open house tips for realtors

Your Realtor Survival Kit: How to throw an open house the easy way

Bethany Ramos Homeowners, Industry Professionals, Realtors

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Reading Time: 16 minutes
July 10, 2018.

If you want to host the most successful (and the most flawless) open house, it helps to know who you’re inviting. And the most recent buyer profile available from the National Association of Realtors is revealing, to put it mildly.

Get in their heads, in the nicest way possible

According to the 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, conducted annually by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 30 percent of buyers are shopping because they want to own their own home. Suffice it to say, first‐time homebuyers now make up 34 percent of all prospective buyers. That’s a slight drop from 35 percent in 2016.

What else do we know about those bright‐eyed and bushy-tailed folks who might be gracing your open house doorstep? Eighty‐seven percent of buyers are using a real estate agent or broker, which is probably the reason you’re hosting this open house for your client in the first place. Real estate agent use has risen from 82 percent in 1981. The average buyer may be around 45 years old, with a median household income that rose to $88,800. Most buyers are married couples, though at least 18 percent of single females, 7 percent of single males, and 8 percent of unmarried couples could be looking for a house.

Here’s the real kicker. The average buyer searches for a house for only 10 weeks before finding a home they’re ready to hold on to. As a realtor representing a client, this gives you just a few months to capitalize on that “sweet spot” and show prospective buyers a home’s desired features in your open house. While putting effort into an online listing is important, getting people in the door can get a home sold even quicker.

The importance of an open house, says Christy Murdock Edgar of Writing Real Estate, is different for all people involved in the transaction:

  • The seller. “Of course, it’s an opportunity to market their home more effectively and get it seen by the widest possible audience,” Edgar says.
  • The listing agent. “It’s an opportunity to get the home sold, while also making connections to potential buyers in the area. Some of whom may currently be unrepresented,” she explains.
  • Buyers. “It’s an opportunity to see the home without the time constraints of a private showing,” says Edgar. In addition, from a negotiating standpoint, Edgar says an open house also offers the buyer the ability to view a property they’re interested in without communicating that interest to the seller.

An open house is all about making a memorable in‐person first impression to benefit everyone taking part in the sale, something even the most professional MLS listing can’t capture online.

Keep it clean and simple — and make buyers feel at home

We’ve asked fellow realtors who’ve been where you are how far they’ve gone to make an open house really stand out:

Get started

1. Harness the power of the internet.

open house tips for realtors
To get the most interest in the least amount of time, the NAR recommends practicing the open house principles used by realtors since 1963. Stay consistent and plan your open houses on Sundays. You could attract more potential buyers in several hours than you would in three to four weeks of separate showings. For a traditional weekend open house, try to have your featured property identified by Wednesday. This should allow plenty of time for posting information on sites like, Trulia, and Zillow, along with a multiple listing service. Social media and any blogs you might maintain are also excellent online resources for publicizing.

When planning a standout open house, Michael Kelczewski of Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, who serves Delaware and Pennsylvania, says he makes adequate promotion his top priority. He suggests, “Focus on relevant agents and members of the public. For example, reach out to local garden clubs or local publications to recognize the unique features of a home or its gardens.” Kelczewski also puts extra effort into promoting an open house on social media because of the strong across-the-board demographic reach and ability to target specific areas.

On the big day, always take your laptop with you, Kimberly Moon of Keller Williams Plano Realty says. She also finds it helpful to have an idea of where various print shops are should she need something fast. “And always have a blank copy of the following: buyer’s representation agreement, listing agreement, One to Four Family Residential Contract, Seller’s Disclosure Notice, and a listing presentation.”

Try this: Automate everything

“Before, we would manually print a sign-in sheet, then transfer each lead manually.”

