What Is The Point Of The Open House?


9 minute read

March 27, 2023

More important now than ever before?

Okay, maybe that was a stretch on my part.

After all, there was a time before the Internet when an open house was the first look at a property.

While the older agents in your office might not impress you with their questions about how to “do a Twitter,” or when they try to fax something on the printer, or when they put a Tide Pod in the Keurig, they are great for stories about yesteryear.  And these stories are important!  They are a constant reminder of just how good you have it.  In fact, it’s a reminder of how good we all have it.

I was doing a seminar last week and I found myself (speaking of older agents…) essentially giving an impromptu history of the Internet.

“The first time I’d heard of ‘the internet’ was in 1995,” I told them.  “We got our first 14.4kb dial-up modem in 1996,” I added, before explaining that I had never used a cable modem until 2001.

But I started in real estate in 2004.

So the cable modem only existed for three years before I got into the business?

That’s mind-numbing.

Think about how we look at properties today.  Think about the 40 high-resolution, colour photos we see on the MLS listing, then consider the Matterport 3D walkthrough.

Now think about how they sold real estate in the 1980’s.

Your real-a-tor came to your house at 6:30pm on a weeknight, sat down on the couch, and physically handed you Polaroids of a property listed for sale, which he or she borrowed from the office.

That was your “virtual tour.”  Polaroids.

And that was when you were lucky!

Most of the time, you were shown black-and-white, photocopied pictures of the inside of the house, printed six-per-page on 8.5 x 11 paper.

So when it comes to the open house, alas, it was more important back-in-the-day.

Before the Internet, let alone 3D virtual tours, the open house was when most people saw the property for the very first time.

The COVID-10 pandemic sure changed the way we view properties, and many of the changes from that period are here to stay.

For example, pre-pandemic, 99% of listings allowed “double-bookings,” which is when multiple buyers and agents can view the property at the same time.  Via online bookings, you could book for 6:00pm, but so I could I, and so could another agent.  When the pandemic happened, double-bookings ceased to exist.  Incredibly, most properties still don’t allow double-bookings today.

Open houses were completely shut down during the pandemic.  Eventually, real estate was deemed an “essential service,” and open houses continued, but you’d actually get angry people coming by and yelling at agents for not being safe.

Personally, I was excited to see open houses ramp up again in 2022.  I’ve always believed that open houses are essential in order to maximize the marketability and ultimately the sale price of a property, and in today’s market, we open house every listing we have.

But we still get pushback from our sellers from time to time, and I hear this a lot in agent circles.

There’s nothing wrong with sellers being apprehensive.  There’s nothing wrong with them asking questions.  And in the end, I feel as though we address all the questions, concerns, and then some.

So let me run through the most common questions we get from our sellers, or that we hear other agents have been asked.

I’m not a fan of “Frequently Asked Question” formats, but this is probably the best way for me to also detail typical seller objections to open houses while also explaining the pros-and-cons.

Not only that, I’ll also explain why and how buyer movements throughout the market have necessitated open houses.

I really don’t want an open house.  Can you honestly tell me that it’s going to affect my sale?

You will probably never see a direct impact on your eventual sale price, since nobody is going to stop you on the street and say, “I was interested in your house, and I would have paid more than you sold for, but I wasn’t able to access the open house.”

This is what I’ve said to sellers in the past, and one person told me, “Okay, great, so then we won’t do the open house, since I’ll never know if I sold for less.”

He missed the point.

Yes, it’s going to affect your sale price, statistically-speaking.

If you’re a seller who ends up with five offers on your property, after not doing an open house, I would think that somewhere out there, there’s a sixth buyer who didn’t see the property on the weekend, and/or saw something else they liked more, and/or who saw the property with their agent during the week, but wanted to head back for a second viewing on the weekend – and didn’t.

More to the point: what’s stopping you from hosting an open house?  What’s your objection?

If you admit that there is something to gain, then you merely need to weigh that against what you have to lose.

The rest of the questions will demonstrate how sellers fare in that equation…

Who’s actually coming to an open house?


Lots and lots of buyers.

We ran an open house this weekend for a west end townhouse.  During the week, we had 34 agent-showings booked through MLS but then we had probably another twenty groups come through the open house.  Some were buyers with agents who came by and didn’t book appointments, and some were, more importantly, buyers who saw the property during the week (ie. one of the 34) but were now seeing it for a second time.

Think about how important that is!

By holding an open house on Saturday and Sunday from 2-4pm, you’re providing an opportunity for buyers to come back.

Some of these buyers have bad and/or lazy agents.  You need to get out ahead of that!

