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How to Do an Open House the Right Way

open_house-370x301Open Houses have been a mainstay in real estate for over 50 years. The goal – to market and sell the home – has remained the same, but a lot has changed about how to make the most of an Open House. Whether you’re attending one after the other all Sunday afternoon or preparing your home for one this weekend, we’ve got the goods on how to make sure you get the most out of an Open House.

(Scroll down to read Tips for Sellers)

Buyers – Play It Cool

Attending an open house is like window-shopping for homebuyers. It’s a great way to get to know how prices compare in different neighborhoods or perhaps get a feel for what’s possible in your next home – what you like or what you don’t.

In order to really get the most out of your open house experience, keep these simple yet effective tips in mind.

1. Start With the End in Mind.
What is your goal of going to open houses? List out what you want to accomplish and how it will help your home search. Know what you want to get out of your open house tours so that you can narrow down what you see, avoid being overwhelmed, and make sure to get what you want out of your time invested.

2. Compare Apples to Apples.
It’s a good idea to get to know one neighborhood really well at a time. For example, if you are trying to decide between Cleveland Park, Capitol Hill or Chevy Chase, it’s a great plan to see everything in your price range and even a little below and a little above in one afternoon and one neighborhood and then move on to the next neighborhood the next weekend. Here’s why: You first need to decide what part of town makes sense for your life and then and only then narrow down to a specific home in that neighborhood.  Going to open houses helps you see what’s available in one neighborhood vs. another, how pricing differs, and start to get a sense of how life might be different in one area vs. another.

3. Have a Game Plan.
Most open house are on Sunday afternoons, however, some open houses are 12-2pm, some 2-4pm, some are 1-3pm and you don’t want to miss the one you are most wanting to see just because of a timing mishap!  Once you’ve narrowed down using Tips #1 and #2, you can make a game plan. Map out your route based on the different times the houses are available. Keep in mind how much time you might need to get from house to house!

4. Leave Your Emotions at Home.
Open houses are for shopping, not buying. They are great for becoming more familiar with location, property types, home styles, size and cost. Maybe you need to see a few condos before ruling them out or you decide that you absolutely love the feel of a historic home. This will help your home search as you move forward. Once you have a sense of what’s out there and you are getting serious, that’s when it’s a good idea to call your agent so they can help guide you the rest of the way.

5. The Agent At the Open House Represents the SELLER, Not You.
It’s okay to ask them plenty of questions about the property, but keep in mind that they’re there to represent the seller’s interests, not yours. It’s best to reach out to your own real estate agent to get more information about a home you want to learn more about.

6. Use Your Imagination.
Picture yourself in that neighborhood and in that home. Does it fit in with your desired lifestyle? If not, determine why and keep that in mind next time you are looking online or in person for a home.  Is there a part of your criteria that you might need to change?  Adjust something slightly and you might open your options to a whole new world you never though about!  That’s a great way to get a lot out of your Open House tours. Just because a house doesn’t fit your wants and needs doesn’t mean it was a waste of time! You are just looking, not buying, remember?

7. Don’t Forget the View!
Look out the windows and check out the view. Remember, the view is one thing that’s pretty hard to change, so if there’s a deal breaker, like your neighbor’s window or a power line, keep that in mind.

8. You Don’t Have to Sign In.
If they ask you to write your information down or sign in somewhere, this is usually for marketing purposes for the agent staffing the open house, so feel free to politely decline.

9. Pay Attention and Talk to Neighbors!
Sometimes, neighbors will stop by an Open House and if you happen to meet them, ask them what the neighborhood is REALLY like. They have the inside information about the barking dog next door or the beautiful park down the street.  They are a great, non-biased way to get the real scoop on a particular street you might be thinking about.

10. Avoid TMI.
Don’t divulge too much information to anyone when you are looking at open houses. Chitchat is fine, but try to keep it about the property. You shouldn’t share how your search is going or when you need to move. In fact, it’s wise to remain silent since anything you say can and will be used against you in a potential negotiation and compromise your bargaining position.

Remember to play it cool and think “Big Picture”. View every Open House as a learning experience, pay attention to the buzz around the neighborhood and remember to think about your own goals and interests FIRST.

Sellers – Let Your Home Shine!

With most buyers, it’s all about a first impression, so you want to make sure you “Wow” them! An Open House doesn’t always get your home sold, but it’s a great opportunity to showcase it and get the word out to the right type of buyer. However, no one loves your home more than you do so take a few precautions to make sure your private space is protected.

1. Let the Pros Worry – Not You.
It’s well worth the expense to hire professionals to do a deep cleaning of your home beforehand and will remove the stress of doing it yourself. Cleaning your entire house is tiring and stressful! They’ll remember to get all those little places you might forget and will get it into tip-top shape for showing and selling.

2. Keep it Neutral.
If you have anything that might be considered controversial, such as an animal head or picture of a politician, you might consider taking it down. You don’t want to turn anyone off while they’re viewing your home!

3. Showcase Any Unique Features.
Maybe there’s a space in your house that could seem out of place. Do you have a nook, alcove or area under the stairs? Now is the time to play it up and make it look interesting and useful. Create a workstation or a quiet reading bench in that space. It will end up adding character to your home.

4. Lock Up Your Valuables.
Hiding your small valuables isn’t enough. Lock up jewelry, cash, credit cards, liquor and personal electronics. Several people may be walking through your home and you can never be too careful with your prized possessions. And don’t forget these: make sure you lock up your medicine cabinet or prescriptions, as well as bills or anything with personal information.

5. Remove Family Photos and Personal Items.
Your family and pets are adorable, but it’s best to remove pictures of them so potential buyers have a neutral canvas to imagine putting down their own roots. You still want the home to feel inviting and lived in, so adding touches like a chess game in progress or a bowl with fresh fruit is always a good idea.

6. Let in More Light!
Consider replacing outdated light fixtures or replace the light bulbs with the highest wattage to lighten up the rooms. Open all the drapes, blinds and window coverings – or remove them completely to let in as much light as possible. A light home is a warm, welcoming home!

7. Up Your Curb Appeal.
You may be so preoccupied with having the inside of your home ready that you forget about the outside. Having a tidy lawn and front-of-house can make a world of difference so cut the grass, rake the leaves, trim hedges, and clean the gutters. Also, flowers are always appealing!

8. Organize the Nooks and Crannies.
Clear clutter by removing knick-knacks and extras. The goal is to allow potential buyers to visualize how they will use the space as their own. Buyers will look into cabinets, drawers and closets to check out potential storage space, so keep these areas neat and clean. The more you clear out of them, the bigger they look!

9. Communicate and Set Ground Rules.
Remember, you’re having strangers walk through you home, so it’s okay to set some limits. If you don’t feel comfortable letting potential buyers use the bathroom or you’d prefer if everyone had a chaperone while viewing the house, then speak up. Your agent should know your concerns because they can help best address them.

10. Take a break!
Your agent will highlight all the positive features of your home. Buyers will feel more comfortable without the owner hovering, so take a break for a few hours, leave the house and enjoy your afternoon off. (If you have pets, bring them with you!)

As you can see, there are many things (both big and small) that go into preparing your home for an Open House. Selling your home is enough work already, so trying to keep your Open House stress-free, while keeping your home safe and protected is important. If you want more tips on how to sell your home the right way, check out our series Love Selling Your Home: Minimize Your Stress, Maximize Your Profit. Our series takes you through the entire home-selling process — from finding a real estate agent to settlement day.

And remember that you’re not alone! Whether you’re buying, selling, just considering the process or ready to begin, our agents can answer any of your questions and walk you through every step, so you can feel confident and happy about your home purchase or sale!