Weekend open house seldom results in sale But it helps agent land more listings

Nation's Housing

November 15, 1998|By Kenneth R. Harney

WILL HOLDING a weekend open house conducted by your real estate agent actually help sell your home? Probably not.

New research suggests that, contrary to the expectations of most home sellers, real estate agents themselves don't think much of open houses as a selling technique. In fact, three-quarters of them surveyed in a new academic study say they hold open houses primarily to "appease sellers," and to make contact with potential buyers who might be interested in other homes on the market -- not the one being held open. Fifty-five percent said holding open houses helps them "generate new listing contracts."

According to Dr. Jack C. Harris, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, while traditional weekend "open houses are popular with sellers," who see them "as an indication the agent is actively promoting the listing," agents themselves "know the odds are long that an open house will produce a buyer."

That's because two-thirds of the agents believe that "most people attending open houses are not serious buyers."

Agents also dislike holding open houses because they're time-consuming -- the agents are stuck "sitting" the house for hours on end -- and there's a growing concern about safety.

"There's no way to know," said Harris, "whether a visitor is just c urious about the house, or has some more sinister motives," ranging from burglary to worse. Harris surveyed a representative sample of Texas real estate agents who hold the "CRS" (Certified Residential Specialist) designation awarded by the National Association of Realtors to agents on the basis of extensive continuing professional education and experience.

Though the study was limited to Texas agents, Harris noted that the results track national survey research. In a poll of agents nationwide by the Realtors association, for example, according to Harris, the Realtors found that agents reported that traditional open houses produced just 7 percent of all sales.

What works better? For one thing, open houses limited to real RTC estate agents exclusively, or to other invited guests. Ninety-nine percent of the top agents Harris surveyed use the targeted open house to expose their listings to other brokers, and 59 percent consider it effective in selling a house.

Four out of five of those agents say the best time to hold a restricted open house is when the property first has been listed for sale.

Asked by Harris to rate the key techniques for bringing in ready and willing buyers to a specific home, the agents ranked three of the most basic -- yard signs, multiple-listing service (MLS) coverage, and referrals -- at the top. But in what Harris considers a surprising ranking, the agents said the fourth most effective technique is getting the property featured on the Internet.

Such listings can range from inclusion on the giant of the field -- www.realtor.com -- down to individual brokerage firms or agents' own Web sites. Harris says the Internet "clearly is becoming an essential tool" in selling -- a trend that's accelerating in part because of the familiarity of younger and middle-aged buyers with the Web, and the sheer amount of information that an agent can provide to shoppers via a Web site.

What do top residential agents consider the most important techniques for selling a home to someone who's already visited the property, attracted by an MLS listing, a Web site, or a sign out front? The survey responses should be required reading for anyone thinking about selling a home:

* Price the property "competitively." That means realistically, not the overpricing some agents dangle in front of you to get your listing, or the pie-in-the-sky price you think your house deserves.

* Decorate the house to "show well." Smart agents will either tell you how to rearrange the furniture and decorations, or will suggest you hire one of the growing breed of specialized home-sale interior decorators who for a small fee will fluff up the place to look -- and smell -- its best to serious buyers.

* Provide comprehensive, detailed information on local schools and community services.

* Make sure you've got a well-composed overall fact sheet on the house, its construction and features.

* Finally, tell buyers about the energy-efficiency features of your house. They really matter. Annual savings on utilities make your house more affordable -- and more likely to be purchased at the price you want.

Kenneth R. Harney is a syndicated columnist. Send letters in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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