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Is Open House a Better Tool for Agent Than for Seller?

October 28, 2001|LEW SICHELMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WASHINGTON — Home sellers shouldn't be terribly upset if their agents don't want to hold weekend open houses. That's because open houses usually don't work, at least not in the way you might think.

Most sellers view "opens" as a necessary evil and think they are being shortchanged if their agents suggest they skip them altogether. But the National Assn. of Realtors says only half of all agents hold their listings open to all comers on Saturdays and Sundays. Moreover, according to many agents, these real-estate rituals rarely produce buyers.

Open houses work great as a marketing effort to turn out possible sellers of other properties in the community and produce potential buyers of other houses that may be for sale. They allow listing agents to introduce themselves to inquisitive neighbors and to lasso would-be buyers who have yet to align themselves with a realty professional.

But as a true selling tool? Forget about it. According to the association's latest profile of buyers and sellers, a mere 2% of all buyers found the place they eventually bought at an open house.

Don Sutton, an agent in Edmonton, Canada, is blunt about opens. So are Jim Lee of Realty Executive Associates in Knoxville, Tenn., and Ed Tobey of Dustler Realty House in Fort Wayne, Ind.

"Open houses are a waste of time," Sutton says. Tobey says he rarely does open houses anymore, and Lee hasn't held one in eight years and "will never do another." When he did hold opens, Lee adds, he sold exactly one house to someone who actually attended the event.

Of course, not every agent feels this way. "I happen to like open houses," says Vicki Lloyd of the Summit Real Estate Group in Mission Viejo. She has sold "a few" opens to buyers who just "followed the signs" to the front door.

So does Ardell Coulter of Real Estate West in Manhattan Beach, who uses them to position properties properly. "When a Realtor holds an open house for the right reasons, to better represent the seller, it is always effective," she says.

During the listing stage, Coulter, like other agents, is more attuned to the seller than the house. So as soon she obtains the listing, she holds an open house "to spend some time with the house, to get to know its strengths and weaknesses. It helps me sell better."

Most realty professionals agree it's important to invite other agents to see the place when it is first placed on the market. That way, an agent can preview the home at his own pace. Then, if the house happens to fit what one of his clients is looking for, he can bring them back for a private showing.

If open houses don't sell houses, what does?

The overwhelming majority found their homes via a multiple listing service, that compendium of all homes listed for sale in a particular geographic area.

This is where brokers go to narrow their searches to show their buyer clients. And with the MLS, or versions thereof, available to the public on the Internet, it's where potential buyers often go as well.

Through the MLS or on the Web, an agent or a buyer can sit at a computer, type in a few requirements and instantly find houses fitting those conditions. Want four bedrooms on the east side of town? No problem. Has to be less than $150,000? Sure, that too. And you've got to have a garage and fireplace? Well, that may be taking it a bit too far, but you get the idea.

"Most buyers recognize the overwhelming efficiency of searching for their home through a computerized database, compared with going to an endless number of open houses, driving down an endless number of streets looking for signs or reading an endless number of real-estate advertisements," says David Rathgeber of Century 21 Laughlin Realtors in McLean, Va.

Because of the importance of the MLS, you should make certain the information contained in your listing is accurate and complete. Be sure you provide your agent with the proper information, and check to make sure he has entered it correctly. It is very likely that the sale of your home depends on it.

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Lew Sichelman is a syndicated real estate columnist. He can be reached at LSichelman@aol.com.

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Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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