Last-Minute Tips for a Successful Open House

Realtor Deb Staley has seen it a million times. She pulls up to an open house at a fabulous property, in a great neighborhood, at the right price, only to find an overgrown lawn, a leaf-strewn front porch and a front door covered in spiderwebs. In fact, it’s not uncommon for potential buyers to be so turned off by an initial view that they refuse to even exit the car. “I have been a real estate broker for 22 years, and I am still amazed every time I show a house that is not ready for the market, says Staley, who’s based in Searcy, Ark.
We never get a second chance to make a first impression, and for motivated sellers a first impression of their home can often make or break a
deal. Realtors know that a potential sale starts in the moment that a buyer pulls into the driveway. That’s why they take extra care to prep and ready the homes they represent just prior to an open house — and we mean minutes before.
Whether you’re helping out your Realtor or handling the sale yourself, here’s how to make the most of an open house.
1. Lighten up

Nothing helps a house like natural light, so in the moments before an open house pull back the drapes, open the blinds and let the sunlight in, says Sean Shallis, senior real estate strategist for The Shallis Group. As you’re completing your walk-through, turn on the lights in every room (including bathrooms and closets). That will allow potential buyers to see clearly and it creates a welcoming, open feel to the home.
2. Clean up

Spotlessis the word to remember. It sounds simple, but many people forget that even the smallest mess can throw off a potential buyer. Do a quick walk-through before the open house and make sure that kitchen and bathroom counters are cleared and wiped. Toss any extra clutter lying around. Dirty laundry? Purses? Books? Toys? Throw them under the bed or in a dedicated space in the garage. Just keep clutter away from buyers’ eyes.
3. Enhance curb appeal

Never underestimate the power of curb appeal. That means making sure that the front of the house is bright and welcoming. For Staley, it’s as simple as a last-minute sweep of the front porch and driveway, and a quick look for spiderwebs or dirt at any windows that flank the entrance. “As a Realtor, it is such a pleasure to walk in the front door of a home that says, ‘Welcome! Come on in!’ as soon as you walk up the sidewalk,” she adds.
4. Set the scene

Even an immaculate home can up its “wow” factor with small touches in the minutes before an open house. Soft music and a well-set dining room table can warm up the house and help buyers picture themselves living there. Something that won’t? Pets. Staley, a self-proclaimed animal-lover, is quick to remind her clients that not everyone feels the same way. Make sure pets are securely locked away or, even better, out for a long walk.
5. Get out of the house

If you’re working with a Realtor, almost every agent will tell you the same thing: It’s never a good idea for the seller to be home during an open house. So find a way to leave the house before buyers arrive. If you’re selling your home yourself, be aware of what you say to potential buyers during a showing. There’s no need to spew every detail about the house unless the buyers ask. In fact, Shallis suggests, have a friend or family member show the home. “As the owner, it’s almost impossible not to oversell your home,” he says.
Though they may seem basic, it’s little details in the eleventh hour that can make a difference in the speed of the sale and, ultimately, the final selling price. “Dirty, dark, cluttered homes can sell,” says Staley. “But if they are brightened, lightened, cleaned, and decluttered with some sense of pride of ownership displayed, they will sell for so much more.”
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Last Minute Open House Tips

Let’s face it. There aren’t that many Open Houses held by Realtors® recently. With the amount of foreclosures on the market, bargain properties tend to sell quicker and more often than owner-occupied non-distressed sales. Foreclosures are priced at rock bottom, leading homebuyers away from turn-key properties to bank-owned real estate and short sales. Sometimes, these homes tend to get multiple offers and there is stiff competition, but no matter. Homebuyers are attracted to the wholesale market realizing that asking prices like these were unheard of just a few years ago. This has led to a decline in hope for the real estate market in general and Open Houses in particular.

However, this does not mean that as a seller you should shun Open Houses completely. Even though prices seem to be the focus in a home buyer’s mind, remember that the real concern always has and will be value. If you can show a potential homebuyer the value in your home not just by pricing it right but also by showing it to its full advantage on Open House day, you have a pretty good chance of getting that home sold. In an effort to showcase that value, here are some last minute tips for that fateful day.

Get that Litter Box Out!

