By Ross Wilson

In my continuing series on the ever-popular subject of public open houses, I felt it important to address how to improve the odds of hosting a successful open. After all, aren’t you investing your most precious and irreplaceable resource, your time, in the hope of connecting with visitors and maybe selling that listing? It all boils down to effective social skills, including the art of active listening (the subject of an earlier column) and sometimes subtle procedure. The following protocol could also be used for private showings by appointment.

When you greet arriving guests at the door, before you proceed with the tour, ask them to register in your guest book. Don’t ask them to sign the register, since that could have a negative subliminal effect. It might infer they’re somehow making a commitment. Use the words register or complete the guest registry or something similar. Casually observe as they put pen to paper.



If they fail to add a phone number, postal or email address or answer any question, politely ask them to be thorough. If they refuse to comply, you could courteously explain that for security reasons, you must identify all visitors. Either they complete the form or you could refuse access to the home. Obviously, this would be a bit extreme, but I’ve personally never had any difficulty in this regard. Most people don’t mind co-operating. Some might supply false information, but hey, at least you tried. Perhaps you’d prefer to not work with such deceitful people anyway.

Ask if they’re currently under contract with a brokerage. If they are, then your showing can be brief. They may be interested in the property and contact their own representative to arrange a more thorough viewing. If it’s your own listing, you’ll still benefit. If it’s not your own listing, then the listing agent owes you a favour. However, if they’re realty orphans, they’re fair game.

As you start the tour, begin to ask casual questions. Don’t make it sound like an application form or an interview. Intersperse the questions with information about the home’s features and benefits. Offer them some tidbit about the house or neighbourhood and at the appropriate place during the viewing, follow it with a question.

Make it a conversation with questions such as:
  • Are they interested in this particular neighbourhood?
  • How long have they been searching?
  • Have they viewed many homes?
  • Are they perusing websites and newspapers? How’s that working?
  • What features are important to them?
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms would they prefer?
  • Do they presently own a home? Is it sold or listed for sale?
  • Do they have kids? How many? School age?
  • What type of school do they need – public, separate or private?
  • How many cars do they have? Do they need a garage?
  • Do they enjoy gardening or entertaining?
  • Do they prefer separate rooms or open-concept?
  • Do they need a mortgage and if so, are they pre-approved?
  • What’s their preferred possession date?

I’ve found that most people don’t mind sharing their wants and needs and this is an ideal time to gather such information. By sharing, they’ve begun the bonding process. If they’re sincere buyers and your approach is agreeable, sensitively asked questions at appropriate moments can transmit a message of care, that you’re not just trying to sell them something. As a matter of fact, if you genuinely care about them, that’s even better.

During the showing, you have the responsibility to maintain some semblance of order. So, watch, listen and keep everyone together. If someone wanders off, politely ask them to stay with the group. By doing so, you may instil the feeling that the owners love their home – a definite benefit.

If you sense any discomfort, ask them to put themselves in the owner’s shoes. How would they feel about having strangers wandering unattended through their home? Explain that if you agree to accept them as clients, they’ll receive the same secure, quality service. This implies they must apply to work with you, that you practice selectivity when choosing clients.

You’ve shown the main floor, upstairs and finally the basement, pointing out the main features, improvements, details and the many benefits. By the way, this is the best floor order; it’s far easier to climb one flight of stairs at a time and then descend two flights to the basement as the last phase, rather than have to trudge from the basement to the second floor in one strenuous effort. A panting prospect is not a good prospect. This is particularly important with large multi-level homes if the prospects are unfit or senior.

Don’t skip any detail because you never know what small element will make a big impression. But if you sense a lack of interest, don’t bore them. Tune into them. Focus. If they seem to be lingering, that’s a good sign. On the contrary, it they appear anxious to keep moving, it’s likely they’re not interested. Aside from the periodic questions, don’t feel compelled to talk too much. Converse – yes, but listen more. Observe. Ask questions. To assist the bonding process, use their names often, including those of the kids. If you sense interest, at the appropriate time, you can even ask trial closing questions (to be addressed in a future column).

In the next column, I’ll address the final part in the open house series, bonding with your guests.

SIMILAR ARTICLES

  • Alan M.

    Ross,

    Is it not your position then, that since:
    “Alan, I feel it’s common sense that any agent sitting in an open house represents the seller. No reasonable person would assume otherwise.” : that you would or should have no obligation to perform “Agency Disclosure” to visitors to your open house, because they should already know better than to share personal information with you that might compromise their negotiating position — because, that seems to be exactly what you’re saying. You’re rationalizing, and ergo repudiating your obligation around “Agency Disclosure”, once again, in the process!

