What Every Seller Needs to Know About Holding an Open House

By Steve Flanagan

Hosting an open house can be a time saver. It’s a great way to expose your home to a number of potential buyers simultaneously at a time that works for you. We recommend that you plan at least one open house every 30 days during your selling process.

Open houses are naturally harder to control than individual showings and have their own set of special considerations. We’ve answered our seller’s most frequently asked questions about planning an open house:

Saturday or Sunday, which day is best?
Sunday certainly seems to be the norm in the industry. But selling your home by owner is not the norm (yet) so clearly you’re not the type of person who always follows the crowd. Really, the decision to host your open house on Saturday or Sunday (or both on different weekends if you have more than one) should be based primarily on what works for you. Have more errands to do on Saturdays? Then Sunday is probably the day for you. Are you inclined to stay away from Sundays for personal, faith-based reasons? Opt for Saturdays.

Can I do it on my own?
Yes, but we don’t recommend it. You never know when you might have a large number of visitors simultaneously, and having more than one person who can guide them through the house is helpful. If you are selling as a single person consider recruiting a family member or friend (or two) to help. Since you are inviting an untold number of strangers into your home having trusted assistants can be a big help with safety and security issues.

How can I advertise an Open House effectively?
There are many options, starting with your Internet presence.
• Advertise your open house on your ForSaleByOwner.com listing and use social media to create buzz before and during your open house.
• Promote your open house using flyers, email and word of mouth—ask your neighbors to help spread the word.
• Let people know that you’re having an Open House by placing directional yard signs at key local intersections.
• Consider taking out an ad in the local paper, an inexpensive yet well read option. People looking for open houses often look in the print and online versions of their local papers.

Should I let my neighbors know?
Yes! Your neighbors can be a great source for referrals to potential buyers, plus they will appreciate knowing when your open house is scheduled. Give them a heads up at least a week in advance by phone or email, or drop an invitation in their mailbox.

Should I serve refreshments?
Refreshments are always welcome, but keep it light and season-appropriate.

How long should an open house be?
Choose the exact hours and duration of your open house with your own convenience and durability in mind, but offer visitors as much time flexibility as you can. Two hours might sound like a large enough time window to offer interested parties, but if you add a third or a fourth hour you will naturally expand the pool of potential visitors who might be able to visit your home during those hours. If you want to begin your open house on Sunday morning, that’s fine, but consider extending hours into the afternoon to accommodate buyers who might be at church on Sunday mornings.

Should I avoid holidays?
When you are choosing a date for your open house, keep in mind factors that could affect large numbers of potential buyers. In addition to avoiding national holidays like the 4th of July and Labor Day, stay away from major religious holidays.

Do I need to do anything special to prepare my home for an open house?
In addition to taking the normal steps to prepare you house for a showing, pay special attention before an open house to securing or removing your easily portable valuables. An open house can be an exciting event from which your ultimate buyer might emerge. But imagine how much of a downer it will be if some of your personal items go missing. Time invested in protecting your valuables will be time very well spent.

What else should I keep in mind?

1. Use a sign-in sheet. Have anyone attending fill out a sign-in sheet before going through the house. Make sure you capture their name(s), current address, cell phone number(s) and e-mail address. Consider including space for them to tell you how they heard about your open house. Follow up with a phone call or an email the next week. (Or better yet, use our Buyer Feedback tool).

2. Find out if any interested buyers are pre-approved. Not every person who comes through your house will be interested. But for those who ask questions indicating that they might be, don’t be afraid to inquire if they are pre-approved for a mortgage. If they are not, recommend that they contact a lender or a mortgage broker to take the necessary steps. Insist on proof of their pre-approval before spending more time on a private showing.

3. Expect questions. You can’t anticipate all questions a prospective buyer might ask about the house and local community, but be prepared to answer questions about property taxes, the age of the roof, heating and cooling units, major appliances, schools and crime rates. For questions that you don’t know the answer to, say you’ll call or e-mail with an answer.

4. Make sure you have plenty of marketing materials available. Your open house is more than likely to attract people who are not current prospects but could become interested in your home. Have listing flyers and brochures available for them to read over as the walk through your house and take with them when they leave. Be sure your marketing materials prominently feature your contact information and the online locations of your listing ad.

5. Follow-up. Within a day of your open house, send a “thank you” email to everyone who took the time to visit your house. Include a link to your ForSaleByOwner.com listing and ask if they had any questions regarding the house. Better yet, if you have a ForSaleByOwner.com listing you can enter their email addresses into our Buyer Feedback tool, and send each visitor a brief, follow-up survey simply by clicking your mouse.