As a kid you learn to say “please” and “thank you.” As an adult you learn to clean out the work microwave and park between the lines. But while most of us know exactly what to do at dinner or at a Monday morning meeting to stay within the bounds of “etiquette,” throwing an open house to sell your home isn’t something people do every day. This is often new territory.
In any case, you don’t want to be the one who missed the memo or doesn’t know the code on things like how to work with your real estate agent or prepare your house for a sea of strangers. The weirdest thing is you won’t host this party—that’s your agent’s responsibility. As the seller, your role isn’t even that of co-host…or guest. So where do you fit in and what is the open house equivalent of being the dude who chews with their mouth open?
Don’t worry. Open house etiquette for sellers is pretty straightforward. No fancy dress code or napkin folding required. Just take the following advice from top real estate agents who have actually done this before…and you’ll be solid.
Tip #1: Leave the house
You’re going to get your house cleaner and looking better than ever, for maybe a larger group of people than have ever been in your home at one time. After all that—and it’s going to feel counterintuitive—the customary thing for sellers to do is leave for the duration of the open house.
“I tell my sellers not to be home during the open house,” said Marla Yost, a top real estate agent in Arlington, TX, a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb. “I want buyers to start envisioning themselves in the home, which is difficult to do when the current owner is hovering in the background.”
Buyers won’t feel comfortable voicing their true opinion of your house while you’re there. If you think about it, you’re also a little too close to the “product,” in this case—your house—that’s up for sale.
Despite your best attempts to help out, it’s not easy for any homeowner to hear criticism about the house they’ve just diligently fixed up and prepared for the market. The risk is that you could go overboard trying to show off your house or get defensive while buyers are there, which could signal that you’ll be difficult to work with throughout escrow (even if you had every good intention!)
Tip #2: No sneaky ‘drop-ins’
Wondering how your open house is going? No matter how curious you are, don’t give in to temptation and drop in on the party.
Maybe you’d like to play the “I forgot my phone” card, or perhaps you pose as “buyers” to attend your own open house. It’s natural to want to be in control. But think of it like a project at work: this is your chance to delegate!
Your agent will invest a lot of time, energy, and expense into hosting this shindig with the sole purpose of finding the best buyer for your house. Let ‘em do their thing. Plan something that will get you out of the house for the duration of the event and even a little after, in case interested buyers stay and ask questions (signs that they could be serious about the house).
Play it safe and wait for your agent to give you the green light to return via a text or call.
Tip #3: Take your pets out of the house
Not everyone is a dog person or a cat person, plus you don’t know how your pets will act around strangers or if they’d be anxious with all the foot traffic. Removing them from the house is best for their well-being, too.
To keep it neutral you should also put away any pet paraphernalia like food bowls, crates, cat condos, and baskets of toys.
Tip #4: Remove cars from the driveway
“Don’t leave any cars in the driveway, and don’t park them on the street in front of the house, either,” advises Yost. “It looks tacky and makes buyers a little nervous that the seller might be attending the open house.”
Cars left at home during the open house are also taking up valuable space, which may make it so buyers have to park and walk a ways to attend your event. Plus, buyers care about space both inside and out, so extra cars subconsciously send the message that your house doesn’t provide enough parking.
If you’ve got vehicles that you won’t be driving while you’re out during the open house, either park them down the street or in the garage with the door closed. Simple as that.
Tip #5: Take ownership of the house prep
All good hosts know that you need to give your home a thorough cleaning before a party. They know to tuck clutter out of sight, too, including clearing kitchen counters, hiding bathroom toiletries, and stashing away personal paperwork and data.
However, when it’s your home that’s on display, good open house etiquette requires going the extra mile to create a welcoming ambiance before heading out the door.
“You want your home to feel welcoming, so open up all the blinds, turn on the lights, keep it at a comfortable temperature and use your ceiling fans,” says Yost.
Here’s your absentee host pre-party prep checklist:
- Close the toilet seat lids and shower curtains in the bathrooms
- Open up all the blinds to show off your views
- Turn on lights throughout the home—especially in your darkest rooms
- Set your thermostat a few degrees below comfortable (lots of guests means more body heat warming up your house!)
- Turn your ceiling fans on low to keep the airflow circulating
- Turn off auto-sprinklers, and the ringer for your landline (if you have one)
- Secure valuables and breakables
When you take care of little details like these before leaving, you give your agent the gift of more time to focus on the marketing materials that help your house sell.
Tip #6: Invite your neighbors to the open house
Nothing kills a party vibe faster than an irate neighbor showing up to complain, especially when the guests are considering moving into the neighborhood.
Maybe it’s the noise… Or the cars stealing their street parking… Or even a careless guest cutting across their lawn….
Almost all of the reasons why your neighbors might become annoyed by your open house can be avoided simply by giving them all a heads-up before the event. And that’s not all.
