As of last Thursday, open houses are allowed in California, with restrictions (see Open House Update), and in most places home showings require an appointment. Anyone who enters the property (including, seller, buyer and agents) are required to complete a Property Entry Advisory and Declaration (PEAD) form.
But there’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown most common practices out the window, including open house procedures that were the norm for more than 100 years.
Now many agents are asking, are there any benefits to holding an open house in this market?
Pros & Cons Open Houses
Open houses are unnecessary, according to some agents, because of the rapid-fire pace of the market combined with the safety factors surrounding the pandemic.
“Anybody interested comes roaring in the first day it comes on the market,” said John Farrell, associate broker at Exit Realty Homeward Bound.
In Detroit, Broker Ta’Nia Thomas, of Trinity Realty at Keller Williams, said that just by pre-marketing her “Coming Soon” status listings, properties were flying off the market.
“The market is so hot right now we just do a lot of pre-marketing so that we don’t have to do open houses,” Thomas said. “Instead of having multiple people in at one time, we just elected to stop doing open houses during the pandemic.”
Broker Jason Soto said that if he doesn’t do open houses on the first or second day of the listing, “there’s not really a need to do it” because homes are getting offers so quickly in his Austin, TX market.
Farrell, who has been in the industry for nearly 40 years, said that prior to the current hot market, he hosted open houses regularly, even though he was very much aware that data has shown that open houses alone don’t often result in a sale.
A report released in 2019 by NAR showed that just 4 percent of homebuyers visited open houses as their first step in the homebuying process. Furthermore, only 14 percent of buyers frequently used open houses as a source of information.
“It’s typically been for the agent’s benefit more than the seller’s benefit,” Farrell said. “Two years ago … we would do like 25 open houses a Sunday because it gives the agents something to do. But nowadays, between the video tours and the intensity of the market, what’s the point?”
Tiffany Hahne, a Charlotte agent, said she believes that open houses benefit agents in many ways, aside from just marketing a property for one particular client.
It’s beneficial to be “out and about and talking to people, and staying up-to-date on the things they’re interested in,” she said. “Because things change as the world changes, and different neighborhoods have different clientele and they want to know different things, I just think it’s smart to get out there and be in front of people, be in front of buyers.”
“But I would say, particularly right now with inventory being so low, sometimes open houses are the only opportunities that buyers have to come see the home because all the showing times are booked.”
Safety Concerns for Agents
But even before the public health crisis, with the ability for basically anyone to come and go unvetted, some started to question the benefits of open houses versus their potential risks. In June of 2020, one Keller Williams real estate agent in Huddleston, Virginia, was brutally attacked at an open house, suffering skull fractures and other head injuries.
Given the potential risks, agents are creating their own “Best Practices” for showings and, where allowed, open houses:
Check the COVID-19 mandates regarding permissible activities and relevant guidelines on maximum number of persons in one space, etc.
Have a discussion with your sellers about what they want; maybe they prefer their bedroom be sequestered off, or that there be a cap on total number of visitors. Take the time to tell them all precautions you plan to take and ask about their specific requests.
One tactic to minimize contact within the home is to arrive to the property early to turn on all lights and open all doors, cabinets, window coverings and related items.
“We wear masks … we go in, turn all the lights on, all the doors open, so no one’s really touching anything,” said Greg Steward, of RE/MAX Precision.
Reassure sellers and take the precautions they ask for. Coldwell Banker agent Holly Connaker has those discussions with her sellers to ensure that she’s setting them up for a rewarding outcome.
“A lot of times what I’m suggesting is that … they head out of town for the weekend,” said Connaker. “That way it allows us to do the showings [and] they don’t have to be in and out of the house worrying,” she said. “We’re typically getting multiple offers before the end of the weekend, and then they can come home and life is kind of back to normal.”
At this point into the pandemic, sellers’ comfort level with holding open houses can run the gamut.
