Most people don’t want to attempt the sale of their own property without professional help.  That’s smart.  There are so many things that can go wrong, so many landmines on that path; and these are BIG things that can cost a lot.  Still, when the alternative of paying, say . . . $15,000 or more in sales commissions is considered, some elect to brave it on their own.  And sometimes they’re even successful.  Most of them, however, say they’d never do that again!

The problem with Do-It-Yourself is the definition of ‘it.’  What is it you are going to do yourself?  The whole thing?  Pricing? Preparation? Marketing? Screening? Showing? Open houses? Contracts? Arranging financing? Handling details? Solving problems?

Frankly, I don’t like that definition of ‘It.’  It’s too big.

But, what if we defined ‘It‘ as simply being those things any capable homeowner could do for him or herself?  What if we pull out all of the technical aspects of selling a home, all of the tasks that take specific knowledge and experience, and shortened our list of ‘It‘ to:

  • Showing the home (I know:  50+ years of REALTOR-speak has conditioned us all to believe we can’t do this well, but, come on:  who knows your property better than you?)
  • Holding open houses

Now, that’s an ‘It‘ I can live with! Especially if it means ‘It‘ can save me big bucks!

And, guess what:  it can.

You see, one of the many things Don Taylor, the founder of Help-U-Sell, questioned about the Ordinary real estate business way back in 1976, was the role of real estate agents in the typical office and the expense associated with having them.  Instead of a real estate office with 50 or 100 agents stumbling around doing half a dozen deals a year each (which, by the way, is a true picture of what an Ordinary real estate office is:  that’s  normal for them), he wanted a handful of agents, focused on a specific job description, doing four or more times the average production of agents elsewhere.  To realize this vision, he looked at the list of things agents have to do in a real estate sale – which is similar to our big list of of ‘It‘ above – and tried to pare it down.

He recognized that most agents spend huge amounts of time opening doors for people and sitting in open houses.  Overheard at a REALTOR meeting:

What did you do last Saturday?

What a day!  I had to show one of my listings in the morning – someone called and wanted to see it.  I drove 30 minutes to get there, waited another 30 minutes  . . . and they didn’t show up.  So, that was my morning.  Then I had an open house in the afternoon, which meant I needed to start an hour early putting out signs and making sure the house was ready to show .  And then it rained all afternoon, remember?  Hard!  I sat there for four hours with my lemonade and cookies and didn’t see another living person.  

Gee, why didn’t you just close up shop and go home?

Believe me, I wanted to, but I promised the seller two open houses and this was the day they chose, so I was stuck.

Don decided that a typical homeowner – carefully prepped by a sharp agent – could easily show his or her own house and, with a little more preparation, hold an open house.  That would save a lot of time in a typical agent’s career – and saving time saves money.  Whose money, you ask?  In Don Taylor’s mind, it saved the homeowner money.  After all it was the homeowner taking over these simple tasks that steal agents’ time.  With a seller participating in this fashion he would need fewer agents and could charge less.

There’s more to how Help-U-Sell brokers are able to charge less and still make more than their Ordinary counterparts.  There is a ton of difference in how Help-U-Sell offices approach the business – marketing, lead capture, incubation, transaction processing – but for now, we’ll stay focused on this one aspect:  Seller Participation.

Think about it for a moment.  You’re a home seller.  It’s a beautiful Thursday afternoon.  You’re home, working in the yard.  The house is neat and clean . . . what the heck!  Why not put out the Open House sign and a few directionals.

Meanwhile, Ms. P, always looking for her dream home, takes a new route from the grocery store and finds your open house.  After a bit of friendly chatting, you get her name and contact information (your agent prepped you well), and take her through the house, which she loves.  She wants more detail and might want to make an offer.  You hand her your broker’s card and tell her he will be in touch.  You wave goodbye.

You call your broker, who calls Ms. P, has her come to the office to answer her questions and have her pre-qualified for a mortgage.  Then he brings her back to the house for a more in-depth tour.  That evening, he comes back with her offer and earnest money check.

You found the buyer yourself.  There was no outside broker or agent involved.  When the sale closes, you’re only going to have to pay your Help-U-Sell Low Set Fee.  It is a successful sale – and you saved thousands of dollars in commissions!