    You further rationalize your thirst for this new business with statements like: “In a highly competitive industry that unfortunately experiences a significantly high attrition rate, not to mention an average income that doesn’t on exceed a typical office worker’s salary, we need all the tools at our disposal.” Your aforesaid comment has absolutely no relevance within a conversation that is primarily about a Registrant/ Realtor’s clear and irrefutable obligations around the proper application of Agency! And since Agency Law takes precedent over a Registrant’s activities, it’s relevance simply isn’t severable from a discussion like this — argue as you might to the contrary!

    Ross, when an already listed seller contacts a Realtor/ Registrant and asks them to visit their home to give a listing presentation, the Registrant so invited must conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism. As part of this process the Registrant who is invited in is only entitled to tell the seller about their marketing abilities and how they would market the home (should they get the listing on expiry) without making any reference to the current listing brokerage or Registrant, who is on the listing. Even under the aforesaid circumstance the Registrant who has been invited in, isn’t entitled to ask personal questions that would fall under: Agency Confidentiality. Now, apparently, when this same seller decides to visit one of your open houses and hasn’t yet signed a BRA, with a competitor of yours, you feel: “Nevertheless, they are indeed “fair game” in this regard.” — meaning that you are free to ask them all the “wants and needs” questions that you have listed under your section titled: “Make it a conversation with questions such as:….”, as well as very personal questions such as: “Do they have kids? How many? School age?”

    Ross, typically a buyer’s motivation to buy when fully ascertained as a result of being asked all the questions you have listed under: “Make it a conversation with questions such as:….” would invariably, by default, confirm their motivation to sell — their motivation to sell being protected under the Confidentiality aspect of Agency, the same as their motivation to buy would be! A Registrant is not entitled for the purposes of solicitation to structure questions to a consumer, who is already in an Agency Relationship (seller or buyer) with a competitor Registrant, that would cause said consumer to disclose information that is otherwise protected within the Confidentiality aspect of an existing Agency Working Relationship.

    Ross, even if a visitor to an open house received full Agency Disclosure (the need for which you seem to disavow) they should never want to waive their entitlement to confidentiality — especially, prior to completing the tour of the open house and being fully satisfied that they are not interested in the property. The Listing brokerage and the Registrant who is on the listing shouldn’t want a visitor to waive their rights to confidentiality because such a buyer prospect could receive counsel later from another Registrant (whom they decide will represent them in the purchase) that they could end up paying more for the home, as a result of their disclosures to the listing Registrant/ Realtor.

    Ross from my perspective, you seem to be operating in your own little world, as you seem more accountable to your own needs than those whom you may like to suggest are properly looked after. In any event, this is a discussion that is worthy of much broader participation and yet none has materialized. Perhaps the Registrar for RECO might step up and step in, as you are openly and publically counseling the Ontario industry to follow your lead. Then again, perhaps the Registrar’s silence amounts to an endorsement and everyone should read your book!

  • Alan M.

    Ross,

    In your subject article you seem to start an “Agency Disclosure” process with the following question: “Ask if they’re currently under contract with a brokerage. If they are, then your showing can be brief.” but go nowhere with “Agency Disclosure” after this, and said question in and of itself certainly doesn’t constitute “Agency Disclosure! Your attitude as it relates to your impression of the relevancy of Agency remains a mystery to me — other than you seem to maintain that the subject is quite incidental, as it relates, at least, to: open houses.

    You subsequently proceed with the following section title:
    “Make it a conversation with questions such as:”
    with the seventh listed potential question being:
    “Do they presently own a home? Is it sold or listed for sale?” However, you have already indicated the aforesaid question should be asked earlier in the process, as it should, and yet, here it is again mixed in with questions that shouldn’t be posed to someone who is in an Agency Working Relationship, with another Registrant.

    “So, watch, listen and keep everyone together. If someone wanders off, politely ask them to stay with the group.” Ross, what you are describing is typically utilized at certain galleries and museums. Most couples would be far better off to just make an appointment, than stand around waiting to hear two other couples pose questions while you try and answer them! If you were to wonder off to greet the next group arriving at the front door, are your customers who are already there required to hold their positions until you return, or does the newly arriving group wait by a sign that instructs them so?

    Ross, regarding your following statements:
    ” It all boils down to effective social skills, including the art of active listening (the subject of an earlier column) and sometimes subtle procedure.” and “A panting prospect is not a good prospect. This is particularly important with large multi-level homes if the prospects are unfit or senior.” I’m inclined to think that an unfit senior is probably still lucid enough that he/she wouldn’t bother to look around a home that was too much of a physical challenge for them. I’m also of a mind that the words “unfit” and “senior” shouldn’t be used in any kind of synonymous context, because to do so shows ineffective social skills when one is rudely presumptuous to the point of promoting negative stereotypes!

    • I glad you seem to be a regular reader of my column, Alan, and I always invite your constructive comments.