These five free and nearly-free apps will do your open house traffic-tracking for you:

  1. Open House Expert (Free): Use the app to collect guest demographics, interest levels, and prequalification statuses in real-time. Then, generate custom reports that can be instantly shared to any potential buyer or broker.
  2. Open House Marketing System (Free): Manage guest details electronically, send automated and branded thank you emails, scan business cards with 100 percent accuracy, add buyer notes and ratings, and promote your event — with no internet access needed.
  3. Open Home Pro® (Free): A favorite of Cindy Cook, Cornerstone partner and realtor at Keller Williams Edmond, Oklahoma, Open Home Pro serves over 90,000 agents with unlimited capacity for registrants and events. The app can also be used to store lead information and promote your open house, with no Wi-Fi needed.
  4. Open House ToolKit-Real Estate (Free 30-day trial, $30/year): Track event guest count and create your own custom reports that include broker feedback, take and upload pictures, follow-up with leads at a click, and use the app simultaneously on multiple devices. You can also access the app off-line and sync to the cloud later.
  5. Open House Wizard (Free): Dana Phillips, Cornerstone partner and realtor at Phillips & Associates Realty, relies heavily on this free app to assist with her open house traffic. With a branded open house sign-in page, feedback page, and welcome email sent to visitors, Phillips calls the app an “eye-opener.” She says, “Before, we would manually print a sign-in sheet, then transfer each lead manually, and set them up as contacts through a CRM service such as Top Producer. The app will direct clients to your website and home information, and then the CRM will continue marketing to keep your information in front of them as much as possible.”

Beyond traffic and lead management, Andrea Valenzuela, Cornerstone partner and realtor at Price & Co. Real Estate, uses free apps to make an excellent first impression — by giving guests something of value. In lieu of making visitors sign in, Valenzuela introduces attendants to a home search app that provides them with their own private, password-protected search portal to the active MLS listings. “A few of the great affordable services available to real estate agents that syndicate with our local MLS are the Home Scouting Report and HomeSnap,” she says.


2. It pays to be friendly.

open house tips for realtors
You might think about providing a map of all other open houses in the area as part of any information packets you distribute, plus research on similar listings in the neighborhood. It won’t undermine your opportunity to sell to the right buyer, and if your own listing isn’t the right fit for someone, your helpfulness and market knowledge will leave a lasting impression. Irene Keene of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Connecticut carries a “show book,” i.e., three-ring binder, with her. “It contains handouts that I give to the buyer and their agent,” Keene says.

To go the extra mile, take a cue from Moon and also carry a measuring tape. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed it when buyers are wondering if their furniture would fit or if their curtains are long enough. Feels good to be prepared and help buyers visualize their life in that property,” says Moon.

Try this: Increase your foot traffic

“Timing is everything for a busy open house.”

These are the five strategies realtors swear by to attract the most open house traffic:

  1. Put out yard signs. Danny Tokar of Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc., who regularly partners with realtors on open house events, says a simple sign in the yard is enough to make a big difference in foot traffic — as long as it’s properly placed. Signs should be bright, clear, visible, and stationed on the route a driver would take to the event. Cook agrees that signage is by far the most effective way to increase open house traffic. “Place a huge ‘OPEN’ sign in the front yard,” she says. “We put a sign in the yard at the beginning of the week.”
  2. Boost an ad for the event on Facebook. Paying a little more for a boosted Facebook post can be worth it when you’re placing your event in front of a targeted audience. Boosted Facebook posts can be tailored to behavior, as well as user interest in websites like Zillow and Trulia. Cook covers all her bases by also advertising open houses on Zillow, Trulia, and MLS a week in advance.
  3. Schedule early in the day and check the weather. Valenzuela considers timing and weather to be her most important strategies for planning a successful open house. “Nobody wants to be visiting homes in the snow or pouring rain,” she says. “I try to schedule during the late mornings on the weekends when people are out and about running errands or enjoying some downtime.”
  4. Schedule during neighborhood events. Along with her timing-and-weather tactic, Valenzuela checks a home’s local surroundings before locking in a date. If a house is in a neighborhood with parks or sporting fields nearby, she searches for events occurring there over the weekend and schedules at the same time for increased traffic. “Timing is everything for a busy open house!” Valenzuela says.
  5. Use ListHub or another automated service. Phillips’ team subscribes to ListHub, a service that pushes all Open Houses to mega-sites like and Zillow. To create even more buzz, Phillips also subscribes to a lead-capture service that maintains a database used to announce open houses, price changes, and more. “This service will put an announcement of the open house on the listing details as clients drive by and text for the property information.” Likewise, Valenzuela uses a feature in her local MLS to post a notice of the time and date of her open house.