Curiosity will probably draw your neighbors inside your home during the open house anyway, so why not send a formal invite. With an invitation in hand, your neighbors won’t just sneak in for a quick look, they’ll come hang out for a while.
OK, so maybe they’ll just stay for the free food and snooping, but their presence will give energy to the party. More people at the party tells buyers that interest in your house is high, suggesting that they’ll need to make a great offer fast if they want your house.
Plus, the invite is your opening to ask your neighbor to do a little prep for your party, too. It’s easier to ask your neighbor to shut off her sprinklers that hit your walkway, or to trim back his tree overhanging your backyard, if it’s for a party that they’ll be attending.
Tip #7: Offer to make contributions to the party
Speaking of free food, it’s only free for the guests. In most cases, it’s your agent who’s paying for any refreshments served during your open house—unless you offer to contribute.
By sharing the refreshment expense with your agent, you can increase both the quantity and quality of the food and drinks.
For example, instead of just juice, water and a cookie tray, together you can splurge on wine, cheese, and small bite appetizers in the kitchen. And out back on the patio, you can put a cucumber water and lemonade station to encourage buyers and their brokers to linger and discuss putting in an offer after they’ve walked through the house.
Plus, paying for a portion of the refreshments means you’ll have a say in what gets served. Instead of worrying about red wine stains, offer to buy a case of white wine only instead.
Alternatively, you don’t have to spend any money to make a contribution. It’s enough to offer your agent the use of items like your ice chests, serving platters, and beverage dispenser with infuser, so that they don’t have to lug their own into your house.
You might even offer to bake up some homemade treats with items you already have in your pantry (and want to use up before you move). Your agent can even use the fact that they were baked in your “chef’s kitchen” as a selling point for your home.
While you don’t need to go crazy making specialty items like gluten-free treats, do steer clear of any baked goods that could trigger an allergic reaction, like peanut butter cookies.
Tip #8: Pass out grown-up goodie bags to prospective buyers
Refreshments are fleeting, so it’s a good idea to offer your prospective buyers an extra special treat that they can take to help them—like a goodie bag.
Just like children enjoy goodie bags after a great birthday party, a goodie bag will help buyers remember your home after a long day of touring open houses.
Don’t stuff your bags with toy aisle dollar store finds like you would with kids, but throw in a few marketing materials that highlight your house, plus a few coupons and samples from neighborhood businesses.
Remember, buyers aren’t just evaluating your house, they’re interested in your neighborhood, too—but they may not have done much research on it yet. A grown-up goodie bag is your opportunity to showcase your neighborhood as a selling point.
For example, pack up one-cup samples of grounds from your favorite mom-n-pop coffeehouse, coupons from your favorite local restaurant, or even shampoo samples from your local hair salon—all with business cards attached. The businesses will appreciate the free advertising and may even provide free samples.
Ask your agent to give these gifts out to only the most serious buyers. If there’s any leftover, keep them on hand as takeaway for buyers who arrange private showings.
Tip #9: Provide comment cards for instant feedback
“So, how did it go?”
It’s only human nature to want to pick up the phone and ask your agent this question the minute your open house ends.
The problem is, your agent probably doesn’t know yet. Sure, they can give you the lowdown on how many people stopped by, and even how long buyers spent looking your house over—but that’s it.
Buyers and their brokers may not be quite so shy about sharing their true thoughts about how well the house suits them when you’re not around—but they probably won’t be brutally honest in front of the agent repping the house, either.
It takes time and legwork for your agent to reach out to all the brokers that stopped by to get their clients’ real reactions.
While grilling your agent for buyer feedback immediately after the open house won’t get you the info you crave, comment cards might just do the trick.
“We provide comment cards for potential buyers at our open houses to get that immediate feedback,” says Yost.
Comment cards allow the buyer to point out the flaws that they didn’t like about your house, without having to say it to your agent’s face.
While you may not always like what you read—at least you’ll have an instant idea on how the market is responding to your house.
Tip #10: Send out “Thanks for Coming” cards
If you’ve hired a top agent to sell your house, sending out thank you cards after the open house is likely part of their marketing strategy already—but it doesn’t hurt to ask about it. Some agents will go so far as to print up unique thank you cards that feature a photo of your house, the pertinent details (square footage, room numbers, lot size, etc.), and their contact info.
Every contact your agent makes with a buyer’s agent might just be the one that helps your home sell. If a broker’s buyer is on the fence about which house to put an offer on, that thank you might be just the reminder they both need to recall the highlights of your house.
Etiquette for the absentee party host
It may seem crazy to think about etiquette for a party that you won’t be attending.
Yet a seller can either make the open house awkward or help it succeed. Follow these etiquette tips and work with your agent as a silent party-planning partner, and you can’t go wrong.
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