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Open houses are a century-old traditional real estate marketing event but today’s consumers (including homebuyers) are pulled in a lot of directions. In a New York Times article, the paper cites a study by market research firm Yankelovich, estimating an average person living in a city experiences about 5,000 ads every day. We’re inundated with voices trying to get our attention all day, every day!
Prezi, a presentation platform company, conducted a 2018 State of Attention report in which they conclude: it’s not that our attention spans are capable of less than what they were years ago, it’s that we’re more selective about what we chose to turn our attention toward.
If you and your agent decide to host an open house (we’ll get into why that’s a big “if” below), you’ll need to find interesting ways to draw people in or it could be crickets. One estimate puts the average number of open house attendees at a 6. So we scoured the web and consulted top real estate experts for the most creative open house marketing ideas that cut through the noise.
First, determine if your house is right for an open house
“Personally, I would rather eat a handful of gravel than host an open house,” says Michael Winslow, a top-selling agent in Colorado Springs.
He laughs but he’s serious— and other high-performing agents share his sentiment.
In HomeLight’s 2016 Top Agent Insights Survey, most respondents rated open houses a “3” on a scale of 1 to 10 based on effectiveness (10 being the highest). That’s because open houses often help agents drum up general leads but aren’t a magnet for serious buyers.
So before you dive into open house marketing, you need to decide if this type of event is right for your house. Let’s dig into a few criteria that can help you make that determination.
Is your home in a remote area or do you get a lot of passersby?
“Location, location, location” is the mantra of real estate sales everywhere, and open houses are no exception. If your home is off a main street where it’ll attract foot traffic and people will see signs as they drive by, your house might be a good open house candidate.
It must also be easy for people to park. Avoid hosting an open house if you live in the boonies, on a main street with no parking, within a gated community, or if you have a guard troll or alligator moat.
Do you or your agent have safety concerns?
Some agents may not feel comfortable hanging out in your house alone all day as random people waltz through. Or you may not feel comfortable having random people roam your home.
Does your home have stellar curb appeal?
If there’s nothing special about the outside of your house that makes you want to go inside, don’t count on people wanting to come inside. It’s that simple. Tract houses, condos and patio homes—even if beautiful inside—may not be good candidates for open houses. After all, you’ve got to get people in the door.
On the flip side if your curb appeal is enough to turn heads with impeccable landscaping, pops of color, beautiful flowers, and tasteful decorative accents, then the odds are in your favor for increased foot traffic.
What does your experienced agent recommend?
Winslow says one of the main reasons for open houses is owner appeasement. Open houses make the homeowner believe the agent is going all out. This is sort of like that guy at work who comes into the office before the boss and leaves after the boss.
He looks like he’s working hard and putting in long hours, but it doesn’t actually mean he’s getting anything done. If your agent is experienced and he or she says there are more effective marketing methods to try first, trust their judgement.
Decided to do an open house? Use these creative marketing ideas to stand out
So, you’re thinking: If so many agents say open houses are a waste of time, why should I care about these open house marketing ideas? Because open houses do have their place. If you and your agent decide to host an open house, you’ll have to go all out to make it successful and that’s going to take some creativity in promotion, execution and follow up.
1. Engage and invite the neighborhood with candy boxes and door hangers
Deliver candy boxes or door hangers to the neighborhood. Check out Printing Specialty, Inc., for information on printing and folding candy boxes, and ProspectsPlus for door hanger ideas. Use the leave-behind to ask what neighbors love about their hood and what attractions in the area may be appealing to buyers. Consider these questions a way to start a dialogue and invite the block to your open house.
Whatever means you’ve decided to use for your leave-behind, be sure the text is easy to read and in a clear font. If you’ve decided to leave a handwritten note (a nice personal touch!) make sure it’s legible.
You might try your hand with a creative theme, for example: Using playing card graphics, include 100 Grand bars inside the box; on the outside use text like “Missing this open house would be a gamble.”
2. Cater your open house marketing to target demographics
Advertising an open house largely depends on location, demographics and distribution. For example, if the neighborhood is primarily older, advertising in the local newspaper and with door-knocking may be your best bet. If the house is in a younger area, post on Nextdoor and create social ads. Your agent may have resources too, depending on the agency or broker with which they work. Berkshire Hathaway for example, has a local book with its listings, which sells in grocery stores.
No matter where you’re promoting, use images to your advantage. Chelsey Robertson, professional designer, says to include photos of the kitchen, living room and master bath if possible and always include “one good image of the front exterior.”
3. Make MLS listings and events public
On the multiple listing service, agents can indicate the hours of the open house, as well as provide information about prizes and treats available during the event.
This is a great way to promote an open house to other agents, who might send their clients to see the space.
