Open House

What is an open house?

Updated January 12, 2023

An open house offers an opportunity for prospective home buyers to tour a property that’s for sale. Open houses are typically held by a seller’s real estate agent on weekends during set viewing hours. The goal of the open house is to entice potential buyers with an opportunity to see property listings in person.

When a seller puts their home up for sale, their real estate agent will recommend their clients open up their home in the interest of attracting more potential buyers. They are often held the first weekend or two after the property is listed for sale. Sellers can also choose to opt out of open houses and instead ask their home be shown by appointment only with very interested buyers and their agent.

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The schedule of open houses is  advertised on the agent’s website and input into multiple listing service (MLS) so other real estate brokers and agents can notify their clients if interesting properties have the opportunity to be viewed. Agents may also list the open houses in the real estate section of newspapers or online boards to gain more attention for the property. 

Open houses offer potential buyers the opportunity to see behind the closed doors, test the sinks, flush the toilets, and more. Credit: Kara Eads

The real estate agent will also place signs notifying the public about the open house on nearby street corners in order to drive traffic from passersby to view the property.

In order to prepare the home for the open house, sellers are asked to thoroughly clean their home, remove any clutter and tend to the landscaping. Sellers also move valuables to a safe place as well as personal effects such as family photographs for the duration of the open house. They are also required—along with any pets—to not be on the premises during the event.

Unfurnished or new homes can be professionally staged with furniture so prospective buyers can envision what the space would look like if lived in. Sometimes real estate agents do the staging, but outside staging companies can be used as well. Staging companies do rentals of furniture and accessories.

Agents may also add plants or cookies and other small refreshments for open house visitors in order for the property to feel more welcoming. A sign-up sheet is put out to capture visitors’ contact information along with a fact sheet that usually includes a photo, the price and key details about the property as well as the neighborhood and school district. (Note, in the U.S. brokers aren’t allowed to discuss the local schools’ quality.)

Even when open houses do not garner offers from interested buyers, visitors will often discuss their perceptions of the home while walking through the property, which can help alert the agent  to any drawbacks that may deter buyers. This feedback can be especially helpful if a quick fix such as a new coat of paint is all that is needed to increase a property’s selling potential. 

Agents can also schedule a broker’s open house, which is an opportunity for other real estate agents to view the property and determine if it is a good fit for any of their clients. These events are typically held midweek. 

There is less need for open houses now that internet tools have evolved to include photo slideshows, 360-degree virtual home tours and movies that interested buyers can access from the comfort of their home. Online tours are able to cast a much wider net to prospective buyers than an open house, which appeals largely to those who already happen to live in the area and are available during the open house’s window of time. Unsurprisingly, online tours became de rigueur during the worst of Covid-19.

Only 4% of home sales come from open houses, according to the National Association of Realtors, so sellers and their agents need to weigh the pros and cons before planning an open house.

Buyers should pay attention to all the details when going to an open house—flush toilets, turn on sinks. It can’t hurt to take a close look since you’ve made the effort to see it in person.