Are Open Houses Obsolete?

Home Prices

By Brendon DeSimone

Listing agents often argue that in our digital world, open houses are a waste of time. The majority of people who attend are nosy neighbors, 'looky-loos,' or other types of tire-kickers. Instead, their argument goes, serious buyers today don't want to wait for an open house. When someone likes a home's online photos, he or she will make an appointment to see the property during the week. So is it time to close the book on open houses? Not at all.

Why our parents needed open houses: A generation ago, the Internet, with its virtual tours, high-resolution photos and online floor plans, didn't exist. Our parents relied on real estate agents to preview properties for them or to present them with the basic details of homes to consider: how many bedrooms and bathrooms, in which school district, on how much land, and so on. Buyers needed to get inside of as many homes as possible to learn the market and identify what would work for them -- and not work.

Today, buyers can easily vet potential homes by looking at photos and floor plans online through Zillow or using tools like Google Street View. But there's only so much you can glean from that. By visiting a home, you can see how the online floor plan actually looks in the 'real' world. You can see details you'd probably miss looking at photos. You can get a feel for the property and compare your reactions to the home to others you've visited.

People can turn into serious buyers through open houses: Serious buyers don't materialize in a puff of smoke; they become serious over time. Many spend a good deal of time looking at properties online or at open houses on their own before even engaging an agent. They spend months or even a year actively looking with their agents. Buyers need to become educated about the market, the types of homes available in their area, as well as what to expect in their price range.

Open houses give buyers a no-pressure environment in which to deepen their education about the local market, so they can make a more informed decision. A buyer may use an open house as a first showing of the property. But when buyers become serious about a home, an open house provides them another opportunity to spend time in the home, to get to know it better, without the confines of a 15-minute private appointment.

The convenience factor: Open houses are also a lot more convenient for the seller. Rather than having to clean the home and vacate it 10 times during the week, a two-hour Sunday open house allows as many people as possible to take their time and view the home thoroughly. While a lot has changed in real estate in the past decade, open houses are a tradition that still makes a lot of sense. If nobody held open houses, buying and selling homes would be quite different.

The same listing agents who complain about open houses would be frustrated by having to constantly run around town, showing properties to buyers who probably aren't serious. Sellers would have to live on eggshells 24/7 to accommodate countless private appointments. If nothing else, open houses can help weed out the tire kickers so that when you make an appointment to show your home, chances are it's with a serious buyer.

Open houses help sellers gauge the market's response: Opening up your house to the masses is the best way to get a feel for how the market responds to your home. A good listing agent will want to see as many buyers come through as possible to gauge their reactions to the home. Are people walking in and out quickly? Or are they hanging around? What questions are they asking? What are their biggest hang-ups or concerns? This is the kind of valuable information you can't get online.

Ultimately, the same reasons for holding an open house 40 years ago are the same reasons you should do it today. In a sense, it's like going to the movies. Sure, you can download or stream movies at home to your heart's content. But there's something about seeing a movie on a big screen, in a theater full of people, that will always make the experience richer and more meaningful.

For more insights into the important changes happening in real estate, read Brendon's new book "Next Generation Real Estate." Brendon's practical real estate advice is regularly sought out by print, online and television media outlets including FOX News, CNBC, USA Today, Bloomberg, FOX Business and Forbes. A licensed Realtor and an active investor himself, Brendon owns real estate around the U.S. and abroad and is licensed to sell in California and New York. As a trusted real estate expert, consumers often call on Brendon for advice and to help them find a real estate agent. You can follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.