We also often see the parents of buyers heading through the open house on the weekend.  This happened twice at our townhouse on the weekend and both sets of parents were clearly the bigger stakeholders in this case, as the buyers were young and needed financial assistance.  So without that open house, would the parents have come?  Would the parents have fronted the cash?  Would we have those two offers?

And do you know who else comes through open houses?

Buyers who didn’t know they were buyers!

We’ve had listings where people are literally walking through the neighbourhood, see the ‘open house’ sign, come inside, and buy the house.  That’s not an urban legend, folks.  I always say, “Some buyers don’t know they’re active until they’re signing an offer.”  You need to provide these people with the opportunity.

I’ve had recent sellers ask me, “Aren’t the people who come through open houses just all lookey-loos?”


In fact, very few.

If sellers knew the type of people that come through these open houses, and already recognized where we are in this market, they would never dare ask if we should even host one.

I don’t like the idea of my neighbours coming through my house.  Is there anything we can do to stop them?

There’s something really dystopian about this mindset.

We all live together in harmony.  Day in, day out.

However, when Jane’s house is listed for sale, we go inside and stalk the shit out of her!  Now is our chance!  Come on, everybody!  Bring the whole village!

The truth is: most of your neighbours find it as weird to go through your house as you believe it is for them to do so.  The neighbours that you actually know, that is.  But people from the next block over, or down the way, or folks you don’t actually know might want to see the house because they’re curious as to what it’s going to sell for.  They might be contemplating a sale themselves, or they might have family or friends that they want to move into the area.  But this isn’t a bad thing.

I often tell clients, “Once you make the decision to sell, your house goes from a ‘home’ to an ‘asset’ overnight.”

And once you take some of the emotion out of it, you won’t care who’s coming and going.

How do you know who’s coming through?  Do you ask for identification?

The first open house I ever ran was on Felbrigg Avenue in the Cricket Club.

A young member of the Toronto Maple Leafs came into the open house with his parents.

I greeted him and said, “Would you mind signing in?”

He did, and then when he and his parents went upstairs, I checked the sign-in.

The name he left was “Wayne Howe.”

See what he did there?  Clever!

If you ask people to sign in, most have no problem doing so.  But you’re going to have people that grovel, or some that put fake information, or some that refuse.

The truth is, if somebody refuses, you can ask them to leave.  As I’ll explain later in this blog, it’s nobody’s right to enter somebody else’s home.

Every agent runs his or her open house differently and when it comes to sign-in and identification, there are all kinds of practices.

I remember taking clients through an open house in the west end years ago and the listing agent, who is very aggressive, was asking people to write down their name, address, and cell phone number, and then she was calling the number to see if the phone in their pocket rang.  Once she saw it was their phone, she said, “Okay, go through.”  To those who didn’t produce a ring-tone, she said, “I need your real phone number.  The one in your hand.  Show me, now.”

That would probably make a lot of people walk out, and for good reason.  And what’s more is that she wasn’t doing this to track who was going in and out of the house, in an effort to protect her seller, but rather she wanted personal contact information to solicit later on.

When we run open houses, we tell people, “We’d appreciate it if you could sign in just so the seller knows who’s coming in and out of her house.  We won’t call you tonight during dinner, we promise!”

And sellers do want to know who’s coming and going.  Sometimes, peace of mind can be attained with minimal effort.

What if something gets stolen?

Knock on wood, I have run hundreds upon hundreds of open houses over nineteen years and nothing has ever been stolen.

Famous last words, perhaps.  But I know you knocked on wood for me…

We always tell our clients, “We’ve never had anything stolen but, if you have valuables, put them away.”

In fact, since probably 80-90% of our sellers move out of the house for the duration of the staging and listing period, they’re removing their valuables anyways.

What if somebody says something bad about the house?

I’ve had people ask this before in reference to, “What if somebody says something bad about the house – in front of other potential buyers.”

I won’t lie to them.  I say, “That’s the risk you run.”

But if somebody said something bad about the house in front of another potential buyer, you have to realize that the potential buyer would never have been in the property without the open house.

So what’s the harm?

Not only that, you play the odds.  What percentage of society are dickheads?  Wait, maybe we don’t want to depress ourselves today.  But what I mean is: what percentage of people: a) won’t like the house, b) will verbalize it, c) will do it in front of others?

The funny thing is, in this market, buyers who like a house are far more likely to be excited when they overhear somebody else saying something bad about the house than to be deterred.  Why?  Because buyers are happy when they know that others won’t be competing against them.

Do you limit the number of people in the property?

From time to time, open houses can get very busy.

Just as a lifeguard at a pool is incessantly counting the number of folks in the water, we’re always looking at the front door and counting the pairs of shoes.  That’s how you know who’s inside.

Depending on the size of the property, we might close and lock the front door.