3. Find out what works.

open house tips for realtors
Making yourself and your open house unforgettable, and listening to and applying feedback, are tried‐and‐true strategies. But every real estate agent, client, and property is different. Try new ideas and see what’s most effective in your market with your buyers and sellers. For Edgar, her go-to open house methods also happen to be some of the most affordable. She says, “I think offering something memorable and a bit different is a great way to bring some attention to a property and show off its features.”

Edgar suggests setting up the food and drinks outside to showcase the patio or deck area. Also, run a recent movie in the media room and serve freshly popped popcorn. Offer freshly baked cookies to visitors in order to call attention to the gourmet kitchen. All of these ideas are low-cost ways to make an open house, and a home, stand out.

Try this: Market outside of the box

“Speak to individuals face-to-face instead of just relying on technology.”

Consider five new ways to market your open house that most realtors aren’t using yet:

  1. Post on all social channels. Tokar says he always shares his realtor partners’ events on Facebook, a platform regularly used by 80 percent of agents. Cook leaves no stone unturned and posts her open houses to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Posting an event to multiple social channels — with Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram being underutilized by realtors at only 28, 21, and 14 percent — can gain more reach and encourage followers to share.
  2. Try good old-fashioned door-knocking. Both Tokar and Phillips take a back-to-basics approach to generate interest for an event: They pound the pavement. Phillips says, “Our new way is the lost art of door-knocking and speaking to individuals face-to-face, instead of just relying on technology.” Phillips and her team spend hours the day before and day of an event knocking on neighbors’ doors to let them know about an upcoming open house.
  3. Call in a favor. Making use of your friends in the business can help to spread the word and get more people in the door (as long as you return the favor). Tokar suggests calling other agents and asking them to bring their clients.
  4. Partner with a charity. Hosting an open house with a local charity benefits everyone involved. Phillips suggests planning an open house to support a charitable cause, like a food bank or toy or clothing drive, to give back to the community and create an opening for more conversation.
  5. Sweeten the deal. No one can turn down candy — that’s what Tokar’s observed at his busiest open houses. Tokar uses this simple trick to increase attendance and get guests excited: “Put out candy bars. People love candy!” Phillips notes that her loan officer partners often go the extra mile and provide refreshments, like branded waters.

4. Clean and declutter.

open house tips for realtors
The property should be as spotless as possible, even if that means an investment in professional cleaners and window washers. To make it easy for potential buyers to visualize themselves living there, remove excessive accessories, knickknacks, and personal effects and put pets where they’re least likely to be seen and heard.

While Moon keeps her office-on-wheels stocked with extra business cards, an extra notepad, extra pens, scissors, a measuring tape, wet wipes, a mallet for putting signs out, and Lysol wipes for any signs still dirty from the yard before, she keeps some open house supplies on hand too. Her backup kit includes soap, a hand towel, and a roll of toilet paper for vacant properties. “This keeps me pretty much ready for anything and ready for a long day of work!” she says.


5. Stage the house, inside and out.

open house tips for realtors
The newer and fresher the external environment, like landscaping, paint, mailbox, garage door, and house numbers, the better. A few small touches, like clean towels and flowers, can make the interior feel much more like home. And while it’s an obvious and common theme, it’s still worth repeating. Provide as much illumination as possible, with lights on in every room and blinds open, to make the space as bright and cheerful as you can.

Or, take it a step further and create what Edgar calls a “sensory experience.” Since many people (rightfully) pay attention to the way a home looks, Edgar likes to grab buyers’ attention by appealing to all of the senses. “Add the sound of music. The smell of something baking in the oven. The taste of a delicious snack. And the feel of a comfortable and inviting place to sit and discuss the house. All of these can create a sensory experience that helps the home linger in the minds of visitors.”

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Kelczewski agrees that planning a notable open house involves staging in a way that stimulates the senses. This approach, he says, helps buyers make memories as they tour a home. It also helps buyers envision themselves inside a home to create optimal selling conditions. “Odors play a strong role in establishing memories,” he explains. “Possibly present the scent of fresh-baked cookies or play to a holiday theme, depending upon season. Think of pine scents during winter.” Kelczewski says that a listing agent’s objective in an open house is to maximize a property’s benefits while strongly impressing positive memories.

