Just How “Open” Is an Open House?


6 minute read

July 18, 2011

I saw a few things at open houses these past couple weekends that got under my skin a little bit, but what else is new?

I feel as if the general public doesn’t respect that any given house is also somebody’s home, and they feel it’s their right to do as they see fit…

I’ve written a few choice pieces on this subject before; most of which were comical in nature.

There are all “kinds” of people who attend open houses, many of which are characters you just want to follow around and watch so that you can do impressions of them later that night when you’ve had a few drinks at a dinner party.

There’s the nosey neighbours and my favourite – the hobbyists who collect feature sheets and keep track of every open house within a ten block radius of where they live.

Normally, I can tolerate these people and all others that come through the front doors of somebody’s home.

But in the last few years, or maybe it’s an even newer trend than that, I feel as if the public has lost all respect for the homeowner.

I feel as if the public is overly-entitled.  Perhaps they’re a little bitter as well.  I know that the market is red-hot and has been increasing for the last sixteen years, but it seems to me that buyers now feel that as long as sellers are getting top dollar for their homes, then they can disrespect the home, seller, agent, and the entire listing process.

I was at an open house on Saturday afternoon with a client, and it was pretty slow overall.  We were one of two groups in the house, but the other group consisted of a Realtor, a young couple, and a contractor.

This other couple was standing in the kitchen, and just had this “vibe” about them as if they had a right to be left undisturbed.

They didn’t make any attempt to keep their voices down, and what’s worse is they were being incredibly negative about the home.

The contractor was recommending gutting the entire kitchen, which likely got about a C+ or B- grade in my opinion.  It was servicable to about 50% of the buyer pool, but I didn’t think it needed to be “gutted.”  Maybe just “improved.”

The young lady had the look of a complete snob who has had everything handed to her in life, and she didn’t hold back anything about the kitchen.

“What were they thinking with these counter-tops, seriously?  It’s like, if you can’t afford to buy a house and properly finish it, then don’t buy it in the first place.”

Keep in mind, they said this as I was walking my clients through the kitchen.  Not to mention, the Realtor was standing only feet away in the dining room.

The girl continued, “I couldn’t live like this.  We’d have to gut this thing down to the studs.  It’s a shame.”

Around this time, the front door opened, and another couple came in; a slightly older couple.

I went downstairs with my clients, and I assumed (and hoped) that when I returned, the snobby couple would be gone.  Three or four minutes later, not only was the snobby couple still there, but the older couple was in the kitchen as well.

Do you think that the snobby couple kept their thoughts and opinions to themselves as this older couple made their way through?


The older couple tried to shuffle past, and the gentleman made a joke, like, “Ooops! ‘Scuse us!  Tight squeeze isn’t it?”

The Realtor with the young couple shot back, “Yeah tell me about it.  Tiny kitchen, narrow stairs.  How do they live like this?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I wanted to smack them.  All of them.

We made our way through the dining room and up onto the second floor, and after exploring the three bedrooms and one bathroom, we came back down.  The Realtor was standing in the living room just watching this young couple, their agent, and their contractor.

She was listening to them discuss tearing down the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room, and she seemed to be shaking her head.

I asked her, “How long have they been here?”

She said, “They were here when I arrived shortly before 2PM.”

It was now almost 3:30PM, so I told the Realtor, “So tell them to leave.”

She chuckled as if I was joking, and I said, “Seriously.  Get them out of here.  They’re being rude, negative, and they’re talking loudly about the house when other potential buyers are within earshot.  Tell them that if they want to do a home inspection or whatever it is they think they’re doing right now, they can book an appointment through your office and come back when 20 people aren’t trekking through the house with wide-eyes and optimism.”

She nodded, but I’m sure she was just placating me.

We left, and this bothered me for the rest of the day.

If this was my listing and I was doing the open house, I would have kicked them out after the first negative comment was made above a whisper.

It’s my JOB to sell this house, and I’m working for the seller.  I have to act as if the seller is sitting right there with me, and there’s no way that the seller would condone some snobby girl laughing about the state of the kitchen as other potential buyers walk by.

That couple didn’t have any right to be in the house.  It was a priviledge.

Their Realtor should have known better, but this city is full of crappy Realtors, so I won’t hold my breath for fear of asphxiation.

