How “Open” Is An Open House?

I mean, if the Realtor tied a rope to you and your partner, and escorted you through the house without allowing you to move more than eighteen inches away, would you truly feel free?

I can’t believe some of what I see going on at open houses these days, and it all culminated with a viewing I did at an east end house this past Sunday…

Open House Sign

Oh boy.  I feel that this post could go either way…

It’s one of those posts that when I sit down to write it, I know I’m going to catch some flak the next day.  In this case, however, I don’t think it’s the readers that will sling mud (they hurt my feelings the most…..), but rather my industry colleagues who might not like what I have to say.

I also think, however, that there’s two sides to this coin, and you could argue either way.

What I wanted to talk about today is the invasion of privacy, boorish salesperson tactics, and complete lack of dignity that some Realtors display at open houses these days.

That’s my sentiment, but my opponents will be quick to disagree.  They’ll side with the home-owner, use them as the scapegoat, and use them as a reason to justify their actions.

But a I’m talking in euphemisms here, let me start from the beginning…

Last week, I met with a new buyer client at her condo, and along with her boyfriend, the two of them told me that they’d been looking at houses off-and-on for the last year, and that they’d been to a slew of open houses.

The lady told me that she receives emails from about a dozen Realtors, on the regular, and that even as she emails back and says “please remove me from your mailing list,” the emails continue at roughly the same pace.

I asked her, “So why do you put your real name down on those open house sign-in sheets?  Don’t you have a standard fake?”

I remember doing my very first open house back in 2004, and a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs came through with his parents (he was about 22-years-old and mommy and daddy were basically helping him find a dorm), and when I asked him to sign in, he wrote “John Smith.”

A friend of my sister’s used to tell me how she wrote “Anne Gables” each and every time she went into an open house, which was something she did every weekend, as her favorite past-time was “open housing.”

Right or wrong, the standard-fake name has been around a long time, and it’s not like Elaine Benes of Seinfeld invented it in the 90’s, when giving her (fake) phone number to undesirable men asking for her coveted digits.

So after I asked my new client why she felt the need to give an open-house-sitting-Realtor her true name and phone number, she said, “Because they ID me, every time.”

Hold the phone, for a moment.

They ID you?  You mean, like, at the LCBO, or at a bar, or at Nexus?

“I walk inside, and the Realtor gives me smile, and asks for a driver’s license,” the lady told me.

I wasn’t sure if she was kidding or not.  I mean, I knew she wasn’t kidding, because there wasn’t any point to joking around, but at the same time, I couldn’t possibly believe this was real.

Let’s drift off for a moment, and explore why agents put out an “Open House Sign-In Sheet.”

Why do you think they do this, hmmm?

Ask the agent, and they’ll tell you that it’s for safety, of course!

The seller wants to know who is coming into their home, and they have a right to!  It’s their house, and to enter is a privilege, not a right.  They should be able to keep track of every individual, and this means getting a name, address, phone number, AND, making sure this information is accurate by getting a piece of photo ID.

Agree?  Yes?  No?

I agree, in principal.  But only in principal, because as you might guess, I don’t think this is the true reason why Realtors have people sign-in.

This is where I start to lose some of my industry colleagues, who will wonder why I’m not towing the company line, and instead, am giving away trade secrets.

But use your common sense, folks.  If “John Doe” has a listing, and his name is on the FOR SALE sign, and “Bob Smith” is doing the open house, do you think that he is:

a) There to sell the property
b) There to meet buyers and sign up clients

What I’m seeing in 2013’s real estate market is Realtors sitting at open houses and forcing people to give a blood sample as soon as they walk in the door, not because they need to identify people coming inside the house, in case of a theft, or a scratch on the hardwood floor, but rather because they are using the “rules” to justify their hard-sell tactics of picking up clients.

I put “rules” in quotations because technically, it is a rule.

Have you been to an open house where there is a laminated white sign, with bright red lettering that says something to the effect of, “RECO rules require individuals attending open houses to provide identification”?

