How to Have an Open House: 10 Tips for Success

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Open houses work.

We do, however, prepare for them. Learning how to have an open house, however, is not impossible as this post will share.

Naturally, we start by placing our for sale sign in the yard. We also mail out, on average, 350-450 letters to surrounding homes telling neighbors the day and time of the open house and inviting them to come check out the property.

The day of, we put out directional signs to the house from every direction with balloons tied on each sign. In our area, newspaper advertising is not terribly effective.

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Open Houses Bring Business.

What you’ll find is, you not only get lookers for the open house, you also get TONS of business for your other properties. Neighbors come by and watch to see how fast you sell. They later call to ask, “can you buy my house?”

Nothing beats the face to face.  No other marketing can match that.

You’ll even have open houses where you write the sales contracts right there at open house!!

The number one way all houses sell is the sign in the yard. Also tremendously effective is Craigslist. We put all of our houses on the MLS, not just for agents but so the public will find our properties when searching on free sites like Listingbook.

The most important thing to sell successfully is: BE CONSISTENT. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER SLOW DOWN YOUR ADVERTISING/MARKETING. We have had people watch us for years to find the property they want.

Related: BP Radio Podcast 002: Starting Out with Karen Rittenhouse – Subject To, Direct Mail, and Investing from a Woman’s Perspective

Yes, you should have an open house because open houses work for both showing the property you have available and for finding new clients. But don’t just put a sign in the yard and leave the door open.

How to Have a Successful Open House: Preparation

  1. Advertise – a lot.Advertise on any listing websites you have accounts with including, of course, your own company websites.  Post open houses on the MLS, Craigslist, Postlets (which feeds to multiple websites), Active Rain, Trulia, etc.  Anywhere your houses are listed, make sure to change the ad to include Open House, the date and times. And, if possible, advertise in neighborhood newsletters and websites.We send a neighborhood letter the week of open house letting the neighbors know that the house is now ready for sale and inviting them to come by and take a look.  Point out that this is a great time for them to “pick their neighbor”!
  2. Invite the neighbors.Neighbors are your friends. Many people know friends or family members who are interested in living in their same neighborhood. Enlist the help of the neighbors. They can also keep an eye on the house for you while it sits vacant. Another advantage is that neighbors are often interested in listing their own homes for sale.
  3. Put out lots of signage.A number of neighborhoods, especially the newer ones, have sign ordinances. Some areas only allow open house and directional signs from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. Find out when your neighborhood allows and put out plenty of directional arrow signs, plus an open house sign in the front yard.  Make sure buyers can follow the directional signs to your open house from any direction. Morning of open house, tie balloons to the signs to be sure they get attention.
  4. The sign in sheet.Have all guest sign in with their name, phone number and email address. Take advantage of the sheet the following day by calling or emailing every visitor to thank them for coming by, ask them for feedback, and find out if you have an interested buyer! Follow-up is critical and something most people don’t do.
  5. Condition.Have both the home and the yard neat and tidy. Even if you’re leaving some of the fix up for the next owners, the house and yard should be tidied up. You don’t want prospects feeling overwhelmed when they see lots of clean up needing to be done.
  6. Give them a take away.To begin with, make sure they have a property flyer to take with them including a color photo of the house and all of the necessary information about it. Most buyers will look at more than one house in the same day, and can forget yours in a very short time without a photo and information sheet.Always hand out your business card and company brochure, but also give them something fun to walk away. Use ink pens with all of your contact information. Everyone wants an ink pen. Or key chains shaped like houses with, again, your contact information. Another thing your prospects appreciate is bottled water. Guests are always pleased with take aways.
  7. Time for your Open House.We do open house on Sunday from 2-4 p.m. because that’s standard in our area for agent open houses. Most of the public is trained to be out at those hours looking for available houses, so we want to capture that already existing viewer.
  8. LightingMake sure your open house looks light and bright. Open all the blinds to let in the natural light and expand the rooms with exterior views. Turn on ALL lights in the house including closets, under cabinet and stove vent lighting (make sure all the bulbs work). We like to have candles or air fresheners around and prefer vanilla to give some scent and some accent, especially in the bathrooms.
  9. FoodI’ve never bothered with food because of the time, expense and potential mess involved! However, I do provide bottles of water. That’s always a hit
  10. Be PreparedJust an FYI:  make sure you have toilet paper in the house. You can be pretty confident that someone’s going to use the restroom!

What can you add that’s worked for you?

Photo: sonson

About Author

karen rittenhouse

Karen Rittenhouse has been investing in real estate full time since January 2005. In that time, she has purchased hundreds of single family properties, opened a full-service real estate company, a property management company, a coaching/training business, and written three books on real estate.


  1. Brandon Turner

    Great post, Karen! You know, I’m about to try to sell a duplex (without a Realtor) and I never thought about trying to do an open house. I think I might also do your idea of sending out the postcards to all the neighbors. Maybe I’ll also send out postcards to all the investors in my area too.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • karen rittenhouse

      Great, Brandon!
      As I said, open house always brings additional sellers as well as buyers for our other properties. I love being out talking to all the lookers about who we are and what we do.

      Before we had real estate agents, we always mentioned in our letters to the neighbors that we paid at $250 referral fee to anyone who brought as a buyer.

      Good luck to you and let me know how it goes!

  2. Glenn Schworm

    Great Article Karen,

    Funny story. We renovated a 120 year old Victorian that was 6000sf, 9/2.5 with all amazing woodwork, architecture and more. We marketed the open house like crazy as we wanted to sell it quick. We even took a full page ad out in the paper. We had over 100 people through the open house that day, it was crazy. The couple who bought it were out walking their dog, had not seen one ad, but did see all the cars, signs, and balloons and decided to walk in. They bought it for full price the next day. All that marketing and they were walking by!!! Funny how it goes. I see you have it very systemized and like we’ve discussed, we are in the process of that in our company. Very good article. Thanks Karen

    • Great story, Glenn.

      Most, as I said, sell by the sign in the yard. Open houses are never just about the open house, but about educating the public as to who you are and what you do. Every open house has the potential to bring in a tremendous amount of brand new business.

      So glad you got it sold so quickly! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Good post karen.
    I like the invite the neighbors. Even if they are not buying how cool is it if you have a couple of potential buyers looking when there are others in the house. It creates urgency for them to put offers in seeing lots of activity. I also like the last one. Don’t forget the toilet paper. LOL and maybe some lysol.

    • Another great thing about the neighbors is that they have friends, family and co-workers who all live someplace. Maybe some of those people want to move and we can be of help?!? We’ve all had friends or family say, “I just love your neighborhood!” Neighbors are a great source of leads.

      Thanks for commenting, Michael!

  4. Great Article – THANKS!

    My two-cents from doing Open Houses in the past:

    In addition to TP, add bug spray to your kit. Once I arrived at a home and right in front of the door was a large black widow and her web; a definite deal stopper. Be prepared.

    The other thing I liked to do was have low volume background music on. It sets a mood and allows guests to relax and talk while touring the home. If they have questions or comments, you want to hear from them while they are still in the home, not after.

    I would arrive early and invite the neighbors to a “private preview” before I opened to the general public. Neighbors are curious and if they feel invited and special; they will come and tell you things about the community that may help you sell the home later that day. They are also a great source for referrals…but you know that already.

    Best of luck, much success and ENJOY your day!


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