Jennifer Ames on open house trends

Upon reflecting on Linda Martin’s recent open house at the $3.69 million home 322 Chestnut St in Winnetka, Joe Zekas started wondering whether open houses were becoming more common in a luxury market where private showings have always been the norm.

To get one perspective on open house trends at $1 million-plus homes, I called up Coldwell Banker agent Jennifer Ames. Here’s some of what she had to say.

Yes, I’m doing some open houses at the higher end, and I think others are too. I’ve actually sold a couple of homes to people who came to my open houses. But the reality is that at all price points, open houses usually bring in nosy neighbors and people who are curious, but not necessarily real buyers. And that’s an important clarification — I don’t want any seller to think the silver bullet is to just hold open houses every weekend.

What’s changed is that with the volume of information now available on the Internet, you have more buyers who are initiating their searches on their own. They may ultimately decide to engage an agent to represent them, but in the beginning, when they’re in their fact-finding stage, they find it helpful — and almost prefer, especially in the case of the younger generation — to wander through a house unencumbered. If they book an appointment, they’re afraid somebody’s going to try to give them the hard sell, so the appeal of open houses is that they can kind of slip in and slip out anonymously without creating expectations for anything further. In fact, a lot don’t even want to sign in, because they’re afraid they’ll get spammed with e-mails and calls.

With agents, you get some people who are not getting offers or traffic, and they’re trying to figure out a way to appease their clients. Saying you’ll do an open house is one way of trying to do that. The hard thing is when the seller asks, “What happened to those six people who came by? Did you follow up with them?”, when so many of these visitors don’t want to sign in, or they sign in with a false name.

I don’t think public open houses are very effective unless you’re looking at something like a single-family or a townhouse in an area that has a lot of appeal. If you try to do open houses in condos, like a high-rise condo, where you can’t do signage or put a tent out front, you’ll probably only get a couple of people. There may be people doing it, but I don’t know if it’s working the way they had hoped.

To the Realtors and sellers in our audience: Do you have any anecdotes or advice about open houses in today’s market? Are you seeing more public opens on the higher end? And are you seeing more buyers walking in alone, instead of with agents?

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