Holding an open house the right way boosts odds of finding a buyer

PUTTING OUT THE WELCOME MAT

September 27, 1992|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

Holding an open house to sell your home is a lot like dating. The perfect match is out there somewhere, but you have to court a lot of frogs before you find the right one.

It's rare when just one open house held on a Sunday afternoon produces a qualified buyer for a home, real estate agents say. "The odds of somebody walking in and buying the house from the listing agent are low," said Arthur E. Davis, an agent with Chase, Fitzgerald & Co. in Baltimore.

Still, inviting the public inside has plenty of benefits. An open house increases the odds that the right buyer will see your home. It reveals your property to potential buyers, neighbors who know buyers, and others who didn't even realize they wanted to buy until they saw your place.

"It's a great chance to validate your price," Mr. Davis added. "If there are things that don't show well, you have a bunch of comments to act on. And some people don't use brokers or agents to look for homes. You're going to miss those people if you don't have an open."

Open houses generally come in two categories: a brokers' open house and the Sunday afternoon variety, when potential buyers come in off the street.

If you're selling your house through a real estate office, your agent may hold a brokers' open house for real estate professionals. This gives the listing agent a chance to show the property to people who talk with buyers every day. A brokers' open may be held in the middle of the week.

More common: The open house is just for buyers. Some sellers are reluctant to have one because it may attract curious neighbors and strangers, as well as serious buyers. But neighbors can be a seller's best advocates, said Mr. Davis.

"People in your neighborhood are extremely concerned" about who will move into their area, he said. "A lot of sales can be traced back to neighbors. They can help sell the house for you."

Whether you are selling the house yourself or are working with an agent, simply propping open the doors and inviting the world inside won't ensure a productive open house.

First, you must put your home in its best condition. Second, you'll need to advertise the open house to people who would not normally see signs and balloons out front. Third, you must be prepared to stand aside while total strangers, and some nosy neighbors, scrutinize your closet space, carpet condition and decorating expertise.

Here's how sellers and agents suggest attracting likely buyers to an open house:

* Set aside some time to put your house in order. Get rid of boxes limiting access in the basement, attic or closets. Remove furniture blocking views from one room to another. Pay attention to traffic patterns, and make sure obstructions are moved out of the way.

Patricia and Lawrence Comes of Bel Air spent about three weeks preparing their four-bedroom, two-story home before holding their first open house. The Comeses are selling the house themselves.

"The first thing I did was to pack up and store excess items to make the house as spacious as possible," Ms. Comes said. "I just have the basic necessities in my house now."

Toys, winter clothes and whatever wasn't essential were boxed and stored away from the house. That made the house look bigger and neater -- and Ms. Comes says her family is now practically ready to move.

Next, the family cleaned extensively, painted the entire house, perfected the landscaping, resurfaced the driveway and tried to complete all the odd maintenance jobs potential buyers wouldn't want to do.

"We looked at anything that was damaged and corrected it, down to broken doorstops," Ms. Comes said.

When the house was in good shape, the Comeses had it appraised. "It cost me a couple hundred dollars to do that, but I thought it would be good because people always ask how you come up with the price," she said.

To help visitors who would be touring their house remember what they saw, the Comeses wrote down pertinent facts -- descriptions and dimensions of every room, the size of the lot and the average amount of gas, electric and tax bills. They included that information with a picture of the house in a six-page handout.

* Advertise. "If it's in a high-traffic area and you use 'Open' signs, you'll pull in traffic because people ride around on Sunday afternoons, looking for homes," said Jean Thompson, an agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn in Towson. "You could get serious buyers off the street."

But if there's not much traffic around your neighborhood, buy some ads. Agents suggest placing ads announcing an open house in weekly newspapers, followed by an ad in the weekend daily papers.

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