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It has often been said that is a contact sport. If so, then every opportunity to work closely with consumers is a moment. Real estate professionals know that it’s all about relationships. So it’s important to never let a good moment go to waste. If you’re serious about a career, then selling means more than just showing up. And one place to start selling more is at the Open House.

For whatever reason, a dangerous self-deception has grown into a well-worn cliche in the real estate industry: The customer doesn’t want to be sold. Unfortunately, if we believe this to be true, we’re only going to see more brokers leaving the business. While it may be true that consumers don’t like “hard sell” techniques – the kind of pink-tie-pushy we equate with used car salesmen – it’s dangerous to think there isn’t a place for good sales techniques. In fact, the most successful – and trusted – professionals are always selling. A recent poll of most trusted professions in Australia included jobs that include constant selling – hairdressers, plumbers, bartenders and mechanics all make a living by selling and up-selling their goods. Even sex workers – perhaps the ultimate sales person (and ranked higher than real estate agents in the survey) remind us that sales is the name of the game.

So it’s time to put the contact (so to speak) back into real estate contact management!

For starters, let’s diagnose the typical current sales activity at the typical open house. As a professional open house browser (which helps me identify growth potential for my clients) I’m always looking for the agent who will actually try to sell me their listing. Unfortunately, it’s rare. Most open house experiences with the listing agent (assuming they don’t send their assistant to sit there) go like this:

“Hi, welcome to the open house. Please sign in. Feel free to look around. Here’s a listing sheet. If you have any questions, I’ll be standing right here to answer them for you.”

End of sales presentation.

Does this kind of sales activity happen anywhere else? Maybe retail stores, where the consumer is perfectly capable of picking out a shirt or dress without much sales assistance. Or the convenience store, where clerks mostly avoid making eye contact and begrudgingly tell you where to find the tissue paper. Truth is, most complex purchase decisions require some selling. The hairdresser listens to your “desires” for a new style, then upsells her process, helping you realize how the solution meets your needs. Same with the stock broker or car mechanic. Great salespeople spend the time with the customer, assessing their situation, then offering ideas and solutions as to why their product or service meets those needs.

Yet at most open houses, barely any communication happens between the agent and the browsers. It’s all “hands off” and “non-invasive” in the mistaken belief that the customer actually knows what they are looking at – and why it’s valuable to them. Of course, it’s the kind of non-sales service that does the seller real harm, by losing the opportunity to sell the “un-seen” features and benefits of most homes.

The stuff that buyers really want to know, too.

Most buyers say that their purchase decisions were not made on visible features alone, like room sizes, colors or toilets. Gen Y’er first time buyers are at a double-disadvantage if a non-sales-person is representing the home. Not only do these inexperienced buyers – who have either lived at home or in an apartment – not know what they’re really seeing, they don’t know what they are not seeing either. Items like energy saving windows, new insulation, water treatment, efficient heating and other green features that excite Gen Y’ers aren’t “observable” features to someone who has never owned their own home before.

Thus, the greater need for salemanship when it comes to new buyers especially.

In fact, so many of the deciding factors of homes may go unknown to most people at open houses because even experienced buyers can be distracted or simply misinformed. What someone thinks they know about the neighborhood, what they believe about certain renovations or appliances, or simply what they think they are seeing could be far from the facts. And rarely do these perceptions appear on the listing sheet, that pathetic document of room dimensions and description abbreviations.

Since homes can’t be “test driven” nor returned if they don’t meet the buyer’s needs, sales presentations are even more important at open houses. Ironically, the listing agent probably had a strong sales presentation when it came to getting the listing, but they suddenly think it’s pushy or intrusive to use a presentation with buyers at the open house.

Poor sellers! If you’d only known!

What should a sales-centric open house look like? There are many excellent models to choose from: The computer salesman who starts by asking you what you’ll use the computer for, what kind of programs you need and what kind of experience you have – then proceeds to show you his products’ obvious and hidden features. The investment broker who listens to your financial goals, then matches them up with benefits of his stocks and bonds, explaining how each satisfies your requirements. The hairdresser who reads your emotional desires and suggests cuts and colors you might not have considered on your own.

In each case, the salesperson interacted, listened, and presented. At the open house, it could go the same way.

Start with an opening conversation – perhaps before permitting buyers to wander (unattended, no less) through the house.

Then, take the buyer on an accompanied tour pointing out the many features and benefits of the home. Along the way, ask questions to learn a little about their needs, and try to make connections.

Ironically, it’s exactly what agents do when showing other agent’s houses to buyers during showings. But it rarely happens at the open house of their own listing!

But the listing agent would have a tremendous advantage acocmpanying the buyers during the open house. In each room, the agent could identify key features of each room, including elements that nobody could t know without x-ray vision or years of having lived in the home. They know this because they have talked to the sellers about the hidden features. And what makes each room special!

This is where the sun rises every morning. Here are where beautiful sunsets are enjoyed. These windows save energy; Those floors are actually marble, not tile. The wiring was re-done three years ago; The insulation was upgraded last year. And here’s where you’re going to love having friends and family over for a barbecue!

Technology would be employed along the way. A tablet laptop could display additional information – pictures, diagrams, videos – describing appliances, heating or roofing materials. A sales presentation on a give-away flash drive would include additional photos, warranties, disclosures, inspection reports and other useful information. A digital camera could document the tour and immediately email photos and videos to the buyers to review again later.

In exchange for their email address. Useful for further sales contact.

And feedback from the buyers could be noted along the tour, with comments and concerns documented for sellers to benefit from later. Funny how so much feedback – on price, decor, features – goes un-gathered from so many customers every Sunday. Open houses as a market research toolm helping fine tune the competitive position in real time.

Imagine that!

Of course, it means changes to the current (stale) process. Maybe buyers would have to register for a specific time to tour the home during open house hours. Perhaps tours could start “every 15 minutes,” and buyers would be shown the home in groups. That might create competition, or at least a sense of urgency.

Who knows? What we do know for sure is that the current un-sales-like process of letting buyers show themselves around is highly unproductive. Only a tiny percentage of people make offers during open houses. Yet hairdressers, accountants and computer geeks can get people to make complex, emotional buying decisions on the spot. It’s time to get that to happen at open houses, by selling, not sitting, at the kitchen table.