I’m paraphrasing here, and I searched long and hard for a photo of the sign, but it’s to no avail.  Nevertheless, some Realtors sitting at open houses will produce those signs that TREB or OREA make, and sit next to them when people walk in.

When I sit at an open house, I don’t even bother putting an open house sign-in sheet on the counter.

It’s not because I’m failing to protect the interests of my sellers, because to be perfectly honest, I think those sign-ins are nothing but an attempt by the agent to solicit buyers.

Let’s be honest here: this isn’t about protecting home-owners, it’s just a rouse to produce personal information from passer-byers, and nothing more.

I’m somewhat fortunate that about 90% of my business comes from this blog, of from referrals from existing or past clients.  I don’t work open houses to try and solicit buyers, but rather to try and put the best spin on the property for my sellers.

My fear, however, is that 7/10 open houses aren’t worked by the listing agent, but instead, by a rookie agent, or an aggressive agent, who is only there to meet people and attempt to secure them as a client.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that; after all, we are in sales, and that is a great way to go after new business.  But it’s the tactics of securing somebody’s personal information that rubs me the wrong way.

I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear: I do believe that to attend an open house, as a member of the public, is, in fact, a privilege, and not a right.  I don’t like the way that many people trod through a house, acting like it’s their God-given right to come and go as they please, just because the sign “OPEN HOUSE” sits out front.  But at the same time, I don’t like the harassment that’s going on by many of the agents sitting at these open houses, after using RECO “rules” to produce contact information from potential buyers.

I have a client who I’ve been working with for five months, and he and his fiancee attend open houses on weekends, and provide their true, personal information, when asked.

He has gone as far as to produce one of my business cards, to physically hand to the agent working the open house, but time and time again, these agents take the email address and mailing address that my client provides, and start sending him spam and junkmail.

On Sunday afternoon, I took a client to see a property in the east end, at 3:00pm, which happened to fall during the 2-4pm open house time.  While we were inside, I saw the Realtor who was sitting the open house ask somebody for his driver’s license.

No harm, right?

The gentleman provided his driver’s licence, and the Realtor wrote down his name, and address, and then surprisingly, inquired, “Is this your current address?”

Isn’t that what police officers ask when they pull somebody over for speeding?

The gentleman confirmed that it was his current address, and then she asked, “Do you have any other identification?”  He sheepishly smiled, and said, “Ummm, sorry, that’s all I have with my address on it.  I have a credit card with my name though.”

She declined the offer, and asked for his phone number, which he gave to her without hesitation.

What happened next, was in a word: amazing.

She got out her cell phone, and called the number that he gave her.

His cell phone started ringing, and she smiled, and said, “Okay, great, have a look through the house, and let me know if you have any questions.”

Ladies and gentleman, please, answer me this: have we gone too far?

I understand the need to protect the interests of the home-owner, look after their dwelling and its contents, and ensure that we track who is coming in and out of the house.

But at what point are we just leeches, looking to suck blood from the necks of the willing?

I was embarrassed for the Realtor that I described above, and I honestly felt like the clients I was with, who witnessed that interaction, might have looked at me slightly different afterward.

Whether you are an active Realtor, or a member of the public looking to purchase a home, surely you must agree that there is a happy medium, and middle-ground, between protecting vulnerable home-owners and exercising a salesperson’s right to try and solicit business, no?

The problem, it seems, is that I have no idea what that happy medium is.

And even if I did, I would have absolutely no idea how to implement it…


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  1. Melanie Pearce says:

    Love this, agree with it and thanks! From a realtor in London, Ontario. =D

  2. Brad says:

    Thanks to the author for a balanced perspective. When you look at the comment below from Bill McGowan anyone can clearly see the only purpose for collecting valid photo id is for the sole purpose of network expansion and sales marketing, otherwise salespersons would require photo id from ALL who walk through the door. It is a sales tactic only. I would not even have a problem with collecting information that way if it was stately clearly it was for lead generation, not being deceptive, and claiming it is about household security and safety.

  3. Bill McGowan says:

    I’ve been requiring visitors “unaccompanied by an agent” to produce a valid photo ID upon entering my open houses for over 10 years now.

