April 20-21 is Nationwide Open House weekend -- not exactly a national holiday, but rather an event contrived by the National Association of Realtors in which members far and wide are holding open houses on behalf of sellers.
But is the open house a sound sales tactic?
The numbers seem to indicate so. In 2012, nearly half of all buyers used an open house as a source in their search for a new residence, according to the NAR's latest "Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers."
But visiting an open house on a Saturday or Sunday doesn't always equate with buying. Which again begs the question: Is an open house worth the trouble?
Unfortunately, the jury is not just out on that one, it's hung. While many agents sing the praises of open houses, just as many, if not more, maintain they are an exercise in futility.
Almost every agent worth his or her salt has sold houses to people who have strolled in off the street to visit the property. But that's the exception, not the rule. Indeed, according to the NAR's buyer-seller profile, only one in every 10 buyers found the house they eventually purchased by going to open houses.
Still, there are several good reasons for agents to hold an open house. One is to get to know the seller better; another is to get to know the house. A third is to obtain some important feedback on the home's strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of potential buyers.
After all, agents have found that by having visitors point out things they don't like about the place, it is easier to persuade sellers to dig into their pocketbooks to repair, repaint or even upgrade.
But as a sales tool? Not so much.
You are better off simply sticking a for-sale sign in your front yard. About 53 percent of all buyers use yard signs to search for their next home as opposed to the 45 percent who attend open houses, according to NAR's study.
Nevertheless, most sellers view an open house as necessary and think they are being shortchanged if their agents skip what has become a real estate ritual. If your agent does agree to host one, it is far more likely that he or she will use the event to meet inquisitive neighbors, ask for referrals, or perhaps even lasso a few would-be buyers who have yet to align themselves with a real estate professional.
This year, though, your agent is just as likely to use Nationwide Open House weekend to promote realtor doctrine as to promote your property -- or even himself. According to a list of media talking points posted for NAR members about the event, agents are encouraged to engage consumers regarding the benefits of ownership.
"We need to make sure any changes to current (government) programs or incentives don't jeopardize a housing and economic recovery," is one such suggested talking point. "We need to ensure public policies that promote responsible, sustainable home ownership," reads another. And making certain "our country's leaders ... understand the vital role that real estate plays" in America's health is a third.
A more effective way to use an open house, at least to your advantage as opposed to that of your agent or the real estate business, is to invite a caravan of agents to see your place when it is first put on the market. That way, agents far and wide can preview your house on behalf of their clients, and if it happens to be what one or more are looking for, the agent can bring the client back for a private showing.
So, if open houses don't sell houses, what does? Why the Internet, of course.
Typical buyers these days -- nine out of 10, in fact -- first troll the Web to find houses they think are worth visiting.
As a result of their Internet searches, 76 percent of all buyers told NAR researchers that they actually jumped in their cars and drove by the places they liked. Some 62 percent walked through the homes they first saw online, and a whopping 42 percent say they ended up buying a place they first saw while cruising the Web.
Some agents say they get a good bang for their buck with weekly home magazines or weekend television shows. You know, the ones that feature a few shots of houses for sale, a brief description of each, and the listing agents' names and phone numbers.
But truth be told, like open houses, their primary benefit is to keep the agent's name in front of the public and generate leads from potential purchasers who, studies show, eventually buy a house -- just not the one they originally inquired about.
But getting back to open houses. Here are a few more stats from the NAR to keep in mind:
-- Repeat buyers are more likely to find a house from an open house than first-timers. So if yours is a modest house ideal for first-time owners, you might want to skip an open house and try something else.
-- Mid-income buyers, those with incomes between $55,000 and $75,000, are the most likely to find their homes though an open house when compared with other income brackets.
-- Older buyers, age 65 and over, are more likely to find their homes though an open house than any other age group. The younger the buyer, the less likely he or she will use an open house as a search tool. In fact, just slightly more than one in four buyers under the age of 24 will attend an open house.