The public needs to realize that this is somebody’s home and it’s not just a doll-house that they can come in and adjust however they see fit.  They need to respect the homeowners, the Realtor doing the open house, and the other people who are viewing the home.

Two weekends ago on a Sunday, I was looking at a house in Leslieville around 1:30PM and I went to leave with my client at 2:00PM or so.

As I approached the front door, a man walked in and said, “Hello.”

I paused and then said, “Are you showing?”

He said, “Showing what?”

I replied, “Are you showing the home?  You’re an agent, right?”

He said, “Oh, ha, no, no.  I’m just here for the open house.”

It was 2:00PM and if there was an open house from 2-4PM, I didn’t know about it.  I was showing the property to a buyer-client during an appointment that I had booked through the listing brokerage, and I was now going to lock up the house and leave.

I told the man, “Oh well I’m just an agent showing the house so you’ll have to step outside and wait for the listing agent to get here.”

He sighed and said, “Well it’s 2PM – there’s an open house.  What’s the difference?  It’s not like I’m going to steal anything.  God.”

It wasn’t exactly a fight to get him out, but I felt like I was shooing a cat out the front door.

He stepped outside the front door, but only about one foot outside.  I could feel him breathing down my neck as I locked the door and put the key back in the lockbox.

He had his arms crossed over his chest – like he was really pissed.  He stared me down as I descended the front steps and walked with my client down the block.

This same thing almost happened again this past Saturday when a young couple walked into a Bloor West home as I was showing it to my clients.  It was actually another Realtor (showing the home at the same time as me) who said, “Hey – that couple is trying to get into the house as I assume there’s an open house planned for this afternoon.  I just locked the front door to make sure they don’t come in – so try and shut the door on your way out.”

I knew this agent.  He’s a broker/owner of a downtown firm, and he did exactly as he ought to have done.

I felt as if this couple was also starring me and my clients down as we walked to our cars.

Just because there is an open house scheduled on a Saturday or Sunday does not give you the right to attend at 1:30PM or 4:30PM.  If the agent is ten minutes late, it’s not your RIGHT to ask them where the hell they get off showing up after the scheduled start time.  Airplanes are late all the time, and they’re a helluva lot more important than open houses!

Don’t even get me started on the Starbucks crowd that walks over new berber carpet in their Birkenstocks while bobbing their tea-bags with little fear of spilling a beverage on somebody else’s floor.  It’s not like they have to clean in up themselves, right?

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. Vincenit

    at 7:12 am

    Personally yeah the young couple is a snob and the girl likely some biatch but what they were doing was very smart; trying to turn off other potential buyers and making the house seem worse than it is to try to get a better price if they do put an offer in.

    I’d blame the agent holding the open house first and foremost.

  2. Michael

    at 7:24 am

    That girl who was talking loudly in the kitchen was likely replaced by the washing machine or electric iron. Those who would otherwise have fallen below average IQ, or have been indecent wouldn’t under normal circumstances be found in a house buying situation. With the comfortable lives we all live and with all the amenities we take for granted, we are all living like royalty. It’s natural these types of people would be crawling out of the woodwork. The bar is set low.

    Just take heart that you didn’t grow up that way and instead live an enlightened life filled with thought provoking fulfillment.

  3. Joe Q.

    at 9:07 am

    Nicely put, David. I’ve seen the same thing (though not as extreme) at a number of recent open houses I’ve attended.

    On the buyers side, what frustrates me to no end are “phantom” open houses that are advertised online but don’t actually exist (you show up and the place is locked up tight). And on the flip-side, I can never understand why so many real open houses are NOT advertised on the property’s MLS page.

  4. Pen

    at 11:02 am

    Lack of etiquette is my pet peeve with open houses too David. But it’s not just the visitors but the REALTORS as well.

    I won’t allow either to come into my open houses with shoes on, drink or pet in hand, sit on the beds, use the facilities or throw their coats on the furniture. I’ll always get looks of ‘how dare you?’ and even the snide remark but that’s too bad, it’s still my client’s property and it will be respected. I’ll go out of my way to settle the rambunctious kids that sometimes accompany them but that is the extent of my tolerance. And I’ve asked people to leave.

    Were I The REALTOR at the first OH, I would have called the other agent aside and politely told him that they are clogging the kitchen to please move on through the rest of the house or make another appointment. Had they continued, then I would have been right beside him stating that I know they are trying to reduce any competition they may have and it won’t work or that I’ll be sure to tell my client that there is one couple who does not like their home.