    Have 3-4 of these LAMINATED and clearly visible for guests to see prior to entering the property. Then, once inside, have one more “different sign” that says something like “Please have your valid photo ID ready for me. Thank you!”

    Common “push-back” comments from nay-sayers: “Well…I’ve been to hundreds of open houses in my lifetime and NEVER had anyone ask me for my photo ID!” RESPONSE: (in a humorous but clear tone) “Well, I’m very honored to be your FIRST!”

    NOTE: ask for photo ID for EVERYone…particularly if folks of various ethnic backgrounds are in attendance.

    Be poised, confident, CALM, remember: YOU are in-charge of the safety and security of the home, NOT the visitor.

    Another comment I use: “I take photo ID for the safety of the home-owner’s belongings, my safety, and the safety of all open house guests”.

    In 2016, it should not be considered unreasonable to ask a stranger to produce a valid photo ID before that visitor is allowed into another stranger’s home. Common sense.

    The fact that other open house agents are “living in the dark ages” and possibly subjecting themselves to risk is THEIR business. MY business is protecting my client’s home and my safety.

    PUSH-BACK comment once heard in Belmont, Mass. OH I did years ago: “We don’t do that (i.e. show a photo ID to a listing agent). MY RESPONSE WAS: “Well, you’re going to do it for THIS open house if you want to see it”. Their response: “What are you going to do, throw us out??

    My response: “I think you’ll be gracious enough to ‘get it’ and either show me an ID or leave under your own power!” (BTW: I’m 6’3″ tall and weigh between 225-275 lbs)

    The KEY is to give AMPLE advanced warning, no “ambushing” them once they’re inside. That would be unfair.

    Be careful to let the visitor know you’re just going to JOT-DOWN their address and give ID right back to them. Learn to write FAST. Smile…SMILE some more, and make them feel like it’s NORMAL and the right thing to do.

    Happy to do a conference call during any of your office meeting to take questions and share experiences of this tactic.

    BTW: during a listing presentation, when I whip-out the laminated “Photo ID” notice to my prospective clients, they WAKE UP and LOVE it!

  4. Marc says:

    I believe the unsettling feeling that this safety measure can resinate is dependent on the way the identification is requested. I visited an open house recently and the moment we got out of the car the sales rep had asked “can I have your licenses to photograph please”. It was requested prior to offering a business card or even fully introducing himself. The intentions were so clearly to solicit future business and the second I had showed hesitation he provided the alternative of signing a buyer representation agreement. There was also something invasive about requiring to photograph the license. That being said- I would have felt a lot more comfortable offering the document if he had provided me a card, explained the procedure and wrote the information down rather than carding me like a police officer. It definitely put us on the defensive and set a tone for the showing.

  5. Shaqir says:

    I agree with photo ID: That way we know who is who, please do not be afraid of showing your photo ID. otherwise if no photo ID and we get fake Phone numbers, emails address and a violence happened how would the police will find out ????? in this case every agent should use recording cameras like shopping malls?
    and the agent should ask if guest like to know the sold price or inspection report or etc..? if they said no then that is fine.
    remember both parties must follow roles.

  6. bugeyedbrit says:

    looked at quite a few houses last summer, and don’t recall ever being asked for id, or email addresses, no-one seemed bothered, it seems odd to me, but I appreciate that not all ‘tyre kickers’ are actually either looking to buy a house (or may in fact be casing the joint!!).

  7. Jorge says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking for proper ID. I agree that there has been too many instances of theft, damage or assaults. If you have nothing to hide then why not show your proper ID. Now as far as asking for phone # or email, that I have a problem with. If you want to leave it great but if not then you should not be forced to do it. When I’m ready to sell and would like to have open houses, I will ask my realtor to ask for photo ID before anybody starts going through my house. If they don’t like it then they can make a private appointment. As far as the agent asking for more ID and calling his cell, she went too far, way too far.

  8. John says:

    maybe a bit naive on my part, but why not complain to the owner? cant possibly be that hard to get the contact info…

  9. JC says:

    Not to mention David, you must know that we occasionally get messages through TREB of people stealing at Open Houses… usually a couple…one will create a diversion while the other is off in another room going through drawers and whatnot.