That’s a Do It Yourself I can live with!


Are Open Houses Dead?

I had breakfast with a broker last week.  He’s a great broker, has come through Real-Ageddon with a few scars on his face but never lost his smile.  His perseverance is paying off:  he’s having a very good year.

Now, understand this:  I am a Help-U-Sell purist.  With no hesitation and absolutely no doubt, I embrace what our visionary founder created.  In short:  If Don Taylor Said It, I Believe It, And That Settles It.  But I am becoming a vanishing breed.  Most Help-U-Sell brokers have adjusted the system here and there, mostly in response to the difficult market realities of the last five years.  I have no problem with that: job one is survival.  But when you talk to me about your sliding scale of fees (versus your SET FEE) or the elimination of Seller Participation from your operational system . . . well, I can get very loud and long winded.  As a result, many Help-U-Sell brokers won’t talk to me about what they’re really doing;  they just don’t want to get the lecture again.

My breakfast broker is different:  he’s made all kinds of adjustments and has no problem sharing them with me.  We debate them.  On tap at this meeting were Seller Participation and Open Houses.

‘I don’t do Open Houses, ‘ he said.

‘Ok,’ I answered, ‘But your sellers hold their own, don’t they?’

‘No.  I tell them it’s a waste of time,’ he paused, registering the shock on my face.  ‘If they insist, I’ll give them signs and they can hold their own . . . but I don’t do Open Houses.’

I was running a little short of breath.  ‘Can . .  you . . please share . . with me . . . why?’

‘They don’t work.  Open Houses are dead,’ he said, ‘Plus, that’s old-style marketing.  It’s what ‘real estate ladies‘ did in the seventies before the Internet made them irrelevant.’

‘But . . .’

‘Buyers don’t work that way anymore.’  He offered me a sip of water in hopes it would help me regain my composure. ‘Today, they’re on the Internet, looking at photos, going to virtual tours.  If they see something they like, they drive by . . . and if it looks good, that’s when they call to get inside.’

‘Really?’  I was picturing a pristine and deserted beach and silently chanting ‘oommm‘ to myself  in hopes of getting my pulse to slow.

‘Nobody has time to drive all over town, dropping in on random Open Houses.   That’s just not the way to get a property sold today.’

When I got back to my office, I did a little Googling.  I discovered that he is not alone in his thinking.  Many agree that the Open House is a vestige left over from a time that has long passed.  But not everyone believes this.  I tossed the question out to our Brokers on our regular Wednesday Power Hour Webinar.  Most were absolutely on-board with Open Houses and mostly with Seller Participation.  As I listened to them I began to realize where the discord was coming from.

It all has to do with being clear about what you want to accomplish.

If your goal is to sell the house that’s being held open . . . well, that’s a rare occurrence at best.  Maybe Open Houses as a strategy for accomplishing that . . . are dead.

But a couple of Help-U-Sell Brokers said the principal benefit of Open Houses (held by them) is the opportunity they provide to present their program to potential Sellers – the neighbors, the casual drop-bys.  People are surprised to find a Help-U-Sell Broker sitting on an Open House and say something like, ‘Gosh, I didn’t think you guys did Open Houses.’  And that opens a whole dialogue about who we are and what we do.

Others talked about the benefit of having dozens of additional directional and Open House signs up in the neighborhood.  The added visibility boosts inquiries from both buyers and sellers.

And finally, there were those who talked about how Seller-held Open Houses create additional opportunities for lead capture, opportunities that don’t involve the Broker’s time.  Going back to Don Taylor:  A well-coached Seller, holding his or her own Open House, always gets contact information on anyone coming through.  On Monday morning, that list is faxed to the office for followup.  Most times, the visitor has eliminated the subject property . . . but is open to hearing about others (bingo!);  and sometimes, with a little clarification, they are ready to make an offer on the subject property (bingo again!).  A Help-U-Sell broker who has done a good job of selling Seller Participation may walk into the office on Monday morning to find 3 or 4 or more sign-in sheets in the FAX machine, and suddenly there are half a dozen more buyer leads.

So, here is the message:

As with every piece of marketing you do, the first order of business is to define exactly what it is you want to accomplish.  Then track results in terms of what you said you were after and evaluate the program based on that criteria.  Simple.

