How to Host a Real Estate Open House Party: Tap Into the Art of Experiential Marketing

Think back to the last open house you attended. Bland refreshments, colorless handouts listing the property details, and a quick tour of the house—rushed and uncomfortable because of the seller’s agent hovering in the background.

With that kind of humdrum, salesy atmosphere, it’s no wonder open houses often fall flat and serve as nothing but a marketing opportunity for the agent.

HomeLight agent survey on open houses.
Source: (HomeLight Top Agent Insights Survey)

“Nobody wants the full court press the minute they walk in the door,” says Angela Kittner, a top St. Louis agent who’s sold over 73% more properties in her area than the average agent.

“When buyers walk through an open house, they think, ‘Oh great, here comes the agent. They’re going to be all over me like a mouse on cheese. Buyers want to see the house, but they don’t want to get harassed.”

Buyers feel so on-the-spot to give their opinions of the place to the seller’s agent that many remember more about that awkward experience than they do about their impressions of your home.

What’s the solution? Well, before you scrap your open house plans altogether, we’ll show you how to host an open house party (who doesn’t love a party?) with your agent that resembles an extraordinary experiential marketing event. Let’s get to it!

What is experiential marketing?

In a nutshell, experiential marketing is about transforming a standard event into a standout experience—an experience clients and customers will want to share on social media.

Experts who’ve researched the impact of experiential marketing even suggest that it outperforms traditional marketing strategies.

Infographic about difference between experiential and traditional marketing.
Source: (fullcirclepr.com)

Zachary Weiner, CEO of the communications and marketing strategy company Emerging Insider, explains how experiential marketing works:

“Experiential marketing is a broad term to describe any endeavor to build attraction, loyalty, and trust towards a product or service by creating new experiences for a targeted audience. In the best-use cases, organizations create intriguing new concepts that allow their prospects to be uniquely entertained and informed with the absolute best, creating a bridge between the offline world with the digital.”

In real estate, experiential marketing is all about creating an exciting, enjoyable open house experience so that word about your property spreads to potential buyers and their agents.

“We want to offer more than just ‘Here’s a flyer on the home, come on through,’ says Kittner. “We want to create an experience so that people are wanting to come to our open houses.”

By hosting an exciting party instead of a standard stale-cookies-and-house-tour open house, buyers are sure to remember your home more favorably than your competition—especially in a neighborhood where the competition is tough.

You’re also creating a positive, pleasurable impression of the home, without hard-selling its assets. That’ll get potential buyers thinking about hosting their own parties in the place.

And that “great place to live” vibe can even make an impression on buyers who didn’t attend your experiential event—as long as you make sure your attendees have such a great time that they blast photos of the event all over the internet.

To do that, you need to offer a fun activity for your guests to do.

“The absolute best experiences get those who attend them to engage with the event. This provides a reason to spread the word via social media or simple word of mouth,” says Weiner. “We have seen anything from photo booths, to direct audience participation. Across the board, the more engagement organically created, the better social share.”

In fact, you may even want to invite some guests who make their living by “going viral.”

“Invite local social media influencers to participate in an event or photo-shoot at the home,” suggests Jeff Snyder, founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at Inspira Marketing Group. “Bloggers are often looking for new sites to shoot content for their blog and social media stories.”

Experiential marketing can improve the success of your open house—if you host a buzz-worthy event.

Two young people playing a foosball game at open house party.
Source: (Bao Truong/ Unsplash)

4 ideas to turn your open house into an exhilarating experiential event

Creating buzz is easier said than done, but there is a trick that can help you plan an event with viral potential: Offer an event that has a “novelty” factor, something buyers won’t get at other open houses.

“It is a core aspect of human psychology that we seek out and are drawn to items and experiences that are outside of our typical purview,” explains Weiner. “If you offer an experience that is replicable or tired, it just doesn’t have the proper draw to reign in audiences.”

With that in mind, you only need to look at elements like your buyer’s needs, your home’s architecture, or even the time of year to come up with a “novel” theme for your open house experience.

1. Host a ‘How-To’ open house for first-time buyers

Typically, selling a starter home in as-is condition is difficult even for the most experienced agents.

“Often, first timers don’t know what to look for in a home and can be unaware that simple cosmetic changes can turn a so-so house into a dream home,” says Snyder.

By hosting an experiential open house designed to teach first-time buyers about home improvement projects, suddenly all of those negatives become positives. The house becomes a clean slate just waiting to become their own unique showplace.

All you need are experts in construction, remodeling, and interior design to offer up ideas on how the home can be transformed.

Partner with a local contractor to offer suggestions and tips for home buyers, Snyder suggests. “Use virtual reality and CAD (computer-aided design) to create design plans on-demand to give buyers a peek into what their ideal home could look like.”