    Asking to see Identification and having a record of it certainly eliminates most thieves from entering and doing their thing.

  10. JC says:

    Apologies in advance for a long-winded reply.

    I’m probably one of the few that only do open houses to actually sell the house. I couldn’t care less about picking up clients from open houses. That in my mind, is not why I’m there.

    That said, I have had a number of clients say that they want people to sign in as they want to know who has been through. And I’m sure the Police investigating any number of break-ins, thefts and assaults (or worse) would probably appreciate having that list.

    We no longer live in the 1950s, where everyone is nice and no one would think of doing something bad to someone else. I’ve had visitors get abusive, and physically push me out of the way. Another visitor who witnessed this asked me if I wanted them to call the Police. You don’t want to provide valid ID? Don’t come in.

    I suspect it’s also a little different if you are a single female Realtor doing an open house. Several years back when a Mississauga Realtor was murdered, I spent a many weekends helping female colleagues at their Open Houses.

    I listed my own home for sale a few years back and was appalled at the unprofessionalism and behavior of so-called “professionals” who showed my home. Is it telling that if I was hiring someone else to do it, I’d ask one of only TWO Realtors in my office of over 100 agents to work for me? And I’d insist on having visitors sign in.

    When I am doing an Open House, I am representing the seller and responsible for what happens then, and as a result of the Open House. In my opinion, if you want the privilege of going through someone else’s home at an open house, be prepared to provide identification to me when you enter. If you don’t want to and I ask you to leave, leave. Don’t refuse and then proceed through the house, as you are then trespassing and I WILL call the Police.

    I have found that the people who refuse to provide ID are generally people who are just being nosey and have no intention of purchasing. I’ve also heard comments along the lines of “what a good idea… I wouldn’t want to be alone in a house with strangers who refuse to identify themselves” from people attending Open Houses.

    Now all this being said, it also behooves the Agent doing the Open House to take peoples names off mailing lists if they ask. That’s why I have a checkbox that asks “yes or no” as to whether they want me to contact them. I only follow up with those that indicate yes (and thats only about 1 in 10)

    Would I have called the guys cell phone number while he’s standing there? No. Is it a little over the top? Perhaps, but I understand the reasoning for doing so.

    1. @ JC

      No apologies necessary – this was quite thorough!

      I agree with everything that you said about professionalism, and I too have horror stories about people getting abusive (verbally and physically) with myself or somebody else in the house, asking somebody to leave, etc.

      But there has to be a common ground between protecting the interests of the home-owners, and shaking people down for contact information so that you can harrass them into being a client.

  11. Jeff says:

    I’ve been to my share of open houses and I can often tell when the agent on duty is more interested in collecting contacts than showing the property. For example, I went to an open house in Riverside a few months ago and the agent had a fancy iPad app collecting sign-in information. I then walked through the house to take a look. When I was leaving, I asked a few very very basic questions that I would expect any listing agent (or their associate) to know. I asked if the roof was flat or peaked, if the wiring was updated, and if a survey was available (I had noticed some possible encroachment issues in the backyard). Guess what? The answer to all 3 questions was “I don’t know”. That’s right – no idea if the roof was flat or peaked. Amazing. Not only that, but there was no offer to find the answers and get back to me. Just “I don’t know”. The agent was just there to get contacts.

  12. J says:

    Wow, I’ve never heard of this and as someone who has purchased and sold a home in the last year and is still looking for an investment property, I’ve been to more than my share of open houses, not to mention having a bunch of them at my own home. What has annoyed me at open houses are agents whose behaviour, in my opinion, is not very professional. For instance, this weekend I was at a fairly busy open house and the agent spent the whole time on an obviously personal phone call. Another agent sat and smoked on the front porch. It seems that some people don’t consider hosting an open house to mean that they are “working”!

  13. Chris says:

    I’ve attended a fair number of open houses and this has never happened to me. Rest assured, though – if it does, I will promptly turn around and leave.