Everyone (okay, almost everyone) loves a nice, fluffy cat. But the litter box can drive buyers away. Especially if it is found – as in most places – in the bathroom. Definitely clean it. Or better yet, get all cats out with their litter box for the length of a few hours. Bathrooms and kitchens still sell homes! Buyers like to imagine the bathroom as a spa, a place to relax. If they can’t get the stink out of their nose, they’ll leave in a hurry, leaving you with no chance to sell them your home.

Smell your Home!

All houses have a smell and the worst thing you can do is not notice that. You must ensure that your home smells clean as soon as someone steps in the door. And not just clean. It must be inviting and warm. This means no disinfectant smell – no one wants to buy a hospital – and no flowery spray that has homebuyers sneezing as soon as they enter. Light some candles if you have to. The smell of baking cookies is supposed to be fairly inviting and research suggests it creates an atmosphere of altruism. It might just make your homebuyers more willing to offer a better price!

Let there be Light!

Sunshine is a strong inducer of good feelings and a general sense of wellbeing. If you don’t believe me, just think of how many people feel blue in the winter. So don’t create that sense of foreboding and general depression in your home buyers. There are a million things to stress over when people are looking for a house, so don’t create an atmosphere that will encourage worrying. Open the curtains. Turn on lights – for once, don’t worry about energy savings. Light illuminates and highlights features in your home. Why hide them? This is the time to show off. Your home is on display. Make it feel like a well-lit museum!

Clear Clutter! (And Know where to Hide It)

This might not be a last minute rule because some people have a lot more clutter than they’re willing to admit. But assuming you have been getting rid of excess stuff from the very beginning, make sure that on Open House day things like extra kitchen appliances (yes, even the coffee grinder is an extra!) makeup, and so on are put away. Again, kitchens and bathrooms sell homes but those are also the two areas the most clutter is found. Sweep it all into a drawer if you have to at the last minute. But get it out of the way. The focus should be on the real estate you’re selling and clutter only distracts home buyers. Sure, they’ll probably clutter it up as soon as they buy the home and move in, but no one sells a home the way they live in it. If you think this is artifice, get used to it. No model really looks that way. And for the Open House your home is a model.

Highlight the Entrance to the House

This involves getting rid of all dying, dead or otherwise ugly plants, dirty welcome mats, shoes, cribs, toys, flip-flops, empty pots, gardening tools and whatever else you like to leave by the door in your daily life. The entrance to the home must welcome. Get a new mat if you have to and maybe some new plants. Turn on the porch lights. If you have a lit walkway to the home, turn those lights on as well. If you live in the country like I do it’s also a good idea to put a balloon on the mailbox and shine those house numbers. You want to guide and invite potential homebuyers and lead them through the door. It’s almost like you’re a tour guide without actually being there. If they mistakenly enter the neighbor’s house (like my guests sometimes do) because the entrance doesn’t tell them where to go, your Open House is already a failure. So lead and guide and ensure that along the way they notice all the great things about your garden, your driveway, your property.

Space Still Wins!

Remember how I mentioned value earlier? Sometimes the value homebuyers see is in spaces that the home sellers do not. And that is real estate blasphemy! Let me explain. If you have a patio, ensure that the home buyers see it. Don’t just assume they will read your mind. I mean, of course it’s a patio. Of course, they will see that they can have a barbecue here. And a little set. And sit and enjoy summers. No. You have to spell it out. Why not landscape it with some potted plants, set a patio set and an umbrella out and a few seats? Maybe they’ll actually linger there longer and see how they can use it. What this does is creates an illusion of added square footage. Even if the home is small and it has a great patio, the increased usable space will usually make homebuyers glad. And in California where the weather is great almost year round, they can see how the home can be a great place to live as well as entertain!

The one common thread through all these last minute Open House tips is this: above everything homebuyers must be able to picture themselves in your home. Your clutter, or an odd smell or too many appliances, dirt and so on are things that remind them that the home isn’t theirs. We like resale homes because they come in established communities but think of homebuyers who walk into new constructions. The idea that something has never been lived in has a certain charm to it. And while of course you can’t do anything short of build a new home to give them that, you can certainly create the illusion of a never lived in home by following these tips. Keep it clean, warm, friendly, spacious and inviting and you’ll soon be packing!