Getting those experts to showcase their ideas at your open house will be a breeze if you present it properly. Just emphasize that the event is also an opportunity for them to showcase their services to dozens of future homeowners.

Armed with remodeling suggestions from the experts, first-time buyers will stop seeing your home as a fixer-upper and start considering it as a home-with-potential.

2. Create an experience that plays up your home’s best feature

What do you love most about your home?

Maybe it’s the authentic wood-burning pizza oven or a top-of-the-line, built-in barbecue in the backyard. Perhaps it’s the spectacular oceanfront view with ships sailing by daily. Or possibly it’s the fully outfitted game room complete with a dart board and a pool table.

Buyers are going to love—and remember—those best features, too, when you highlight them with an activity at your experiential open house.

“If an audience is either highly entertained or can walk away with new knowledge they will be more engaged,” says Weiner. “For example, a client of ours had a property in the desert and we staged a star-gazing event that really showcased some amazing attributes of the property.”

So, host a pizza party, a backyard barbecue, a sailing celebration, or pub game competition—anything that gets your guests involved in experiencing your home’s assets in an active way.

Of course, your home doesn’t need to have some out-of-the-ordinary asset. Even simple features can become memorable if you package them properly.

Snyder once crafted an event to showcase a product as basic as bread in an extraordinary way. He invited influencers and food bloggers to a tasting experience with celebrity chef Donal Skehan for The Rustik Oven bread company.

host an open house party with food tastings
Source: (Lana Abie / Unsplash)

This same strategy can be used in real estate to showcase the hub of your home: your well-designed kitchen.

“For a home with a chef’s kitchen, invite a local chef to come in to do a tasting/hands-on cooking class for a group of prospective buyers,” suggests Snyder. “Let them feel what it might be like to cook or entertain in the home.”

3. Throw a soirée that celebrates a season or holiday

“‘Tis the season” is always a great reason to host a shindig—and that’s just as true when that bash is intended to help sell your house.

For example, throw a Christmas Cookie-Off in December, where guests vote for best bite. Stage a Mardi Gras gala in March with a beads and masks photo booth. Or arrange a patriotic open house in July complete with bunting and sparklers.

“One open house event of ours had a Halloween theme,” recalls Kittner. “We scheduled it from 6 to 8:00 p.m. to catch people going out for the evening to come by and take a look. We had Halloween decorations and served liquor and beer, and it was a ball. People had fun. We want to be known for open houses where you can have a good time.”

And you don’t need to stick just to official holidays, either—the season alone is enough reason for a celebration.

You could host an ice cream and snow cone social in honor of winter. Invite guests to a formal tea in spring or a poolside luncheon in summer.

“We did an Octoberfest themed open house with a beer tasting of four to six beers, and we served pretzels from a shop in town, we had a raffle item and we had some Bavarian-themed decorations outside,” Kittner says of one of her most successful experiential open houses. “There was no high pressure, it was very relaxed and fun for people to come over. That’s what people want.”

Serving alcohol can amp up the party atmosphere, but it does come with some risks. There’s always a chance that an under-ager will get served a cocktail, or someone will drink too much and ruin the mood, or worse.

That’s why some real estate agents steer clear of offering liquor at public events and only consider serving it at “brokers only” open houses.

You don’t need to automatically nix the “adult beverages,” though. You just need to check out your local social host liability laws to find out if you will have any liquor liability for serving alcohol at your open house. Then make sure you have someone keeping close tabs on your beverages during the event.

Still worried? An easy way to alleviate that stress is by hiring an outside vendor to handle the alcohol. Hiring a licensed bartender from a reputable company takes the liability off of your shoulders.

4. Create a themed tour of similarly-designed homes

Buyers aren’t the only ones who appreciate a party—their agents enjoy being entertained, too. That’s why some sellers’ agents are looking to boost their boring broker’s tour with some experiential ingenuity.

An infographic explaining difference between open house and broker tour.
Source: (trendmls.com)

By offering some standout excitement at your tour stop, you can be sure that your house will stand out from the rest. One way to do that is by highlighting the era and architecture style of your home.

“For example, host a Mad Men tour featuring three mid-century homes on the market, with a wine and cheese tasting featuring a local caterer at the final stop,” suggests Snyder. “Bring along an architect who can discuss the history of the homes and offer suggestions to modernize them for today’s living while retaining the original character.”

Not only will all the brokers be entertained, they’ll be well-informed on your home’s history and potential when they sell it to your buyers.

Traditional open houses have a reputation for being lackluster affairs that do little to sell homes. But if you elevate the event with a unique theme and a memorable activity, you’ll have an experiential open house that’ll get people talking—and making offers—on your home.

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