Open house seldom results in a sale, some agents claim

Smart Moves

September 16, 1990|By Ellen L. James

It's a delightful Sunday afternoon. You'd like nothing better than to sip coffee, stretch out with the Sunday papers and then putter in your garden. But you're attempting to sell your house, and, regrettably, your realty agent has you scheduled for an open house.

Instead of spending a relaxing afternoon, you're hurriedly cleaning and stowing valuables. Shoes tossed in the closet must be neatly lined up. Jewelry and watches must be hidden. That pesky carpet spot must be scrubbed. Worst of all, your agent makes it obvious that your presence during the open house wouldn't be appreciated. You've got to clear out so the public can troop through.

All this would be tolerable if an open house offered the genuine prospect that your property would be sold. But realty experts allow that the real winner at an open house is usually not the seller. Rather, it's the seller's agent, who uses the event to drum up

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new business.

"Open houses are a total waste of time for the seller," asserts Carolyn Janik, a real estate author who sold residential property for 10 years.

"Most people going around open houses are touring, getting decorating ideas or they're curiosity seekers -- looking at houses priced higher than they can afford. Some are thinking about selling their own homes and are checking into pricing in the neighborhood."

Realty experts say only 1 to 5 percent of homes on the resale market sell through open houses. The odds are better that the realty agent will help himself find new business at an open house. According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors, 7 percent of those who buy homes met their agent at an open house.

Nevertheless, some realty experts contend that open houses offer indirect benefits to the seller, including exposure to people who may know someone who is a serious candidate to buy the place.

"Sure, there's an obvious self-interest on the part of the agent. But the more people who see the place, the greater the chance that they'll have contact with someone who wants to buy," says Arthur E. Davis III, president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co., a Roland Park realty firm.

For instance, a neighbor who visits an open house purely out of curiosity may happen to mention the place to a cousin who's moving to the city. Then, perhaps, the cousin sees the home with his agent and decides to buy.

"Sellers want to turn over every possible rock that could lead to a sale," says Joseph Zick, sales manager at Century 21-H.T. Brown in Columbia. "There's always the potential at an open house to pick up a valid buyer."

"It's the luck of the draw," says George Green, a National Association of Realtors vice president. He says that although it's usually serendipity when a home sells through an open house, such an event can provide valuable feedback on the public's reaction to the property.

A good deal can be learned by reading the body language of those visiting a house, Mr. Green says. People who don't like a property will stand silently, cross their arms, give back a listing sheet, decline to cross the threshold or show other signs they don't like the property, he says.

Although most visitors would consider it rude to make derogatory

statements about a property during a visit, many will be quite explicit later when they talk about the place to their agents.

They'll talk about how the dirty carpet was a turnoff, how the smell of a dog in the basement was objectionable and how the shrubbery appeared overgrown. They may talk about price and convey the sentiment that the house is at least $15,000 over market.

Such comments can provide worthwhile pointers to the seller regarding price adjustments and physical modifications that would ultimately help the place move. That could be especially valuable in a cool market when few prospective buyers are coming through and a frustrated seller is starved for feedback.

But realty experts such as Ms. Janik say the negatives outweigh the positives. Besides the inconvenience associated with an open house, she says, such an event can create a security risk, at least in some neighborhoods.

Occasionally, an open house leads to a burglary by someone who has cased the place. More frequently, it leads to accidentally damaged property, such as a broken vase. It's hard for the agent who runs an open house to keep a close eye on all who tour the place, especially when several visitors come at once.

Furthermore, Ms. Janik says, many sellers feel their privacy is violated by having the public come through their homes, causing upheaval in their lives.

Ms. Janik recalls, for instance, how a young boy was traumatized when a castle he had built of Lego blocks was dismantled by a visiting child during an open house. "The child was devastated. He told his parents that he hated all the buyers in the world," she remembers.

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