“Some sellers are like, ‘Bring on the people, I want all the offers,’” said Hahne, “and other people are like, ‘I don’t want people in my house. I’ll take sight unseen because I would rather not have people in my space.’”
The CDC has also said thatample ventilationcan help break up concentrated particles of COVID-19 and thereby decrease a person’s risk of contracting the virus. So, try to increase air flow within the property in advance by opening windows and screen doors and turning on ceiling fans.
In all of your marketing communications, let people know if there will be a limit on the number of people in the house at a time; if you expect them to wear face coverings, gloves and/or booties; how waiting and lines will be arranged; etc.
Hahne said that her brokerage puts a sign outside of homes stating that the number of entrants will be limited, so that people know what to expect.
“It just basically says, ‘Welcome to our open houses. Per the CDC guidelines, we’re limiting the number of individuals.’ We don’t have a number on there anymore because it’s constantly changing.”
Hand sanitizer has become a staple: “I look to put it in the very front of the home when you enter … and then in the area where there’s brochures and sign-in sheets and that sort of thing,” Hahne said.
It’s also a good idea to be armed with extra face masks. Depending on your seller’s wishes, you might also opt to bring a box of gloves and foot coverings.
Best Practices During Open Houses
In states where open houses have resumed, having a partner to help co-host helps keep crowds in check and ensures that everyone is following the proper safety protocols.
A few agents said that keeping one person at or outside of the entrance to the property helps direct traffic flow. Others said they’ve been locking the front door to the home and letting people in as space is available.
But having another member of your team onsite is smart in terms of any crime or other safety concerns that sometimes come with hosting open houses. Choose caution, there’s safety in numbers.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently lifted his state’s mask mandate, but some private businesses still require patrons to wear masks.
“[We’re] kind of staging everybody outside and letting them in at a controlled pace,” said Jason Soto, with Spyglass Realty in Austin.
As guests enter the property, recommendations from NARinclude recording visitors’ names and contact information on a sign-in sheet to enable contact tracing in the event that someone who was positive for COVID-19 visited the property.
“When I’m out with clients, I encourage them to leave all non-decision makers at home,” said Connaker. “If you’re not a decision maker, you really should not be going into a property.”
Do You Still Have to Clean?
The CDC recently updated its guidelines for how frequently and thoroughly surfaces need to be disinfected, given what the agency has learned about the virus and its transmission over the last year.
Under thenew guidelines, the CDC says that merely cleaning surface areas, rather than disinfecting them, will be sufficient to help prevent spread of the virus in most cases. Also, don’t forget to give the key and lockbox a wipe with a sanitizing product as you leave the house.
The pandemic forced many agents to become at least acquainted with, if not downright savvy, at holding virtual home tours or providing 3D walkthroughs for buyers. Even as people become more comfortable doing in-person activities, virtual tour solutions continue to be a great way to access homebuyers and draw them into a property.
Many brokerages also partner with virtual tour providers like BoxBrownie, Matterport or RICOH Tours, and have training resources for agents with tips for how to make a virtual tour shine.
Property showing apps like ShowingTime (a free CVAR member benefit, found on CRMLS dashboard) and up-and-coming Instashowing also make virtual showing solutions simple for agents.
It’s pretty easy for an agent to just use their smartphone to stream a walkthrough of a property using options like Facebook Live or Periscope. Video tours aren’t at risk of going out of style anytime soon, and the convenience factor they provide buyers make it worthwhile to provide them for any listing.
Even a brief window of time for a virtual showing can be worth it. “I FaceTime with clients, and we also have an app [ShowingTime] that allows us to do a virtual showing as well,” Connaker told Inman. “I’ve done some virtual showings, I’ve done virtual open houses, where I have it open for like a 30-minute period where people can kind of tune in.”
Virtual staging solutions have also become more robust over the last year. For a vacant home, virtual staging can really help make a property pop out to buyers. And it’s often more cost-effective than other staging options. Padstyler, VHT Studios and BoxBrownie are just a few.