The Open House Connecting Buyers and Sellers

The Open House

There are lots of ways for home-buyers to find properties for sale, but regardless of whether one finds their prospective dream house online, sees a “For Sale” sign in a building, or gets a hot tip word-of-mouth, at some point buyer and property need to meet in person, as it were. That could be why open houses have long been a staple of the sales process in South Florida condos and HOAs.

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For the real estate novice, an open house is basically where a gaggle of prospective buyers descend upon a property and mill around, looking it over and picturing themselves living there. Open houses are a great way for realtors to connect buyers, sellers and other realtors—but they can pose certain concerns for boards, property managers, and neighbors in terms of safety and security, nuisance, and traffic.

According to Laura Steinbruckner, a realtor associate who heads up the Jackie Teplitzky team at Douglas Elliman in Miami Beach, the key to holding a successful open house is all in the presentation.

“It’s all in the way you present your open house,” she says. You always want to entice people with food, music, flowers and good marketing material. For example for every one of our listings we do a brochure. Depending on the building we’ll do the brochure in Spanish, English and sometimes Portuguese and then we will include square feet and square meters and the basics about the building, and parking. We always want to have what I call ‘leave behinds’ so people will have something they can take away with them even though we live in an age of technology. You want to present a warm environment in an open house. We try to adapt to the building for the open house. Sometimes we will have food catered from a kosher restaurant or there is this place that everyone likes called ‘Healthy Empanadas,’ that is usually a safe bet.”

Carol Staab, an associate broker in the New York office of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, reminds you also need permission from your client before conducting an open house. While it seems like a no-brainer to help sell a home, not everyone is inclined to do so.

“Once you get permission from all involved, you need to promote the open house well within the real estate community and the public,” she says. “I like to do it only by appointments, and I try to schedule them about 20 minutes apart.”

As a way to appease neighbors in the building, Staab also sends out invitations to the residents so they can see the process.

“In South Florida with condos we can’t do open houses to the public so it’s really about inviting the right brokers,” says Steinbruckner. “It’s a very small community so everyone knows each other, especially in the luxury market. We will do the traditional e-cards and so forth but we kind of take the old fashioned approach and we reach out to people by phone because it personalizes the process.”

“I’m part of a team ‘the two David’s’ and we do our proper marketing. Signage leading up to the property also works really well,” says Dave Scully, a broker associate with Galleria International Realty in Fort Lauderdale. “We’re in a nichey area of high-end homes in Fort Lauderdale and we’ve found that having a good relationship with the other brokers in town helps, because we all work hand in hand. Lighting candles and the proper music is mandatory. If the price of the property is above a certain point, we will provide food, usually from a high-end sandwich place.”

“I always put my open house on Facebook,” adds Bette Abrams, a broker in Coldwell Banker’s Coral Spring /Parkland office. “I’ll also put an ad in the local newspaper and I always have balloons tied to the mailbox to make it look festive. It’s also important to have a guest registry, so as people come in I’ll ask them to sign their names with their phone numbers and email addresses so I can follow up with them.”

Rules & Regulations

Many buildings require an appointment and notice for holding an open house and some will limit the amount that can be held simultaneously at one time. Real estate insiders believe a smart move is to choose a time frame that includes other open houses in the surrounding area to capitalize on the flow of traffic and increase the overall turnout and that another important aspect is communication. “Common sense and communication is everything,” says Abrams. “It’s common for me to receive calls after work hours.”

Staab says there are some buildings that don’t allow open houses at all. One condo she deals with won’t even allow you to use its name and address to promote or advertise an opening. In some cases, brokers can sometimes invite certain people by appointment if management approves.

“There is always a procedure to follow with open houses,” says Steinbruckner. “For starters you have to check with the building to make sure that you can even hold an open house. Once you get permission you have to check with the building management and you’ll eventually notify the front desk and the valet.”

Secure & Insured

Every building is different and regardless of what its rules are, an agent must respect the rules that have been put in place. The last thing anyone wants is a bunch of errant visitors walking around their hallways, common areas or taking up parking spaces near their home, but that’s exactly what can happen when open houses are held.

Some buildings have an “escort rule.” This means that potential visitors must be escorted to the property where the open house is being held. Violating this building rule can cause friction in the building and damage an agent’s reputation.

Another step to take is to have enough bodies in the unit to keep an eye on things. If it is a studio, then one person can monitor the room. However, if you have a 2-3 bedroom home to show, having additional agents along to err on the side of caution is always a smart thing.

As for insurance, those selling the unit would be responsible for any coverage and an association’s coverage would kick in if someone was to meander off and slip and fall, steal something or cause damage elsewhere in the condo. A broker can be jointly held liable for not warning buyers of unsafe conditions/defects that may cause injury.

“I make sure that people put everything away and clear things off the floor so you don’t have to worry about people tripping or having an injury,” Staab says. “That’s not something that really happens, though.”

Final Thoughts

There are a number of ways that condo associations can do their part to keep the disruptions from an open house to a minimum. This includes everything from notifying the neighbors that an open house is taking place, limiting traffic, keeping track of all visitors and making sure that the realtor knows all rules and expectations.

An open house is a great way to bring in people that might otherwise have missed the buying opportunity and show people all that’s great about your condo.

“The most important thing is to make sure everyone has the correct information,” says Steinbruckner,” “You want to be a good hostess and make sure everyone falls in love with the apartment and if it’s realtors you are holding the open house for, you want to make it so nice for them so they will entice their clients to come in and see the place.”

Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.

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