4. Develop eye-catching signage
While a lot of people search for open house information online, you also want to catch the attention of spontaneous passersby who want to check out your house. A small drab sign isn’t going to turn heads.
The good news is you’re not limited to sandwich board signs to get attention. Get out the craft supplies and poster board. Be creative! Get inspiration from these agents who use top-notch design and clever messaging to get buyers’ attention. Just remember to stay on the professional side of glitter (ahem).
For directional signs, Robertson says “OPEN HOUSE” should be the main words on the sign (not your agent’s name or the house address), along with arrows. If agents opt for generic signs they can reuse them for multiple events.
5. Have a refreshment or swag strategy
Wine and cheese are often big crowd pleasers. However, sometimes this strategy attracts a bunch of people who aren’t serious about buying a home and instead just come by for the free snacks and alcohol. This makes many agents avoid serving alcohol completely. Instead they opt for cookies or something useful like water labeled with their information on them.
Or they stay away from food and drink altogether by offering a practical takeaway, like hand sanitizer during flu season!
Your agent likely already has a strategy that works for them and their branding, but if you have a brilliant idea, share it.
6. Stream the open house online
Facebook, Instagram and even YouTube allow for live streaming. Meet buyers where they are, which isn’t necessarily at your open house, but online.
Consider these statistics, according to the National Association of Realtors Real Estate in the Digital Age 2017 Report:
- Millennials make up the largest group (66%) of first-time home buyers.
- 99% of millennials use the internet for home searches.
- 56% of millennials found their home on the internet.
Aarin Chung, founder of a marketing agency specifically for real estate agents, offers great tips about going live on Facebook. She notes that Facebook Live helps with branding and offers the feeling of exclusivity to the listing. Chung says when featuring an open house on Facebook Live “Start outside and work your way through the home—just like a buyer would.” Make sure you end the video with an invitation for viewers to stop by the “analog” open house.
7. Create a detailed two-sided flyer
Real estate flyers are usually loaded up with pictures and descriptions of the house. While effective, if you’re hosting an open house, people don’t need pictures and descriptions… they’ve got the actual house in front of them. Use your handout space to share some details beyond what they might see at the open house.
- Use the first side of the flyer to brag about the community.
What makes your community unique? Does your neighborhood have a softball league team? An annual Fourth of July block party? Is there a free weekly “Mommy Me” class at the community pool? If your neighborhood has a plethora of Little Free Libraries or a great WalkScore, say so. All these things matter to families.
- Use the other side of the flyer to share upgrades you’ve made to the house.
New front door? Feature it! Though this upgrade may be obvious.
Not so obvious may be that you just put in new ceiling insulation and replaced the HVAC system. These projects—although only really noticeable on the utility bill—are among the top projects for return on investment. Check out our guide on the ROI for top home improvement projects to get your wheels turning.
8. Read the room to keep your open house visitors happy
Winslow says he has a specific strategy when hosting or helping with open houses. First, he’ll greet visitors. He has some training in recognizing temperament types and he has conversations with them accordingly. For example, if the visitors are clearly “get to the point” people, Winslow makes his comments straight forward and doesn’t beat around the bush.
Read your audience. If your visitors are chatty, engage with them, even if you’re not one for small talk. Chat about the neighborhood or what they’re looking for in a home. Tailoring conversation style comes down to respect.
Winslow always asks visitors if they are already represented by an agent or if they are already working with a broker.
Your agent already knows how to do this part. Let him do his thing.
9. Turn your open house into a party
Open houses can feel like a lot of pressure for attendees. Agents hover and ask questions and it can seem just one step less salesy then heading to the used car lot. Throw a wrench in the open house idea by making it a party instead. HomeLight offers four suggestions (and details how to execute them) to convert your open house into a party:
- Host a “How to” open house for first time buyers.
- Create an experience that plays up your home’s best feature.
- Throw a soiree that celebrates a season or holiday.
- Create a themed tour of similarly designed homes.
10. Follow up and stay in touch
Agents should follow up with anyone who shared their info, within a day or so of your open house. What if someone walked through your open house but never heard from your agent afterward? You might lose a buyer this way.
Your agent likely already has a template for this, but will tailor it based on their conversations. If your house wasn’t a great fit for the family, they’ll note this and send other properties that might be a better fit. Remember, the big picture.
Link up with a top-notch agent to make sure your open house is a success
Hosting a successful open house is a highly skilled operation, so your best bet is to jump into it with the expertise of an agent. An experienced real estate agent will not only know the best tips for marketing your open house, but also has a good grasp on the neighborhood, area demographics, and how to converse with buyers.
Your agent will be in charge of all the follow up and has an extensive network—including the MLS—to get the word out (about your house and the event). Selling your home to the right buyer is in everyone’s best interest.