What might you want to accomplish with an Open House?  Pick one or two, not all five:

  • Sell the subject property
  • Make contact with buyer prospects who probably won’t make an offer of the subject property but who may buy something else through you
  • Create an opportunity to spread your message to potential sellers in the area
  • Boost your visibility in the marketplace through increased signage (directional and Open House signs)
  • And in the case of Seller held Open Houses, multiply your efforts, getting more done than you can do yourself
My breakfast broker decided the only thing he might want to accomplish with an Open House was to sell the subject property.  That’s an iffy proposition at best, so no wonder he thinks Open Houses are dead.  As a marketing tool, however, Open Houses do hold all kinds of  other possibilites.
By the way:  there is acutally a sixth reason to hold an Open House and I left it off the list because Help-U-Sell Brokers generally don’t do it.  It is often the only reason an ordinary REALTOR holds an open house:
To create a false impression of activity thus pacifying an anxious seller for another month.

Seller Involvement

Help-U-Sell started as a For Sale By Owner enhancement.  The original signs, in fact, used to say ‘For Sale By Owner — Assisted by Help-U-Sell’ (or something to that effect).  Lore has it that numerous complaints and threats of suit by traditional brokers led the young company to change the verbiage to ‘For Sale with Owner.’ 

In its pure form (that means ADTDI:  as Don Taylor did it),  the Seller’s phone number was on the sign – prominently – and in the ads.  The Seller took many if not most inquiry calls, handled showing the property and holding open houses.  The broker only went to the property to take the listing and to show it (if he had a buyer). 

This all served to free the broker to focus on high-payoff activities:  managing the marketing, followup, solving problems, looking for new business.  Instead of housing an office full of agents to manage the flyer box and hold open houses, the broker had his sellers handling these basic tasks.  Sellers liked it too, realizing that through their own efforts they were reducing their commission expense by thousands. 

Of course, for it to work, the seller had to be coached — usually at the end of the listing consultation — on how to show the property, how to get a name and number from everyone who called or came through, and how to fax those names and numbers over to the broker for followup every few days.  But we’re not talking rocket science here; most sellers found their part to be easy and enjoyable.

Fast Forward to 2009 . . .

By and large, the seller’s phone number has disappeared from the sign and from the marketing.  The phrase ‘For Sale with Owner’ has vanished, too.  Help-U-Sell SignWhy?  The obvious answer is that we all discovered, somewhere in the late ’90s, that buyers were important to our business.  Today the broker wants those calls.  He wants to show the property so that he has an opportunity to build rapport with the buyer prospect and perhaps get an appointment for a full Buyer Consultation.  In addition, the phrase ‘For Sale with Owner’ implied a limited service or discount offering and Help-U-Sell practitioners are adamant:  we are not discounters!  

Even seller-held open houses are less frequent than they once were.  This, I believe, is unfortunate. 

Open houses are all about 3 things:  making a strong statement in the market place, securing buyer leads, and sometimes even selling the house that’s held open.  Every open house is an opportunity to put 3, 4, 5 or more directional signs out.  Every open house is and event to be publicized to neighbors and members of the buyer pool.  If the broker and his handful of agents are the only people holding open houses, that greatly limits the number that can be held.  If, on the other hand, all of our sellers hold all of our listings open just once a week, the impact — in terms of signage and office visibility — can be huge.

But what about the leads?  Easy.  For obvious reasons, the seller shouldn’t be letting anonymous strangers troop through the house.  You must give them a sign-in sheet and coach them to use it faithfully:  no name and number = no admittance.  You call them after the open house to remind them to fax you the sign-in sheet so you can followup with those who came through.  Imagine the boost your buyer pool would experience if every Monday you received sign-in sheets from a dozen sellers, each of whom held a Sunday open house! 

We want to coach the seller to be as involved in the selling process as he or she wants to be.  We want them to distribute flyers to their friends, family and co-workers.  We want them to put them up at the cleaners and the coffee shop.  We want them to do additional advertising on their own and hold additional open houses.  Why?  Because that gives them the greatest shot at finding their own buyer and saving the largest amount of money.  And that’s what we’re all about:  Seller Savings.

Never forget:  the most powerful message we have is not that our listing sold.  It’s that our listing sold and the seller saved thousands!

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