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Real Estate

Should we ditch open houses?

Real estate professionals debate the future of open houses

open house sign

The value of open houses is up for debate these days with real estate agents either very much in favor of them, or totally opposed to them. There’s not much in between, if reader response to a recent query from our Chief Product Officer, Diego Sanchez, is any indication.

Once upon a time, open houses were the only way people who did not have relationships with real estate agents could freely tour a home without making an appointment.

However, in recent years, as technology has developed, virtual tours have lessened the need for in-person open houses. These days, potential homebuyers can peruse the inside of a prospective house from the comfort of their own homes at any time of the day or night. Or, they can attend virtual open houses.

But for some real estate agents, a virtual tour is no substitute for seeing a home in person. Open houses, they argue, are a crucial way for buyers to truly discern if a property is what they had in mind.

For others, open houses are dangerous in more ways than one. On June 22, we reported on a female Keller Williams Realtor in Lynchburg, Virginia, who was hit in the head with a blunt object at an open house.

Add the fear of catching the coronavirus to the equation, and the number of real estate agents eager to host open houses seems to be dwindling by the day. Not to mention the fact that in many states, open houses were banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And if they weren’t, many brokerages and companies (such as Redfin) opted to suspend them – at least temporarily. 

And to still others, they are simply a waste of time.

As states have gradually re-opened, more real estate agents are once again able to conduct in-person home tours. The question is, do they even want to?

In this piece, we’ll share feedback from agents who sit on both sides of the fence.

Team In-Person Open House

One real estate agent in Reno, Nevada, was surprised that we would even pose the question, “Why do we still have open houses?”

To that agent, a more relevant question might be “Who would buy a home sight unseen with only secondhand information?”

The same agent also argues that not every agent or consumer is up to speed enough on technology to get the full value of virtual open houses.

As such, he cites as impediments:

  • The learning curve and equipment required for an agent to create a decent and engaging virtual open house on multiple platforms and apps with all the different features, bells and whistles.
  • The learning curve for the public to learn all the different platforms, apps, features, bells and whistles, and being able to know how to use any particular one, at any particular time, on which a virtual open house might be hosted.

“A good virtual open house is similar to hosting a professionally produced talk show or, at a minimum, a professionally produced commercial; requiring skills and equipment not within the typical agent’s repertoire,” the Nevada-based agent noted. “After watching the first wave of local virtual opens during March and April, and even to this day, I can say there is a very apparent amateurish quality to each one.”

He also believes virtuality is too impersonal for people seeking to make such a large and important purchase.

“The reason open houses work is because the public can show up when they want and look at what they want, how they want, for as long as they want and not have to learn how to use any platforms, apps, features, bells and whistles, or deal with any of  the many technical challenges.

Virtuality, AI, and high tech definitely provide some benefits,” he wrote. “However, if Realtors are not careful, they could automate and depersonalize [themselves] right out of business….In a word, real is personal…not virtual.”

Agents are now addressing the risk of infection by providing masks, booties, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and disinfectant spray rather than the usual cookies, snacks or refreshments, that agent added. They are also limiting the number of people in a home at any one time and asking people to sign disclosures/waivers.

Team Virtual

One real estate agent based in Connecticut describes the traditional method of public open houses as simply “archaic.”

“Open houses used to be a way for agents to get new clients, but that is history,” she wrote. Indeed, open houses are often a method used by younger or less established agents to gain business or find potential new clients.

After hosting thousands of public open houses, the Connecticut-based agent has concluded that they are “largely a waste of time and money to host looky-loos, neighbors and unqualified buyers.”

In her case, most of the serious buyers were already represented, so she did not gain new clients. Many parents attend open houses with young children who are not always supervised, which can be stressful for the agent hosting, and ultimately for the homeowner, she pointed out.

“All persons entering someone’s home should be documented as qualified and only allowed entry by appointment with a Realtor,” she wrote. “Online tours and photos as well as Google Earth provide a treasure trove of information to buyers. This was not available in the past and open houses were necessary. This is the present …Public open houses are absolutely archaic!”

One agent based in San Francisco, one of the most expensive and competitive markets in the U.S., agrees the new reality weeds out the less serious. He believes that not having open houses, putting the whole risk of exposure aside, “is a good thing.”

“By severely limiting access, people actually have to jump through a few hoops and be pretty committed if they want to view/tour properties,” he wrote. “To take it a step further a lot agents up here are also requiring either an updated pre-approval letter from a lender or proof of funds if paying all cash before allowing properties to be toured. I think it is awesome in that it saves agents all kinds of time dealing with people who [are] not really for real, but rather waste agents’ time…Saving time for only the most serious people is huge for me! So from that perspective I hope we never bring them back.”

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