The Worst (and Best) Open House

I’m an Open House freak in my Las Vegas neighborhood. Every time I see a directional, I make the turn and go see the house. Of course I’m curious about the house – the floorplan, the decorating, the upgrade ideas. And I’m always checking the value compared to my own home (and thank goodness values have been skyrocketing in Vegas).

But mostly, I’m checking out the agent.  I want to see if they are skilled at getting my name and contact information, at qualifying me as a potential buyer or seller, at building the kind of rapport that leads to a working relationship.

With one very notable exception, were I the Broker, I would have fired all 20 agents I’ve met this year at open houses.  The infractions?  Let me list them:

Poor signage.  Three directionals do not a successful Open House make!  Let’s talk 10 or better!  Your traffic will improve and you will make a powerful impression on the neighborhood, one that may lead to another listing and another.

Poor preparation.  Usually it seems the agent just rushed in and didn’t have time to straighten up, freshen the air, put the dog out, empty the litter box and so on.

Poor greeting at the door.  That means a warm smile, a business card and, most important, the request for the visitor to sign in.

No attempt to qualify the visitor as a buyer, seller, or a curious neighbor.  The agents don’t seem to understand that they are there to make connections, build their database of potential sellers and buyers.

No credible and valuable information about the area, the house, similar properties and so on.

I probably could go on, but let me just give an example:

This weekend, I went to an Open House a block away from my home.  Of course there were just 3 signs (and one of them had blown down).  I got to the front door which was closed.  I rang the bell and opened the door.  Here came the agent, just off her chair in the back, wearing ripped jeans, and no shoes.  Her toes were nicely painted, however. She introduced herself but offered no card (I couldn’t tell you her name or company if my life depended on it).  And, she never asked who I was!  Much less how to reach me via phone or email!  She assumed I was a potential buyer (I think) but made no attempt to  verify this by asking.  When I got to the living room, here were the sellers, sprawled out on the sofa, looking bored, tired and not at all glad to see me.  Are you getting the picture?

Listen:  here’s how you hold a great open house.

You plan a week ahead of the event

Within 36 hours of the open house (that means a day before or an hour before), you go door to door around it, with flyers, inviting the neighbors (and probably picking up a listing lead or two).

You prepare the sellers to have the place in top shape and to be GONE – unless they are holding the Open House themselves or assisting you.

You arrive early and put out no fewer than 10 open house directional signs  (David Bartels tells me this is the most important thing; so important that he pays someone $50 per open house to do it for him – and he puts out 15 signs).  Yes, this will boost traffic, but the main reason you do it is to overwhelm the neighborhood.  You’ve already gone door-to-door, probably sent out Just Listed cards, and now have your signs all over the place; you will have made a powerful impression.

You greet people at the door with a warm smile, a business card and a clipboard.  You ask them to please sign in before you step aside to allow them entry.  Gene Manners is the absolute master at this. He gets contact information on pretty much everybody who shows up. His method?  Present it like a normal business practice – it’s just the way we do it; be warm, friendly and confident.

You ask: ‘what brings you in today?’ The answer will usually tell you if they are a potential buyer, seller, or just some dude like me who goes to open houses to evaluate agents.  By the way, if I am asked – which I never am – I’d certainly describe myself that way. And I’d take the opportunity to talk about Help-U-Sell, too.

You lead the tour and when they return to the front door you ask a qualifying or closing question:  ‘So what do you think?  Is this something you’d consider?’  No matter what they answer, you have the basis for a conversation here and an opportunity to either present other homes or close to write an offer.

If it’s a neighbor or a potential seller, talk about their home value and close to do a Market Analysis.

In short:  don’t be a schlub! Take control and interact with people. Adopt the kind of playful attitude you might take at a Singles Bar:  see how many names and numbers you can come away with!  And then WORK them.

I mentioned the one notable exception.  I went to an Open House in a nearby neighborhood.  The agent did everything right . . . ok, maybe she was a little skimpy with the signs, but other than that, she hit all of the high points I mentioned above.

