck, hot dog vendor, or ice cream cart to come park at your open house and provide refreshments. Or, you could use your open house to benefit a local charity by donating $5 for every person who attends. If you decide to get creative with your open house, make sure these details are included in all your marketing material.

4. Provide Refreshments

Have plenty of refreshments on-hand for buyers. Chances are they’re going through several open houses, or they’re actively out shopping with a realtor or at other For Sale By Owner homes, so they’re going to get hungry.

What should you serve? That depends on how much you want to invest in your open house.

Having freshly baked cookies is always a good idea (and cookies always make your home smell great). However, there are plenty of other options:

  • A meat and cheese plate
  • A fruit plate
  • Finger sandwiches
  • Snack-sized portions of trail mix or other healthy snacks
  • Homemade brownies or cupcakes
  • Snack-sized candy bars

Choose finger foods that are easy to grab and go, and won’t make too much of a mess when people are walking around eating (this means no dips!). You’ll also want to have plenty of bottled water, chilled soda, and hot coffee.

Position a large garbage can near the food and beverage table so guests can easily clean up after themselves. This frees up your time to focus on buyers.

Don’t forget to play music close to the main entrance and food station. The right music will make any space more inviting, and will help relax potential buyers.

5. Have Flyers and Brochures On-Hand

You don’t want anyone walking out the door empty-handed. Create professional looking flyers and brochures and put these out on the kitchen or entry table. Your flyer or brochure needs to include the following information:

  • Home address, and several pictures of the exterior and interior
  • Asking price
  • Contact information, including the FSBO web address
  • A description of the property, including special features (such as a hot tub, pool, or walk-in closets) and recent upgrades
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Total square footage
  • Real estate taxes
  • School and community information

Consider creating a separate brochure that provides information about local schools (if they’re great) and the community as a whole.

Another way to showcase your home is to create a vision board with pictures of your home throughout the year. This enables buyers to see what the home would look like in each season.

Lastly, create a sign-in sheet for potential buyers. Explain that you can email them more information about the house if they’re interested. These follow-up emails are yet another marketing tool you can use on interested buyers.

6. Be the Silent Host

When sellers work with a realtor, they’re always advised to leave home for the open house. Buyers want to be able to look around and talk about a house without worrying that they’ll offend the homeowner. However, when you’re For Sale By Owner, you’re both seller and host, which makes this a bit tricky.

Everyone who walks through a For Sale By Owner open house knows that at least one owner will be present. This is an advantage because no one knows more about your home than you do. However, there are ways to make yourself less obtrusive to potential buyers.

First, introduce yourself to everyone who comes in, and let them know where you’ll be if they have any questions. Ideally, this will be on the front porch. Buyers will naturally spend less time in whatever room you’re hanging out in, so you don’t want to drive them away from important areas like the living room or kitchen.

Most importantly, don’t follow people around the house as they look.

Safety Tip: Keep in mind that during an open house, dozens of strangers will be walking through your door. Occasionally, thieves use open houses to scout potential victims. Take steps to reduce your risk of home burglary before your open house. Always lock away valuables and medications. And, keep yourself safe; never host an open house alone.

Silent Host Open HouseCommon Mistakes to Avoid

While there are many advantages to selling your own home, one big disadvantage is that you don’t have an agent by your side to tell you the dos and don’ts of an open house. As a result, many sellers hosting an open house make some big mistakes that can drive away potential buyers.

1. Hovering

Would you enjoy touring a home with an anxious seller watching your every move? Of course not.

Open house attendees want to look around at their leisure. Give every person a flyer or booklet, tell them where you’ll be if they have questions, and then get out of the way.

2. Overwhelming Smells

You want your home to be clean and fresh for your open house. However, you should avoid using heavy cleaners the day before, unless you can open the windows and air out rooms completely.

The smell of heavy cleaners (such as bleach or ammonia), perfumes, or lots of air freshener can be irritating for some people, and can even cause allergic reactions. It might also raise a red flag that you’re trying to hide something (such as mold or mildew).

You should also avoid cooking anything that might leave a strong smell in your home (think onions, garlic, or curry).

It can be difficult to detect how your own home smells; you live there, so you’re used to it. Instead, ask a friend or neighbor to come over and give your home a quick sniff. They’ll likely pick up on scents that you missed.

3. An “Off-Limits” Room

During an open house, potential buyers need to have access to every part of your home. Never lock doors or put up an “off-limits” sign to a room because it’s messy. This is an enormous turn-off.

Make sure you clean and organize every room in your home, including the garage and basement. If your home has easy attic access, potential buyers might want to check out that space too. Make sure it’s as clean and well-lit as possible.

4. Neglecting the Outside

It’s surprising how many sellers don’t pay attention to the outside of their home during an open house. However, the exterior is what potential buyers see first, and you definitely want to make a great first impression when they pull up.

Make sure the following chores are done before your open house:

  • Clean the roof if there is any evidence of mold
  • Power-wash the siding and driveway
  • Clean windows
  • Weed garden beds, and put out fresh mulch
  • Clean pools and hot tubs
  • Put out fresh flowers or greenery by the front door
  • If it’s winter and there’s snow on the ground, make sure walkways are shoveled and clear of any ice; put out plenty of salt or sand, and buy a fresh welcome mat for the front door for buyers to clean their shoes

You should also go down to the street and look at your home from a distance. This can help you spot any additional spruce-ups you need to attend to before your open house.

After the Open House

The cookies are gone, the coffee pot is empty, and the last buyer has just walked out the door. What do you do now?

First, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have an offer on the table. Many potential buyers need to take time to process what they saw and come to a decision. Remember, buying a home is one of the biggest financial investments people make, and most people want to make sure they’re making the right decision.

Take a look at your guestbook and tally up how many people signed in with their name and contact information. Send a thank-you card or email to all of these people. A good way to continue marketing to these potential buyers is to send them a postcard with a picture of your home on the front. You can make these yourself, or use an app.

Think about the feedback you heard from potential buyers and make appropriate changes based on their comments and suggestions.

Lastly, don’t let all your prep work go to waste. Even if you didn’t get an offer from your open house, your home is now in tip-top condition for future showings. Do your best to keep it that way!

After Open HouseFinal Word

Hosting an open house might seem stressful. However, if you do it right and put in the work, there’s a good chance your potential buyer might walk through the door.

Have you ever hosted your own open house? If so, what worked for you? What do you wish you’d done differently?

Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.