When people knock, we’ll open the door and say, “Hello there, we’re at max capacity here, so if you wouldn’t mind waiting a few minutes, that would be great.”

Sometimes, that’s met with opposition.  People say, “I only have a few minutes,” or occasionally, “I’m going so see four other properties, ya know!”  But that doesn’t matter.  We need to balance our clients’ best interest with the security of their home, not to mention, cramming people into the house like sardines into a can isn’t going to help potential buyers see and feel the space.

Do you ever ask people to leave?


In fact, we did this a few weeks ago.

Tara was working an open house and she said two guys came in who she recognized from a previous open house.  She remembered them because they talked openly and poorly about that house.  Sure enough, they started to walk through and talk smack about the finishes, the furniture, and just about everything.

They weren’t talking in front of anybody, so she just left them.  They stayed awhile but once another group walked through, Tara said, “Hey guys, I know you’re just about finished and we have to let some other groups through, so feel free to head to the next house on your list!”

That was polite but they knew what she was saying.  They smiled, sneered, looked around and then laughed.  They’re what we call “professional open housers.”  They do it as a hobby.

Can anybody come through?

Yes.  In theory.

However, I will occasionally remind people: “This is not a house.  It’s somebody’s home.  It’s not a right to enter but rather a privilege.”

So while I or nobody else in my position would seek to discriminate against those who would enter, we also hold the right to deny entry or ask people to leave if there’s a real problem.

Do people use the bathroom?

Last, but not least, my favourite question!

This is sensitive to some but not others.  And the opinions on this will vary.

Also, and not to get too specific here as you polish off that morning croissant, but there’s a difference between somebody quickly relieving themselves in the basement powder room after drinking too much Gatorade and somebody heading up to the master ensuite with a newspaper under his or her arm after a night out at Duff’s Wings…

People use the bathroom at properties for sale all the time.  Constantly.  Sof if you’re a home owner and you want to live in denial, then fine.  But it happens, and personally, I think we’re being childish if we want to pretend that it doesn’t, or seek to prevent it from happening…

So there you have it, folks!

That’s off the top of my head, but I think it’s pretty thorough.

If I’ve missed anything, whether you’re an agent and have been asked other questions, or whether you’re a home owner who has other thoughts, please ask!

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. Marina

    at 7:54 am

    I know it’s a sample size of two, but I agree your neighbours will not go into your open house for giggles. My mom and I will occasionally go into open houses in our respective neighbourhoods, partly to get an idea of the market, and in small part to keep on top or trends or get ideas for a reno or some such. But NEVER with the home of someone we know, even a little bit. It would be weird and stalker-ish. I’d check out the online photos, or course, but going in person would make me feel like a total psycho.

    Also, we bought our house off an open house. It was slightly outside our normal search radius, but we saw it online and wanted to check it out. The second we were done, we both agreed this was the one. Without an open house, who knows where we’d be right now.

  2. Ticker

    at 10:15 am

    Are sellers using hidden cameras to capture information during open houses and scheduled showings?

  3. Joel

    at 12:15 pm

    We almost bought a house we sauntered into during an open house. Definitely worth having.

    When we sold we had cla camera on the front door. If was funny to hear people’s opinions on the house. People who pointed out the camera on the way in had forgotten it was there and were talking infeont of it on the way out.

  4. jerry

    at 6:21 am

    If you own a home and want to maintain your denial, that’s OK. But it does happen, and in my opinion, pretending that it doesn’t or trying to stop it from happening is childish.

    Visit here https://protreeremovalusa.com Tree Removal Services in USA

  5. Angela Wood

    at 12:16 pm

    Many homes have been sold to the public through open houses, most buyers have access to do the sometimes lengthy search long bf ever contacting a Realtor, and Open Houses provide one of the last steps “previewing” the property. Open Houses have evolved, over my career forsure, for me and my clients (sellers expect my to find the buyer) its provides a true test of the frontlines of the local neighbourhood real estate, dependent of course on the Realtor conducting a great Open House. Leave no stone unturned.

  6. Gord McCormick

    at 7:19 am

    As most buyers of our listed properties will be represented by other Representatives or Brokers, an Open House is a great face-to-sales interaction for a listing agent. We get a chance to point out home features that may have been overlooked, get buyer direct feedback and handle objections raised. It also gives us a good feel for buyer interest levels.
    I had a gentleman a few years ago who wanted to start negotiating the price on the spot. that didn’t happen but he did buy it a day or two later with his own agent representing him.
    In addition to the “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” buyers there are also the “I-don’t-want-to-bother-my-agent” buyers and the “I’ll-get-a-better-price-if-no-buyer-agent-is-involved” buyers.

Pick5 is a weekly series comparing and analyzing five residential properties based on price, style, location, and neighbourhood.

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