She met me with a smile and a card and asked me to sign in; then she asked why I was there.  When I told her I was a nosey neighbor, you could almost see the gears shift.  She asked about my house, it’s location, size, upgrades.  She knew the neighborhood and the floorplan.  She asked if I had some of the options that came with that model. Then she congratulated me for choosing a gated community.

‘In this part of town, that gate adds about $25,000 to your value,’ she said.

‘Really?’ I replied, ‘I had no idea!’

‘It’s true,’ she said, ‘I’ve tracked the values and can document it.  And, if you were gated and guarded it would probably be more like $50,000.’

Needless to say, I was impressed.  And though that was last year, I still have her card.

Can You Cancel Your Listing?

I don’t know.  That’s a legal question and the answer will vary by State and by specific Listing Agreement.  The more important question is: Why do you want to cancel your listing?  Usually the reason is one of the following:

  • No activity
  • No marketing
  • Greener Grass
  • No communication

Let’s take them in order.

If your house is not being shown, if your open house is the loneliest place in town, you have to ask why.  First, look at the market.  How long does it take a properly priced listing in your area to sell?  Is it 30 days or 300?  If the market is racing along like molasses on a cold November morning, even the best listing, offered by the best agent is not going to be shown much.  Have a conversation with your agent, get the facts, and adjust your expectations.

If it is a normal 30 – 90 day market look at the product.  By that, I mean your house.  It is a product now, one that has to compete with similar products on the market at the same time.  How does it stack up in terms of curb appeal?  Does it show well?  And most important, is it properly priced?  It can be very difficult for home owners to see their houses through a cold buyer’s eyes. History and emotion cloud the vision and the run-down-fixer-upper that’s priced 10% over market looks like a bargain-priced-palace to the seller.  Shake yourself out of that stupor!  Call your agent and ask them to show you six homes any potential buyer who might look at yours would also see.  Then come back to your house, take a careful look and talk with your agent about how to be more competitive.

By far, the biggest reason homes aren’t shown and don’t sell is price.  Did you take your agent’s advice on pricing at the time of listing?  Or did you insist that you wanted to start higher?  (after all, you could always come down)  Take a moment and watch this short video about pricing and see if it resonates with your situation:

Now let’s talk about ‘No Marketing.’  Sometimes sellers complain about marketing because they don’t see ads in the newspaper or in the homes magazine and so on.  The reason is simple: print media DOESN’T WORK ANYMORE.  Yes, that’s how you sold a house back in the ’80’s, but it’s a new world now.  Marketing takes place mostly online.  So, go to Zillow.com.  Can you find your house?  Now go to Trulia.com.  Is it there?  Go to your local MLS’s public website and see if the listing is there.  Now go to one of your agent’s major competitor’s website.  Verify that the site is displaying ALL local MLS listings and then look for yours.  If you’re finding your home online, that part of marketing is being done.

Is there a sign in the yard?  Are flyers available?  Is there a QR code on the sign or some other means for SmartPhone enabled passersby to get information about the house?

Is there a lockbox on the door?  Is the house available to be shown on short notice?  Understand that if you restrict showing activity by limiting accessibility what you’re going to get is restricted activity!  I understand that your reasons for not wanting a lockbox are probably sound and there probably is a good reason why the house can only be shown between the hours of 1pm and 5pm, Monday thru Friday . . . but if you really want to sell, maybe you better find another workaround.

Greener Grass.  There is a natural emotional response to making a major purchase.  It is called buyer’s remorse.  You fall in love with the convertible on the lot and buy it, but shortly after driving away you begin to wonder if you made the right decision.  Other cars start to look very attractive.  You know how it goes.  The same dynamic is present when you make the listing decision.  What makes it worse is that the world is full of real estate agents who will do a little courtship dance to inflame those natural doubts you are probably having.  They will imply (or flat out say) they could get you more money or that your agent isn’t doing it right or any number of things to drive a wedge between you and your chosen agent.  Of course, this kind of nonsense is highly unethical . . . but it happens all the time.

