Still Open Sometimes

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The high-tech, instant information world of websites and text alerts may be knocking a dent in old-style real estate staples. For instance, when was the last time you saw the mammoth home-listing guides that agents guarded like treasures in days gone by?

Yet a few more casually paced real estate standards co-exist with the speed of today's information gathering and viewing, including the long-time Realtor specialty – the open house. The immediacy of seeing a home inside and up close is one lasting impression. They also help agents get leads and permit a sizable number of interested parties, from possible buyers to fellow associates, to see the place at any one time.

While recent figures are difficult to come by, the National Association of Realtors found in a 2010 survey of sellers that 59 percent in 2009 said their agent held at least one open house, up from 49 percent five years earlier. The group cited "more challenging market conditions" as a possible reason for the jump.

In a 2010 article on its website, the NAR cites a bunch of techniques to boost open house interest. They include promoting them on the internet, realizing that's where many house hunters are surfing already. Another marketing tool is to put out plenty of signs, perhaps taking a couple of hours to put out a few dozen directional or informational markers and using a variety of types to catch people's eyes.

"Postcards, email blasts to people who’ve registered on the company’s website, and online marketing help spread the word," according to the association's article.

A sociable attitude helps at the two- to three-hour drop ins. Some agents let people know where all the open houses are located nearby, even if it's with a different brokerage, because visitors like that information.

Other tips for agents include using open houses to find topics for blogs, encourage knowledgeable neighbors to drop by, listen for feedback from open house goers, even if it's negative, to try to determine if there are home troubles needing fixing or a revised marketing approach, and "make them remember you" through something valuable such as a fact sheet, market information or map of other nearby open houses.

Still, more than 90 percent of buyers start their searches online, according to the 2014 National Association of Realtors' Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, and the photos and videos let them rule out many homes without having to visit, contributor Teresa Mears wrote in a piece two years ago in U.S. News and World Report.

There are no reliable statistics on how many home sales occur because of open houses, Mears says. The NAR profile found that 9 percent of buyers found the home they purchased from a yard sign or open house, down from 15 percent in 2001. But the data didn't split out yard sign from open houses, she says.

Diana Olick, in a column for CNBC's website, questions the necessity of open houses in today's cyberspace world.

Shoppers from all over can click on videos that allow them to visually walk through homes or witness drone flyovers without leaving the comfort of their computers or smart phones.

"Given all the competition among buyers, do sellers really need to have an open house at all?" she notes. "Open houses are a good way to get attention. There are ads in the paper, signs on the corner and sometimes even a few colorful balloons. They rarely, however, lead to a higher price or a quicker sale, according to officials at real estate brokerage Redfin."

She cites a Redfin survey that found that 26 percent of homes that did not hold an open house sold above list price in Austin, Texas – "a particularly hot housing market" ¬– while just 17 percent of those with open houses did.

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