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What is an Open House? Everything Buyers and Sellers Need to Know

Written By: Peter Winscott, Orchard Agent

March 2, 2020

Whether you’ve ever considered buying a home or not, you’ve definitely heard the term “open house” before. However, I often work with home buyers and sellers who wonder, “what is an open house exactly, and how should I prepare for them?”

In this post, I’ll explain what an open house is and some tips on how you can make the most of the experience, no matter which side of the closing table you’re sitting on. Keep reading to learn more about how the open house process works.

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What is an open house?

The concept of using an “open house” dates back to the 1910s. Open houses are an opportunity to market a home for sale to many interested buyers at once. Rather than having each person go through one at a time during private showings, open houses help streamline the process for both the seller and any potential buyers.

In today’s real estate market, listing agents host open houses for a few hours on the weekend (usually on Sundays) or in the evening to allow any prospective buyers to come and tour the home. Many real estate agents advise that home sellers host an open house the first weekend after their listing hits the market.

How sellers can make the most out of their open house

When you decide to put your home for sale, one of your best tools is the open house. It’s essential to do everything you can for the event to appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers. With that in mind, here’s a list of things to do before your open house to ensure you’re showing the home at its best.

Clean and declutter beforehand

One piece of advice that your listing agent will likely give you is to take the time to clean and declutter your home before the big day. Remember, your goal for the open house is to get buyers to be able to envision themselves living in the home. That can be hard to do if your personal belongings and knick-knacks are all around the place, so this is one occasion where you want your home to look pristine.

With that in mind, here’s a quick home selling checklist. First, take some time to put your personal items away before the open house. That includes family photos, children’s toys, valuables, etc. Try to find a place to store these items and any prepacked boxes without crowding up your closets, basement, or garage. Buyers will be looking at every nook and cranny of your home, so there’s no chance of hiding your stuff.

Next, give everything a good scrub down. Make sure to clean all floors and surfaces, giving some extra attention to the bathrooms and kitchen. Lastly, check that your curb appeal is at its best – that means a well-maintained lawn and a clear driveway/walkway.

Play up your home’s best features

As the current homeowner, the odds are that you have a solid understanding of your home and its best features. This is the time to ensure that they’re at the forefront of buyers’ minds. For example, if your home gets tons of natural light, leave the curtains wide open. If you have an amazing pool in your backyard, keep the back door accessible so that the pool can take center stage.

Plan on going out

Last but not least, do your best to leave during the open house. Simply put, it can be hard for buyers to express interest in a home if the seller is there looking over their shoulders. Instead, trust your real estate agent to handle this event and plan to spend some time away from the house.

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How buyers can get the most out of an open house

For buyers, open houses can be an essential tool in your home search. Keep in mind that there is an etiquette that you’ll need to follow. Below are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when you attend one of these events.

Sign in first

As soon as you step in the front door, your first task should be to find the listing agent. He or she will likely have a listing flyer with essential details about the home, as well as a sign-in sheet for you to fill out.

If you leave your contact information, the listing agent may contact you later to gauge your interest in the home. If you’re working with an agent, it’s best to leave their contact information instead of yours.

Take a tour

Once you’ve signed in, feel free to take a tour of the home. It’s a good idea to take notes about what you like and dislike about the home on the listing flyer or your phone. You’ll probably be touring dozens of houses during the hunt, so these notes will help you keep track of your thoughts.

Your goal should be to try and treat the seller’s home the way that you would want your own home to be treated. Keep these best practices in mind for the next time you’re at an open house:

-- Offer to take off your shoes or put on shoe covers

-- Avoid touching the seller’s belongings

-- Keep a close eye on your children if they tag along

Ask questions

After you finish up the tour, find the real estate agent one more time. They are there to answer questions that you may have about the home, so feel free to ask away. While you’ll want to reserve any specific questions related to making an offer for your own agent, here are a few examples of questions to ask when buying a house:

-- Why has the homeowner decided to sell?

-- Are there any offers on the table?

-- Can I get the seller’s property disclosure?

Tip: The seller’s disclosure is a legally required statement that discloses important or relevant information to a property buyer.

What is a broker open house?

While you’re researching open houses, you might come across the phrase “broker open house,” which is different than a typical open house. With broker open houses, listing agents will host an open house to showcase the home to other real estate agents and industry professionals.

In addition to taking a tour of the home, the other agents also provide feedback on the listing. This feedback might include an assessment of the price, condition, or other factors that may have an impact on potential home buyers’ opinion of the home. If you’re a home seller, your agent might host a broker open house to gauge interest in your home.

Any questions?

Have a question about open houses or just the home buying and selling process in general? Our team of licensed Home Advisors is here to help! Schedule a free consultation here:

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