Open House: The Last Bastion of “Old School” Real Estate

January 14, 2010

The Open House

Despite the fact that the real estate industry is notoriously slow in embracing technology, the internet has ultimately changed (for the better) just about every aspect of how we buy and sell homes.    For both buyers and sellers, an amazing amount of information about any home is available at their fingertips.  And for agents,  it has created unique opportunities (and challenges) to improve how homes are marketed and sold.  This blog is just one of many examples of this phenomenon.

But despite all of these changes that technology has driven in this industry, there's still a carry-over from the “old days” of real estate that has remained virtually unchanged: The open house.

Necessary, or Not?

There are some in this industry who have called into question the relevance of the open house, even going so far as saying that they're useless and ineffective.  Their conclusion is that holding a house open is a waste of time, and only serves to benefit the listing agent.   The basis of their claim is that the internet gives “tech savvy” buyers everything the need to decide whether a particular home is right for them.   Now, you won't find an agent with more of a technical bias than me, but I couldn't disagree more with this position.

Would you ever purchase a car without having ever seen it, sat in it, or have taken it for a test drive?  Of course not.   So how would you expect a potential home buyer to seriously consider buying your home if they haven't spent any quality time in your home?   The naysayers will counter that buyers can see the home privately with their agent during the week.  True.  But people don't always have time to see homes during the week.   And if they do, they're often seeing the house in the evening, when it's dark — especially this time of year.

No, the open house isn't going away — nor should it.

It Serves a Different Purpose.

Technology has changed the purpose of the open house, NOT eliminated it.  As I mentioned above, there's an insane amount of information that buyers can pull off the internet about a home and its respective neighborhood.  Google makes an almost uncomfortable amount of information available to anyone with a computer — just take a look at their Street View and Google Earth programs.   Tax data, crime information, and school district info are also just a click away.   So buyers no longer need to see the home to get a feel for the specs.

No matter how much information you pull off the web, there's still no replacement for “being there”.   Photos and virtual tours are helpful, but with the copious use of wide-angle lenses and HDR photography, a 100 square foot room can be made to look cavernous!  Or, as one home buyer commented on Chris Brogan's excellent blog :

“Virtual tours were virtually worthless. Being at the property was everything.”

After the “tech savvy” buyer has made an online connection with a particular home, they now need to make a visceral connection with that home, and that's where the open house comes into play.

The Subjective Decision.

The open house is a perfect opportunity for buyers to spend some unfettered time in the middle of a day looking at some of the more obscure and subjective aspects of the home.  Sometimes they want to see how much natural light the home lets in, or how much the hardwood floors squeak, or how busy the neighborhood is on a weekend afternoon.   And because open houses typically last 3-4 hours, they can do this on their time schedule, not the seller's.  Believe me, it's not usually convenient for either party to do this at 7:30PM on a weeknight.


At the end of the day, one of the biggest requirements in selling your home is to make it available.   People won't buy what they can't see.  So if an agent tells you that holding your home open is a waste of time, you need to understand just whose time he or she is referring to….

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