Recent news reports of real estate agents being attacked while showing a property or hosting an open house alone and the availability of virtual tours and photo galleries online may have impacted the frequency and purpose of the traditional open house, but will they be done away with altogether?
By K.K. Snyder
Whereas the events are often less attended than in the past, when the only way to view a property was to do a physical walk-through during an open house, today’s open houses tend to draw a more informed audience of potential buyers who likely have already seen the property on the Internet through photographs or a virtual tour.
“I think if anything, [open houses] have increased, but I think people are working a little harder to get people in,” says Karen Silberman, a sales specialist with Majestic Properties in Miami. “We do open houses for new projects, which are very popular ones for us. We have huge open houses to show features, even though everything isn’t built yet.”
The percentage of homes that sell as a result of an open house is fairly low, but it does happen.
“I hear people in my office say that if they have a good mortgage broker sitting with an agent and providing a one-stop shop, it really helps close those deals,” says Silberman.
And, while her company uses the Internet to satisfy the buyer’s need for a closer look prior to a physical visit to the property, she doesn’t think the technology has decreased the attendance at open house events.
“We recently hosted an open house for Nobe Modern Townhomes with very good outcome,” she says. “We hosted it in the evening, which is sometimes very convenient, either during the later afternoon or evening.” Silberman notes that the project has a comprehensive Web site that potential buyers can view for details on the development, a list of features and numerous photos of the units.
Other agents try to use a theme to attract buyers to open house events, like the recent pre-Super Bowl open house conducted by Techrin Hijazi of TechrinEstates and Avatar Real Estate Services. Even so, the Internet is impacting the role of the traditional open house, she adds.
“Most clientele want to see Web tours before they come,” says Hijazi, who hosts open houses weekly or, sometimes, twice a week. “But we’re also able to create more traffic from neighbors and word on the street. We’re doing email blasts and calling people and inviting them.
“If we tell them we’re serving food, they’ll come,” Hijazi adds. “But it’s got to be good food. It can’t be homemade; it’s got to be epicurean or gourmet. It’s about creating excitement.”
John Tolbert, executive VP for IMI Resort Holdings, works with developers on asset management and sales and marketing creative execution, so he doesn’t host the traditional types of open houses.
“Most of ours are either launchings or pre-selling prior to construction,” says Tolbert, currently working with the Viceroy Hotel in South Beach. Showing buyers a property that hasn’t been built yet is challenging, but Tolbert’s company gets creative when it comes to showcasing new properties.
“We had a project that was not going to be done for 24 months, so we created full villas where buyers can come and stay and get the experience and understand the quality and type of design before the project is built,” says Tolbert. He also says the designer used for the villas, Kelly Wearstler, is the same designer for the full product, so buyers viewing the model villas have a true representation of the eventual outcome.
“‘Open house’ means to us some very different things,” Tolbert continues. “At the end of the day, for us, we’re selling the luxury lifestyle. Our buyers can buy almost anything they want. What they’re looking for is incredible experiences and memories.”
IMI uses Interactive Web sites that show the customization available to buyers even before the project is built. Tolbert also uses big events to draw attention to new projects and create buzz about the luxury lifestyle properties his company markets around the world. These include Trump Tower Hollywood and Trump Tower South Beach, where he invests in models that reflect the quality of materials and goods, but also allows visitors to the models to experience the incredible lifestyle of a property.
“The expectations and experiences have changed, and it’s our obligation and responsibility in selling real estate to understand the buyers’ needs and priorities,” he says. “We believe any time you touch a guest, it’s an open house.”
Another area of concern with regard to open houses is the safety factor, especially for female agents working alone. “I know that we all think about that, but it’s very rare that an agent is alone,” says Silberman.
Solid statistics on the number of agents who fall victim to crime don’t appear to exist, according to Mortgage Daily News. One source states that 206 agents were murdered on the job between 1982 and 2000. This does not even touch on the number of agents who were the victims of sexual assaults, non-fatal shootings, beatings, and stabbings, robberies and car jackings.
An agent conducting an open house is often alone and knows nothing about the person walking in the door. The agent meets customers for the first time in front of a vacant house, or drives or rides with the client to an appointment. The Realtor can become so comfortable with the daily tasks of the industry that precautions to ensure safety aren’t taken.
Just last year, a number of attacks on real estate agents made national news, including an incident in St. Petersburg, Fla. during which a neatly dressed young man posed as a relocated Drug Enforcement Administration agent and spent more than four hours looking at houses with a real estate agent before asking to return to one of the first homes he had seen. There he attacked the female agent and took her car keys and purse, while threatening to kill her with the gun and the 12-inch knife he had concealed on his person. The agent was hurt, but not seriously.
A few months later in Atlanta, three female real estate agents were robbed at gunpoint within 11 days of each other by a man and woman who’d contacted the Realtor by phone about seeing a house. As they were concluding their walk-through, they were robbed. Each time, the agent was tied up and her vehicle stolen, according to news reports.
“I have never even experienced any safety problems with whoever is coming to view a house,” says Hijazi, who specializes in luxury waterfront homes and penthouses. “It may have to do with the caliber of the people coming to see our houses.”
It’s often the seller who has more concerns about safety than the agents, she adds, as some homeowners don’t want to host open houses because they don’t want people seeing where they live or seeing their belongings.
Many real estate office managers routinely discuss safety practices with their agents, but few have any hard and fast rules. Agents say that they often knowingly take risks, because it is the only way they can conduct business. Law enforcement officials, real estate boards, real estate trainers and others routinely advise agents to observe some common sense safety precautions.
Avatar Real Estate Services
Majestic Properties Miami
IMI Resort Holdings