Try this: Make scent-sational memories

“Don’t have overwhelming scents that hit them in the face.”

Five realtor-tested candles can make a house smell like home:

  1. Anything citrus. We like the Fresh Citrus One Fur All 100% Natural Soy Wax Candle because it neutralizes pet odors and is refreshing without being overpowering. It’s also non-toxic with a burn time of 60 to 70 hours. In good weather, Valenzuela suggests opening windows and screen doors to let fresh air in too.
  2. Clean linen. Not only does the scent of a clean house make a lasting impression on buyers, but realtors agree that it’s better than a stuffy smell any day of the week. The organic, kosher, vegan, 100 percent soy, paraffin-free Aira Fresh Linen Candle delivers, burning for over 110 hours. “Fresh linen has that clean smell that’s not overbearing,” Cook says.
  3. Fresh herbs. You can’t go wrong with the zesty aroma of Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Scented Basil Soy Candle or beat its 35-hour burn time. And lovers of the candle say it smells better than the real thing. When burning a new scent, Phillips reminds agents to be considerate of buyers who may be sensitive to smells. “Don’t have overwhelming scents that hit them in the face when they walk in the door. At times, the use of strong scents can indicate an underlying problem to the potential buyer that the owner is trying to cover up.” To maintain that delicate balance, Phillips suggests asking the owner to light the candle several hours before they leave so they can blow it out with enough time for the sulfur smell to dissipate.
  4. Pine. It’s crisp, it’s clean, it’s seasonal, and it burns for up to 60 hours. Fans of the Soap and Paper Factory Roland Pine Candle also say it’s the closest scent to an actual Christmas tree. Phillips says, “In spring, I use flowers or rain scents. In summer, I use ocean breeze or sunshine scents. Fall is cinnamon and pumpkin, and winter is Christmas and cookies.” Phillips also reminds agents and owners not to leave a burning candle unattended.
  5. Warm scents. Everyone loves a vanilla cupcake — courtesy of the Vanilla Cupcake Yankee Candle with 110 to 150 hours of burn time. A 2015 Journal of Marketing study also suggests that warmer scents may attract customers to luxury products. For any open house, Tokar says cinnamon and vanilla candles are his go-to pick.

6. Lock it up.

open house tips for realtors
Make sure your client’s valuables are secured — if not under lock and key, then far enough out of the way where items are not in danger of being stolen when you’re not watching.

To stay safe on the road and at open houses, Moon says, “I keep mace with me at all times. It looks like a pen, so it’s easy to carry and not look crazy. You just take the ‘pen cap’ off and spray!” Another safety item Moon keeps handy for herself and clients is a phone charger, ensuring she’s never without power and her GPS tracker.


7. Offer a bite to eat.

open house tips for realtors
There’s some debate on the importance of refreshments, but it’s always worth considering serving cookies or other light snacks. Food and beverages, along with activities and giveaways, not only can draw greater interest in your open house, but encourage interaction and communication.

Kelczewski uses food in an open house as a way to offer hospitality, as well as another opportunity to establish memory bonds among buyers. When hosting open houses, he typically serves hors d’oeuvres or dessert. “Consider courtship rituals surrounding dining. There’s a reason why business meetings and dates occur over meals,” he says.

Edgar plans her refreshments based on the type of potential buyers who may be attending:

  • For a family-friendly suburban home. “I love the idea of a kid’s buffet with take-home packs of crackers or cookies and juice boxes for the children. Also, gourmet cookies for the parents,” she says.
  • For a sophisticated in-town condo. Edgar suggests, “A beautifully arranged charcuterie board and a glass of wine will keep people looking longer.”
  • In different seasons. Depending on the time of year, Edgar checks the forecast and lets the weather be her guide. “I once co-hosted an open house on a scorching hot summer day. We offered lemonade freezer pops to the families who attended. They were a huge hit and kept people cool as they strolled around the outdoor spaces of the home.”

Try this: Leverage your leads (and leverage your lender)

“It takes a good team to capture a client at their peak of interest.”