If you get this kind of song and dance from another agent, I’d suggest you ask the agent to hang on for a moment while you call your agent.  Then the three of you can discuss the problem!  Most of us are not that confrontational, so plan B would be to listen to what the other agent has to say and call your agent as soon as they leave.  When your doubts are on the rise, you need reassurance and your agent is the person who can give that to you.

Here’s the truth:  if you have a good product that is properly priced and marketed, there is very little more or different one agent or company can do over another.  If there is a difference it’s usually a matter of personality – which is not a good reason to ditch your agent and go with another – or competence.  If you’re discovering that your agent does not seem to know his or her business . . . well, where were you when you decided to sign the listing agreement?  What?  You didn’t ask how many transactions your agent was doing each year?  You didn’t ask about the experience and productivity of the office?

There are some very good real estate agents who do a handful of transactions each year.  However, they are the exception, not the rule.  There is no way an agent doing 8 deals a year (which is industry average) knows as much about putting a transaction together and solving problems as one who is doing, say, 20.  If you are just now realizing that your agent is a little greener than you’d like, get them some help!  Call their Broker (that’s the person the agent works for) and talk about it.  They will likely find a way to add a more experienced agent into the mix and you’ll be able to relax.

Finally, Communication.  Your agent should be talking to you every week whether there is anything to report or not.  You should be reviewing market activity together once a month.  If this isn’t happening, call your agent and communicate your expectation for staying in touch.  If things don’t change, call the agent’s Broker.

To summarize, if you are unhappy and want to cancel your listing, first talk to your agent.  Tell them exactly why you are unhappy and give them a chance to make it right.  If that fails, talk to the Broker.  That person is building a business based on the testimonials of happy customers.  If you are unhappy, he or she is going to want to know about it.  And you’ll probably find that the Broker will do whatever it takes to make you happy because an unhappy customer or two can greatly impact a business plan!

If talking to the Broker doesn’t help, then you probably need to seek legal advice.  A listing agreement is a legally binding contract that rarely can be cancelled unilaterally.  The last thing you want is to think you fired your agent,  list with another agent who sells the house . . . and find your are obligated to pay both agents a full commission!  It happens!

My final and most important piece of advice is this:  When you get ready to list, talk to a Help-U-Sell Broker.  This group does it differently and better.  All you have to do is look at a typical Help-U-Sell broker’s website to see how important happy customers are to them.  Testimonials are everywhere as are pictures of homes they’ve sold and how much those sellers have saved.  If being well-taken-care-of is your goal, you can’t do better than Help-U-Sell.  You can find a Broker HERE.

Pet Peeves

Real estate professionals who don’t know how to use their calculators and can’t figure (or at least look up) a mortgage payment on the fly.

Real estate professionals who don’t know how to measure for and calculate square footage (at least good enough to tell if the tax records are wrong).

Real estate professionals who can fill in the blanks of their State approved purchase agreement but can’t walk through it with a buyer or seller explaining each boilerplate paragraph.

Real estate professionals who stop at ‘No,’ when trying to get a deal closed or financed.  The answer to ‘No’  is always the same:  ‘What do we need to do/add/change/find to make it work?’ and ‘What can I do turn this around?’

Real estate professionals who can’t do basic pre-qualification of a buyer including an initial discussion of finance including an examination of income-to-debt ratios.  (Though important, this is not a substitute for an in-depth discussion with a lender).

Real estate professionals who can’t accurately (within a reasonable tolerance) calculate seller net proceeds and buyers’ funds needed to close quickly and on a legal pad if necessary.

Real estate professionals who are afraid of the Internet . . . or even uncomfortable with it.

Real estate professionals who ‘wing’ their listing presentations.  It’s a job interview, for goodness sake!  You at least need an outline of where you want to go with it!

Real estate professionals who don’t spend money on marketing.  Agents should be spending a minimum of 10% -15% of their anticipated 1099 on marketing.  Brokers should be spending more.

Real estate professionals who expect the MLS to sell all of their listings.

Real estate professionals who organize their companies to appeal to agents rather than to serve consumers.

Real estate professionals who celebrate mediocre production.

Real estate professionals who don’t constantly question why things are the way they are and how they could be better for the buying and selling public.

These are just some of mine . . . what are yours?