      In this series on open houses, I don’t delve into agency beyond inquiring if the visitor is under a buyer contract with another brokerage. Why? Because the topic is obviously about opens and not agency. I think it rather clear that an agent sitting in a open house would likely be representing the seller, thus there would be no need to disclose this fact to visitors. Thus, I fail to understand why you would expect me to get into a lengthy discussion with guests about agency. If I did, it would be highly premature, and would generate nothing but yawns from the guests who are merely want to view the property.

      I’m surprised that you seem to be unaware that a open house guest could be under contract for the sale of their own property, but not yet under contract for buyer agency. That’s why I ask about the latter early in the visit and the former later during casual conversation. Maybe you’re new to the business?

      Regarding your question about keeping the visitor waiting while I greet a new group at the door, such greeting is typically brief in that I ask them to await my return to begin the showing. If they can’t wait outside or in the livingroom, for example, I attempt to obtain their contact details to arrange an appointment for a private viewing. Thus, the current guests are not kept waiting very long.

      With respect to your last comment about doing my best to facilitate an easy showing for seniors, my intention, which I thought was clear, was to simply be compassionate. Obviously, I’d not recommend discussing their level of fitness, except in so far as the house may not be suitable for them if they preferred a bungalow with few stairs. It’s all about empathizing with people and reading the signs.

      I wish to invite you to read my book, The Happy Agent, in which I delve into a myriad of topics relevant to our industry, including agency. Maybe after reading it, you’ll have a better idea of my business philosophy. Click the link below. Afterward, I invite your comments.

      • Alan M.

        Ross,

        Regarding your following statement:

        “I think it rather clear that an agent sitting in a open house would likely be representing the seller, thus there would be no need to disclose this fact to visitors. Thus, I fail to understand why you would expect me to get into a lengthy discussion with guests about agency.”
        Ross, it is clear that you don’t understand what “Agency Disclosure” means, nor its implications — which is incredible! Should a visitor come to your open house and not receive Agency Disclosure, then during said visit provide you with personal information including their “wants and needs” thus compromising their negotiating position, should they decide to come back an offer on any subject property, (with a Registrant other than yourself) you would have committed a serious ethical breach precisely of the nature that “Agency Disclosure is intended to prevent or preempt!

        Ross, regarding your following statement:
        “I’m surprised that you seem to be unaware that a open house guest could be under contract for the sale of their own property, but not yet under contract for buyer agency. That’s why I ask about the latter early in the visit and the former later during casual conversation.”
        So Ross, it is your position then that even though a customer to your open house is in an Agency relationship with another Registrant, as it relates to the sale of an existing property, that: “they’re realty orphans, they’re fair game.” and that you’re entitled to solicit them — even though they haven’t come to your open house for the purpose of being solicited, nor have they initiated any contact with you for the purpose of finding out about your services — even in a very general sense?

        • As I’ve been attempting to explain, Alan, I feel it’s common sense that any agent sitting in an open house represents the seller. No reasonable person would assume otherwise. And if the visitor is indeed under a BRA with another brokerage, as I’ve stated, such confirmation should be obtained early during the visit. If this proves to be so, the open agent should behave accordingly by answering any questions, and without seeking any confidential information from the visitor or soliciting them in any way.

          A listing agreement and a BRA are obviously technically two completely separate agreements. Just because a visitor has already listed their property with another brokerage, it does not preclude them entering into a BRA with another brokerage. Though in practice, and out of respect for a peer, I would typically avoid soliciting someone who had already listed their property with another brokerage to enter a BRA with my brokerage. Nevertheless, they are indeed “fair game” in this regard.

          Alan, you must understand that open houses are not intended to be education seminars. Ask yourself why consumers visit such events. They’re usually searching for a home. Agents hold them as a legitimate marketing method to expose their client’s property to potential buyers. If the agent is consumed (as you seem to be), in agency disclosure, that agent will likely repel any visitor who happens along with the hope of just viewing a house. The visitor will probably wonder why they can’t just view the home. An agent can easily practice their trade within regulations and our code of ethics without being constantly frightened of making some grievous error regarding disclosure.

          When an agent advertises a listing, they obviously hope a prospect will contact them to inquire about the advertised property. And that’s the point; callers want details. They’re not seeking to be solicited as a potential client. They simply want information. An open house is no different. But do you not agree that whether a prospect responds to a print ad, for example, or an open house sign, they want to learn about the property?

          It’s the agent’s function to solicit prospects. That’s what we do. Otherwise, we fail, not only for those who’ve sought our service, but also ourselves. Of course, we must operate within the law, though I suggest that many of our fellow agents do so to varying degrees.

          In a highly competitive industry that unfortunately experiences a significantly high attrition rate, not to mention an average income that doesn’t on exceed a typical office worker’s salary, we need all the tools at our disposal. And that includes the ever-popular open house. All we have to do is be intelligently effective, and do so according to our codes, standards and the law. It’s not complicated.