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People hang out at Apple stores. Starbucks’ seating is never empty. The local car dealer provides a work-ready mini-office while you wait. Yet nobody wants to go to the local REALTOR’s open house?

Why do some customers linger at a place of business, while others rush through? That’s the critical question to any business with a retail location, regardless of industry. In real estate, the retail location isn’t the branch office, because people down the sidewalk these days are looking at their smartphone, not bits of paper taped to shop windows. Rather, the retail location – the place where the “goods are on display” is the listing itself. And in real estate, not only do we make it hard to actually come see the goods, but once there, we virtually chase people off.

Which makes me wonder: How could we make open houses so compelling, customers would stick around, rather than run right through?

Lots of little ideas come to mind, including:

  • Hold open houses on more days of the week, for longer hours, than Sunday during a narrow period in the afternoon.
  • Create a welcoming experience when people walk or drive up the driveway. Think, the Ritz-Carlton doorman.
  • Engineer an emotional impact on the first step through the door. Beyond cookie smells, consider lighting, sound, even the surface under their feet.
  • Create engagement points throughout the property. Use QR codes on appliances and in special rooms. Connect the QR codes to audio descriptions, video clips, websites and images that save directly to their phones.
  • Incorporate an activity at the event: a chef, a painter, a musician. Find a way to connect the event and the property.
  • Stage a discussion; ask one or two people in your office to come sit in the living room, and just host a casual conversation. Visitors can listen in; or might ask a question of people in a casual discussion.
  • Transform a space into a interactive zone. Setup a printer, wireless access point, laptop or two, and a refreshment station at the kitchen table. Don’t cover it in paper or paraphernalia. Leave it clean, so consumers can sit down and explore. Let them learn more about the home, maps or community, even check their email. Give them every reason to stay as long as they wish.
  • Stop worrying if they’re ready to make an offer, and start worrying if you’ve offered to help enough. Don’t grill them about their intentions, their needs, if they brought their checkbook. Instead, grill them a hamburger, and just listen. Make them feel like they are already at home. (PS: The hamburger is a metaphor. Think about it.)
When I think about the places of business where I’ve lost track of time, they are almost always places where I’ve been emotionally at ease. Sometimes relaxed, other times engaged, frequently active, sometimes left entirely alone. I’ve lost track of time on a Lufthansa to Munich, forgetting for hours that I was sitting on a plane. (Admittedly, I couldn’t leave.) I’ve spent an entire morning at a coffee shop, comfortably blogging rather than at my own office. I’ve wandered the halls of an art museum, a clothing store, a car dealer, at Tiffany’s.  Sure, they are different products than a house; but supposedly none is more important a purchase.

 

Even so, if these companies take such pains to roll out the red carpet and keep us on it, we might spend a little time ourselves asking what we do to welcome, engage and encourage our customers to stick around for a few extra minutes at our open houses.

 

Now wouldn’t that be an irony? Most real estate professionals lament the difficulty of getting people to show up to open houses. It has long been thought people didn’t come because they didn’t know about them. What if it turns out to be something different? It would be ironic indeed, if the reason buyers don’t attend open houses is that, once there, the experience does little to invite them to stay before sending them out the door with a lovely printed flyer.