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.