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Here’s What Visitors Actually Do at an Open House (And How You Can Prepare For Their Arrival)

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Balloons? Check. Signs? Check. Invitations? Check. You’re all set for the big event to begin and secure that offer on your home… but wait! You actually have no idea what to do at an open house to give your house a fighting chance at selling.

Relax your game face, we’ve got some news: Even if you’re great at small talk and want to tell potential buyers all about how great your home is, sellers don’t usually attend their own open houses—it’s considered bad real estate practice. So what you need to do is leave and hand it over to your agent from here. (That is, if you still decide that an open house is worth it knowing 63% of top-selling agents don’t recommend doing one.)

However, just because you can’t be there doesn’t mean you’re helpless. In fact, knowing what the typical open house guest will do, we’ve outlined some of the top actions that you can take before the event to impress visitors and also protect your privacy.

A bedroom that will be inspected at an open house.
Source: (Oliver Ash/ Unsplash)

Inspect every nook and cranny

Stuffing your dirty clothes, rock-’n’-roll CD collection, and sports trophies under the bed when Mom told you to “clean your room” didn’t work back in the day and it won’t work now. Open house guests will check your garage, bathroom cabinets, linen closets, and backyard shed to find out just how much storage your house has and decide: “Can we work with this?”

Considering 1 in 4 Americans admit to having a “clutter problem,” you can bet that potential buyers will swoon when they see that there’s enough space to hang all their winter coats, a place to park the minivan (plus Sally’s toy motor car), and—bonus—comfortably put away the crockpot in the actual kitchen. That’ll be hard for them to gauge if your countertops are littered with mail and you have a three-stall garage but can’t house a single car.

Seller’s strategy: Purge and organize drawers, cabinets, closets, the attic, the garage, and basement

Do a serious purge as soon as you decide to sell your house. Jump on the KonMari bandwagon by starting with one closet or type of item (like the Tupperware drawer) and making your way around your home, see what does and does not “spark joy” or is an essential.

If you do discover a long forgotten closet full of stuff that you can’t part with, consider putting it in storage until you are ready to move, so buyers don’t have to see it. Closets and drawers don’t need to be empty, they just need to be neat and organized.

Your Decluttering Checklist

Here's a checklist that you can print out and work through to declutter every room in your house.

Snoop around, even if innocently

Open house crimes do happen. The bottom line is you are opening your house to strangers. Usually burglars are after prescription drugs, jewelry and small electronics. But even if your open house visitors have perfectly good intentions, they could still stumble upon private account information or financial records that you’d rather not have on display.

Seller’s strategy: Remove or lock up valuables securely

Get in the habit of getting bills and personal information (like your Wi-Fi passwords) out of sight while your house is on the market and use file cabinets with locks as a precaution.

Don’t leave any prescriptions out in the open or in medicine cabinets where someone could easily search for them.

Instead, hide away all of your valuables in small glass containers (or those that would make noise when opened) and nestle them in furniture that buyers aren’t likely to open because they don’t come with the house. Tell your agent about where you’ve hidden things so that they can be on high alert.

For any items that you think will be particularly high risk, simply make sure to remove them before the open house and subsequent showings. If you have personal photos or family heirlooms that you don’t want anyone to touch or see, be sure to store those somewhere safe until after the open house.

You may even want to consider getting a safe or storing items in a deposit box temporarily. For more ideas, consult HomeLight’s guide to protecting your privacy while your home is on the market.

A dog's bed in an open house.
Source: (Matthew Hamilton/ Unsplash)

Take note of any bad odors

No surprise here, but if a buyer walks into your home and smells the cat litter box, wet dog odor, or cigarette smoke, they are likely to move on. The same goes for finding mold, mildew, or grime in the shower or sinks.

Seller’s strategy: Deep clean and attack the root cause of bad odors

One of the best actions that you can take to address bad smells in the house is to deep clean. It’s what Ken Viele, a top-selling agent in Naugatuck, Connecticut with 16 years of experience, calls real estate “tough love”—he’s not afraid to tell sellers that they need to take their cleaning to the next level.

“Pet odor is one of the most difficult things perhaps to approach a seller about, and to tell someone that their home is dirty or smelly is not an easy thing. But at the same time it is very important,” said Viele.

“Different people have different ideas of what cleanliness is.”

Learn how to deodorize your house by cleaning out your drains, washing your linens, tossing out expired food and attacking pet and cigarette odors from the root cause. Viele also suggests switching your cat litter to Fresh Step. For homes that just aren’t cutting it in terms of smell and cleanliness, Viele will recommend hiring a professional house cleaner to make sure everything is spotless.

Search for visible wear and tear and ask about signs of damage

You may have forgotten about that huge scratch in the hallway from moving your new couch five years ago, but buyers are certain to see it. Chipped paint in your child’s bedroom from posters that used to hang on the walls will be noticed, too. And if you have signs of more serious damage like water stains on the walls or ceiling, you can expect buyers to ask about those as well.