    It’s always good and safe practice to lock the door behind you when showing and get a card from the REALTORS coming through while you’re there.

  5. Stan

    at 11:33 am

    I went to an open house a few weeks ago in Bloor-West. It was quite busy, 10-15+ people came through in the 10 minutes I was there…AMAZINGLY, the Realtor insisted we all wait for a guided tour (“This house has some great features that I have to point out”)…Don’t want to be overly critical -maybe that is ‘protocol’ sometimes but it was really annoying. As more and more people gathered in the foyer (3,then 5, then 8…) an assistant would repeat “If you don’t mind just waiting here, the listing agent is taking another group around, she’ll be back in a few minutes. At some point when there was 10 of us, the crowd just burst past the assistant. When the agent returned, she looked annoyed, the assistant said “I tried to keep them together.”

  6. Geoff

    at 12:36 pm

    To me it’s about respect both ways. My wife and I saw many houses in our job search that with just a glace at the other we knew it was time to go without making nasty comments.

    But that respect also means that if there is an open house scheduled at 1:30pm or 4:30pm that the realtor should be there on time. Especially if you have children you don’t have infinite amounts of time – babysitters are only available for so long etc that there’s no excuse for not making an appointment on time or sending a representative instead.

  7. Anonymous

    at 1:12 pm

    A certain close relative listed her residence for sale (she couldn’t bear the grief of returning to a home where she spent so many happy years of marriage) shortly after she lost her spouse to a devastating disease. The spouse was a musician and upon the completion of the first home showing (not an open house), said relative returned to discover that the piano that was the pride and joy of her deceased spouse’s life was badly damaged. It seems that the clients who walked through the house decided it would be fun to bang on and damage said instrument. My relative was devastated and there was really nothing she could do about it.

  8. Kyle

    at 5:07 pm

    Friends don’t let friends have public open houses. They really only serve to benefit the agent, gawkers and nosey neighbours, not the sellers. Say yes to agent open houses, but just say no to public open houses.

  9. George

    at 6:22 pm

    My family had an open house years ago. Someone had used our bathroom, which wouldn’t have been a huge problem, except they had left some solid waste on the toilet seat. Some people are just inconsiderate jerks.

    From the post:
    “I have to act as if the seller is sitting right there with me…”

    Perfect attitude!

  10. Thcondofitz

    at 12:13 am

    I’ve had an agent try to take the rest of my stack of feature sheets. I only had been open for an hour and was expecting plenty more visitors. When I caught her, she calmly explained that she knew a lot of people interested and that I should be happy that someone else is going the extra mile to promote my listing. I took them out of her hands and put the 30-40 sheets back on the display, gave her two and told her to send the link to my website. I asked for her card, but she didn’t have one. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a competing listing. I understand times are rough for some of us out there, but sabotaging an other listing? Come on now.

  11. Megan

    at 12:39 pm

    I had a terrible person who just stormed in, didnt wanted to sign in any sheets or tell me about them. I figured he wasn’t a Realtor but the guy was so sloppy, it was embarrasing! His pants were rolling down which were also torn and his car was all packed up with boxes. Just out of sheer curiousity and for the safety of my client’s belongings I decided to follow him through the entire house. At one point, I felt like he was waiting to release his anger on someone (even me). Thank God I kicked him out saying I am shutting my open house! *chuckles* Some people are just better ignored and I completely agree with you David, when you say it is their *Privilege * not a right to see the property.

    By the way, I saw your stand up display stand in Toronto a few weeks ago!

  12. Sokol

    at 10:27 am

    Not all people are polite (especially in B2C world) and it’s usually hard to remain nice trying to push them.
    Are you going to fight with them, or call police?
    Either way is not something you want to see in your open house.

    Asking for a name/phone/contact information at the very beginning may probably help people feeling not anonymous. I think taking out shoes will also give visitors feeling it’s someone’s house but not a public place.

  13. The Pinch

    at 9:53 pm

    I was surprised this afternoon to discover on my For Sale sign that I am having an open house this Sunday. I offered to host a reception for his brokerage, but specifically asked for no public open house because I have a stalker. Its all over MLS and multiple websites. I just texted him to say that he was personally responsible for the outcome.

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