Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Let Customers Put their Feet Up

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.
  • Russ Bergeron

    Not in my house you’re not!

  • Russ Bergeron

    What is the major difference between the places where you have become “emotionally at ease” and an open house. The open house is free – all those other places you are spending some cash, sometimes a significant amount of cash. And how many properties lend themselves to the outlay of expense and resources that you describe?  The luxury market maybe, but not the median priced home.

  • All due respect, Russ, but I’m not required to purchase anything at Apple if I need to use one of their Macs or to investigate how the iPad may work for my business. With Starbucks, the amount I spend on coffee is not a determinant to how much time I can sit at a table. What is wrong with suggesting a different format for an open house with your seller of said house hasn’t sold in x amount of days and the listing is becoming stale? 

  • While I agree with Russ to some extent I liked reading some creative ideas about Open Houses for a change. I especially like the QR code idea, it could be made interactive and fun. Very few in my market are using QR readers, so it would have a real ‘WOW’ effect. “Scan here for a special message” from the seller. Then post a video on your YouTube channel of the seller warmly explaining they were transferred and how they’ve always loved the house and hate to leave, etc. 

  • Steve Stone

    I agree Matthew. My wife and I sell real estate way down at the bottom of the world in New Zealand. It is a hugely competitive  market and you have to differentiate yourselves to stand out. Our open homes are all about providing a pleasant experience, but mostly about providing information. We have open homes for all of our properties on Saturdays and Sundays, for around an hour. And we get between 20 and 200 (yes, that is 200) people through each weekend. We provide an information pack for each property, not just all the legal stuff, but a map of the local area, school zones…. anything that a prospective buyer may want to know about not just the house, but the area. We also have lolipops and balloons for the kids, and we engage everyone with a welcoming smile as they walk in.
    I think your QR code idea is great. We use them on signboards and leaflets to take buyers to our website ( but using them inside the house is definitley one we will try.
    Oh, and Russ, our properties range from $300,000 to $5m, and we do the same for EVRY property we market.