Seller’s strategy: Identify and make repairs ahead of time

As you go through the process of listing your home for sale, invite your agent over for a walkthrough to identify areas around the house that might need a little TLC. You can also view your own house with a fresh lens by using HomeLight’s DIY home inspection checklist. For a more formal approach, you can get a pre-listing inspection performed by a professional home inspector to avoid any surprises down the line with the buyer’s inspection.

Then, be sure to complete repairs before the open house, since buyers will be on the lookout for fixes that they might need to foot the bill for later.

Depending on the scope of the project, you can either hire a handyman for the job or work with a specialty tradesperson such as a plumber, electrician, window repair contractor, or roofer.

You also want to arm your agent with documentation about repairs that have been made on your house so they can share this information with potential buyers to remedy their concerns. Before and after photos can also be a way to show off your home and its improvements during the open house.

An open window in a house.
Source: (William Santos/ Unsplash)

Judge your home’s temperature

Open house visitors will appreciate that your house offers reprieve from the elements outside and will want to know that you have a properly working HVAC. In the summer, potential buyers will love that nice cool air flowing through the vents. And a toasty dwelling in the dead of winter says “Welcome Home.”

Seller’s strategy: Don’t skimp on the AC or heat, depending on the season

Overall you want open house visitors to have a pleasant experience, so make sure your temperature is set to a comfortable level, even if it’s warmer or cooler than you’d normally keep it.

If you have rooms upstairs that get especially stuffy, close some of the vents on the lower level to get the airflow circulating to areas that need it most. On moderate days in the spring and fall, consider cracking open a window or two to let in the fresh air.

Ask your agent about why you’re selling this house

Viele says the number one question that he gets from buyers during an open house is: “Why are the sellers selling? ”

It may be none of their business, but since they are going to ask, you’ll be better off if your agent is prepared with an answer.

Seller’s strategy: Arm your agent with talking points

While your agent doesn’t need to share every detail, particularly if you are moving because of a divorce or to minimize your expenses, you do need to have a conversation with them about how to answer this question in a tactful way. One option is to keep it vague with a nondescript “The sellers are relocating” or “Their needs have changed.”

A neighborhood near an open house.
Source: (Wade Lambert/ Unsplash)

Inquire about the neighborhood

The open house isn’t only about your home, it’s also about the block, and the neighborhood. In fact, 78% of homebuyers say that neighborhood quality is more important than the size of the home that they are buying. You’ll want your agent to be prepared to speak to this and guide potential buyers to resources that can inform them.

Seller’s strategy: Prepare information about schools, parks, crime, and neighborhood organizations

While buyers are likely to do their homework before they see your home, your agent can have data on hand to share with them—such as your area’s low crime rate, brochures on community events and nearby parks, walking trail maps, and a list of nearby shops and restaurants.

Run faucets and check the water pressure

Just assume buyers will run your showers to check on the water pressure. No one loves to spend 30 minutes to wash the shampoo out of their hair.

Seller’s strategy: Check for leaks and replace low pressure showerheads

Have you checked the water pressure in your extra bathrooms lately? Sometimes water pressure can be an easy fix like swapping out a showerhead or soaking away mineral deposits. Or, poor water pressure or water leaks can be the cause of underlying issues. Like other home repairs, this is one that you don’t want to overlook and should address before your house hits the market.

A room in an open house.
Source: (Matthew Henry/ Burst)

Think about how your home makes them feel and ask: ‘Could I live here?’

Buyers want to feel like they are already at home during an open house. As Viele said: “Buying a home is an emotional experience.” A blank canvas of a clean, organized, tastefully-designed home is going to be inviting to most people.

Seller’s strategy: Stage your home to appeal to anyone

Depersonalize the house by taking down your family photos, collections, and sports memorabilia. Show buyers how every space in your house is functional and inviting by following these DIY home staging tips or asking your agent if they provide any home staging services that help buyers envision your house as theirs.

Make that first impression

Business experts say you have seven seconds to make a great first impression and the same goes for buyers with your home, as soon as they walk up to your front door. So how do you make sure that those seven seconds are a home run?

Seller’s strategy: Don’t forget about curb appeal

The outside of your home is as important as the inside and there are some clear steps that you can take to improve your home’s curb appeal—like pressure washing the driveway, painting your front door in a bright color, and sprucing up the entryway with new hardware and home numbers.

Balloons used at an open house.
Source: (Sagar Patil/ Unsplash)

Now that you have a better idea of what happens at an open house….

…You can easily get ready for the event to be a success! In summary, you’ll need to:

  • Properly clean the house to impress and eliminate any odors.
  • Declutter in order to show off your home’s space and storage potential.
  • Secure valuable items.
  • Identify maintenance issues with your agent, make any necessary repairs ahead of time, and have any documentation of completed work ready to show buyers.
  • Spruce up your curb appeal.
  • Have an answer prepared for why you’re moving.
  • Share with your agent all the selling points of your neighborhood so they can relay those to guests.
  • Make yourself scarce for the event itself.

The truth is it’s all about preparing for what open house visitors will likely do, and trusting your agent to work their magic at the event itself.

Header Image Source: (Artazum/ Shutterstock)