Wondering what to do with your foot traffic once they’re in the door? These five tips can help you turn open house visitors into customers:

  1. Look them in the eyes. It’s as powerful as it is easy. And it’s about earning a guest’s trust, Tokar says, not about selling them that particular house — or selling them at all. It’s an opportunity to build relationships. “If you build a relationship, one conversation at a time, that is how you convert the clients. You never know what a conversation can lead to down the road. You are planting seeds.” Valenzuela says she also takes a friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful approach with her guests, allowing them to enjoy touring the house without any pressure.
  2. Capture their information immediately. Phillips emphasizes that engaging interested buyers is the most critical component of that first greeting. From there, she suggests asking plenty of questions. Then, capture lead information upfront so it’s not awkward to ask later. “Someone else can walk in, and the opportunity is lost,” Phillips explains.
  3. Offer to show them similar houses. Cook says it helps to take a moment to find out what a prospective buyer is looking for. From there, ask if you can send them homes that pop up that might interest them. “Always have other houses with similar features and offer to show them those houses,” she says.
  4. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Get in touch with interested buyers — the next day, if possible. Cook follows up with her leads within 24 hours to touch base and let them know she’s started their customized search. “Continue to stay close to them,” she says. “And always follow-up.”
  5. Market through a CRM aggressively. While it’s not uncommon to have open house “looky-loos,” as Phillips calls those killing time on a nice afternoon or scouting out decorating ideas, she focuses her aggressive lead follow-up campaign on any visitors who aren’t represented by other agents. She also leaves her shyness at the door. “It takes a good team to capture a client at their peak of interest. Walking in to an open house is their peak of interest. If the realtor engages with this potential client while their lender partner gets them prequalified, you’ve hooked them.” For the most effective lead capture, Phillips reminds agents to always bring IABS and buyer/seller representation forms.
“Your lender is a key part of a successful open house.”

To make it easy on prospective buyers, get a loan officer involved. There are at least five ways you can use your lender partner to make your open house even more successful:

  1. Share the event on your lender’s Facebook page. As Tokar mentioned above, his realtor partners often share their open house events with him on social media and ask him to blast it to his database. Partnered social shares and email blasts can greatly increase attendance.
  2. Ask your lender to attend (and offer instant approvals). A regular attender of open houses, Tokar says he enjoys sharing his lending knowledge with guests who have questions and being there to support them. Phillips leverages the help of the Cornerstone loan officers she partners with by asking them to stay on-site and offer instant prequalifications. And when a loan officer can’t attend in person, Phillips makes sure they’re available via phone or online. “We’re big supporters of Cornerstone’s free LoanFly app for instant prequalifications,” she says. “Your lender is a key part of a successful open house.”
  3. Divide and conquer. Not only is a loan officer partner great to have on-hand to answer questions about prequalification, but a loan officer can help you work the crowd, again making your job easier. Having another friendly face to greet guests ensures no one leaves feeling neglected. “It’s always fun to co-host an open house with your preferred lending partner,” Valenzuela says.
  4. Put out cobranded flyers. Giving buyers free information gives them take-away value that they’ll remember and find useful later. Cornerstone loan officers like Tokar provide cobranded marketing materials for all realtor partners, where the cost of advertising is split between both parties based on the amount they’re represented in the ad. Tokar says helpful flyers like the cost of waiting to buy, the total cost of homeownership, and loan financing basics are especially popular at open houses. Based on her experience partnering with Cornerstone loan officers for open house events, Cook also suggests, “Have the lender make flyers with interest rates and payment information that are specific to the open house.”
  5. Get help with lead follow-up. It’s yet another area where a lender can help you do the heavy lifting. Ask the loan officer you partner with to follow up on a portion of open house leads to increase follow-through and prevent prospective clients from slipping through the cracks. “If you put in the time, go all the way!” Phillips says. “If not, you’ll be the agent who holds an open house that turns in to nothing. You could lose momentum and your drive to succeed.”

Throwing a standout open house is but one way to benefit your sellers, grow your business, and get your clients talking. Another way is to partner with a lender that helps ease your burden of round-the-clock marketing. Contact a Cornerstone loan officer near you to find out how we work with our realtor partners to give our clients five-star service: Think co-branded marketing, in-model kiosks, 15-minute closing, and a whole lot more.*

*During normal business hours.

For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

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