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How to Prepare for an Open House

Jun 23, 2020 by Jean Folger

If you're selling a home, an open house can help generate buzz and attract interested buyers -- and offers. Of course, the key to hosting a successful open house is to make an excellent first impression. That means you may need to spruce up the exterior, improve your curb appeal, declutter, do a deep clean, arrange fresh flowers, stage your home with furniture and accessories, and think about baking cookies.

While the goal of an open house is to entice buyers to make an offer, keep in mind that a bunch of strangers will be coming through your front door. That means the Instagram-worthy fruit bowl you set elegantly on the counter won't be the only thing you have to think about. As the host, you have to consider your own safety as well. Whether you host it alone or work with a real estate agent, here's what you need to know about keeping yourself and your property safe if you host an open house.

The week before you host an open house

If you decide to host an open house, there are several tasks you can do ahead of time to get yourself and your home ready, safety-wise:

  • Create a guest sign-in sheet that open house visitors will use to fill in their names and contact information (e.g., address, phone number, email) as well as their arrival times.
  • Stash personal items -- things you wouldn't want anyone else to find -- and valuables like jewelry, cash, collectibles, keys, and credit cards in an at-home safe or a safe deposit box at your bank. Or ask a friend, relative, or trusted neighbor to hold onto them.
  • Download and set up a personal safety app on your phone -- and learn how to use it.
  • Tell a neighbor or two the dates and times of the open house.
  • Ask a friend to join you during the open house.
  • Plan an exit strategy from each room in case you need to get out quickly.

The day before you host an open house

Plan to spend an hour or two the day before the open house making sure you're ready for the event:

  • Remind your neighbors that you're hosting an open house.
  • Touch base with your open house friend to finalize plans.
  • Review the personal safety app to make sure you know how to use it.
  • Make sure you have enough gas in your car to drive to safety, if necessary.
  • Stash your family photos. This helps protect you and your family, and it also makes it easier for a potential buyer to visualize living in the home.

The morning of the open house

The most popular time to host an open house is from about noon to 3 p.m. on a Sunday. Here are some items to check off your list a couple of hours before people start to arrive:

  • Make sure your phone has a full charge in case you need to use the personal safety app or make an emergency phone call.
  • Open all window coverings and turn on the lights (this has the added benefit of making your home look more attractive).
  • Park your car somewhere that's easy to get to -- and easy to drive away from -- in case you need to leave in a hurry.
  • Put the guest sign-in sheet in a prominent location near the front entrance.
  • Make sure you have your phone, car keys, and any deadbolt keys with you for the duration of the open house.

During the open house

Many of the safety protocols happen before anyone arrives, but there are things you should do during the open house to protect yourself and your property:

  • Make sure each guest fills out the sign-in sheet (some real estate agents recommend asking for a driver's license or photo ID to confirm the contact information).
  • Jot down the make, model, and color of vehicles, along with license plate numbers.
  • Have guests enter and exit through one door to make it easier to keep track of who is there.
  • Position yourself near doorways, and don't enter rooms without exits, such as bathrooms, closets, and the basement.
  • Position yourself behind guests while giving them a tour of your home so you can see them at all times.
  • Never leave guests unattended. This is easier said than done if you have a big turnout for your open house. To make it easier, limit the number of guests allowed to enter the home at any one time.
  • Trust your instincts. If something feels off, end the open house early. If someone is seriously interested, you can offer to schedule a private showing another day.

After the open house

With any luck, your open house will be a huge success and you'll receive lots of interest from at least one prospective buyer -- and maybe even an offer or two. But just because the guests are gone doesn't mean there's no more work to do. After everyone leaves:

  • With a friend or family member in tow, do a sweep of your house to make sure no one is hiding anywhere. Check every room and closet, as well as the cars, garage, sheds, and outbuildings.
  • Make sure all the doors and windows are locked.
  • Let your neighbors know the open house is over.
  • Scan or take a photo of the guest sign-in sheet so you have a digital copy. Make sure it includes the date and time of the open house (this is especially important if you host more than one open house).

Open houses during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new safety concerns for hosting and attending open houses, and many owners and real estate agents may opt out of open houses for the foreseeable future. However, if you decide to hold an open house, you can take extra precautions to minimize your exposure to and help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Allow no more than 10 guests to enter your home at any one time.
  • Ask each open house visitor to observe social distancing guidelines and wear a mask.
  • Require guests to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before they enter your home (keep a large bottle next to the guest sign-in sheet).
  • Ask guests to remove their shoes or cover their footwear with booties.
  • Sanitize commonly touched areas like doorknobs, faucet handles, countertops, and the like as soon as guests leave.

Do open houses work?

It probably comes as no surprise that much of the homebuying and selling process today takes place online. According to the 2020 National Association of Realtors (NAR) Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report:

  • 93% of homebuyers use websites in their home search.
  • 44% of buyers first look online to find properties for sale (just 16% contact a real estate agent first).
  • 52% of buyers ultimately find the home they buy online.

Still, about half (52%) of real estate agents use open houses to market homes, and 51% of buyers attend at least one open house at some point during the home search.

But do open houses work? According to a 2019 study from real estate brokerage Redfin (NASDAQ: RDFN), it depends on the market. Redfin found that in certain metros -- including San Francisco and San Jose, California, and Raleigh, North Carolina -- homes that have open houses tend to spend less time on the market and sell for higher prices. On average, homes with open houses sell for $9,046 more and take seven fewer days to sell.

Still, many sellers are reluctant to invite strangers into their homes -- especially now, amid a global pandemic. Ultimately, today's buyers are tech-savvy and do most of their research online, so it may not be necessary to host an open house. And keep in mind that a virtual open house might be another option. But if you decide a traditional open house is appropriate for you, be sure to pay as much attention to the staging of your home as you do to these safety tips.

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