I Held a Creative Type of Open House… And It Went Badly. Here’s What I Learned.


The past two weeks, we have been under renovation for a new rehab house that we are listing for rent. It is in a super cool neighborhood near great food, shopping and access to highways. My partner on the deal and I have worked really hard on this one in developing the processes of how we are assessing the property, plugging its numbers into our spreadsheets.

As a matter of fact, we are pretty good at spreadsheeting something to death. 🙂

Seriously, though, that’s great. If it makes sense on paper, there is a good chance the deal will work. At the same time, we have to think through ALL of the factors that help a property. Proximity within the city or locale, as well as access to services, shopping and the things we do for our normal, daily life. You also want to have a good understanding of the demographic of that area and the types of finishes people are used to.

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The Idea

Something that I was really curious about was how strong a renter’s desire for a property would be with only an IDEA of what the house was — and no other real, tangible pictures or anything else provided.

I decided to post the house we purchased for rent, even before any work had been completed. (There is a caveat to this — wait for it!) So we closed on the house, and a few days later, I wrote up this awesome post about the incredible hardwoods, the brand new kitchen, the granite countertops, the plush carpet and the Pottery Barn colors. You know… the whole deal.

Related: 5 Tips That Will Make You Better At Open Houses Than Anyone Else

Remember, we didn’t post a single pictures. For reference, it was a 2/1 with a 1-car garage, den, on a slab. We are asking $1,300 monthly.

The Area

It’s a great mix of families, young professionals and college students, and there is a lot of activity both in the residential and commercial real estate areas. There are local restaurants around, within walking distance. There are good schools and just a cool vibe for the neighborhood — tree-lined streets with sidewalks, churches, and grocery stores. It’s a great Midwest feel in the heart of the metro area.

The Initial Reaction

I placed a sign in the yard first. I had everything written in the post. Using Postlets is awesome, easy and goes all over the interwebs — for free. But I wanted to first see what kind of action we would get on the sign. And then post the house online.

Within 15-20 minutes, I had my first call. And within the first two days, I had somewhere around 10.


Now, not all of them were great leads. Some were investors looking to buy it (so sorry, we got there first), and some people were out of their price range for what they were looking for.

That’s okay with me.

The bottom line, first test was a pass.

Then I posted the link online for rental, with just the writeup about it, along with the rent and deposit amount. And within a day or two, the flood gates opened up, and we have had dozens and dozens of interested parties.

Open House – HGTV Style

On a lot of our rental houses, we have started to do open houses instead of individual appointments. It’s worked pretty well, although I still go back and forth on it. In our lower price point houses (say, $750-$950 monthly), this has worked amazingly well. We continue to have a huge demand for rental houses here, much more than what we have the doors for (hence, we continue to add more to our portfolio, as well as with our TK partner).

I decided to host the open house with the house under renovation. At first idea, I thought it would be a cool way for people to experience a house literally under renovation, hand them a glass of wine, chat them through the space, and then walk them through as though they had the camera crew behind them and I was the host.

Here is where the incredible wood floor will be, and here is where the granite and awesome backsplash will be. Here is where you will live your life! In this crappy, dirty, smelly, mid-construction house.

It didn’t exactly have the desired effect I wanted. The first couple into the house, well, she was wearing a nice summer dress, and you could tell she was thinking, eek, I could get dirty. And there was definitely the deer-in-the-headlights look once they were actually into the front door and saw what was going on.

Related: How to Stage a House on a Budget to Sell FAST

My assistant and I spoke with them both for a while, and they were kind. But you could tell they just didn’t know what to do with everything. It was a mess in there. And it’s not their fault they couldn’t see past it.

Lesson Learned

Although we did have other people into the property, the desired effect for people to see the “what could be” didn’t work very well. We won’t be holding any more open houses until our property is further along, at least within a week or so of finishing. It was a good idea, and I am not disappointed I tried to do it.

Front now on, although I CAN imagine what the house will look like in almost any condition, most people cannot. And we want to put our best foot forward as we put our properties online and look for the best renters.

What are your best practices in leasing properties, and what ways have you found to rent them the fastest and with the best use of time and energy?

Let me know with a comment!

About Author

Nathan Brooks

Nathan Brooks is a dad, husband, worship leader, and real estate investor in the Kansas City market. Foodie. Coffee addict. Crossfit junkie.


  1. Colleen McKoy

    I have also tried this creative approach. We usually attempt this idea as a FSBO approach before the project is complete and placing it on the market. I try to build a leads list and follow up with them once it is complete. If they do view it, they can’t imagine the potential. Once it is finished they have lost all interest. I think having a grand open house when everything is finished is the best route. Less time and energy trying to convince people how great it will be, just let them see the finished project and let them make the decision.

  2. Aaron Crow

    I experienced this a lot as a buyers agent. Showing properties that meet all the buyers criteria but has ugly carpet or paint, or they don’t like the ceiling fans or fixtures. All of these items are easy to fix and relatively cheap, but most were unable to see past the problems or smells that they experienced on the showing. We as real estate professionals, investors, etc have the ability to see the hidden potential in the house and just have to make it a reality. This is even more so now that buyers/renters get their first impression off of the internet. Like you said about photos and just putting a description. The difference between professional photos of a property and some that you snap with your phone are drastically different.

  3. Joseph M.

    That is interesting.
    I’m not totally surprised that it did not work out , but most people don’t have much imagination !
    I think many times we get excited about something , but don’t realize other people don’t have the same excitement or interest.
    I’m thinking there might be another way that you could do something similar, but with a more an audience that would be more interested.
    Perhaps tours for wannabe flippers/rehabbers? I’m sure there are some people out there that would actually pay good money to get a look at how a house gets rehabbed from someone that is actually doing it.

  4. Deanna Opgenort

    Ditto. I think one of the reasons we are attracted to housing is we can see what it CAN be, rather than what it is. Does anyone else always underestimate the amount of time/effort it will take to get between those two points?
    I was within a few hundred $ on the money on a serious rehab, but an order of magnitude on the time on my first place. In the occasional “heart to heart ” talk with myself I’ve started to realize I I really do treat this rental as a hobby in many ways. I’m OK with that only because there is the great likelyhood that I will live in this place 15 years from now, so”irrational” decisions like purchasing a full Corian kitchen counter set on Craigslist and transporting it 800 miles in the back of my Prius (!) DOES make sense for a future home, whereas it would NOT make sense for the average mid-market rental.
    I have started to approach things with a “fix it like I’m gonna sell it” attitude for some projects. Appearance matters, as I have to “sell” the house to prospective renters, and at some point I may decide to sell it to shift my assets to another property (not looking, but always good to keep the door to opportunity open). Only regret is not switching to Stainless Steel when first appliance went out. Have ended up having to replace almost everything in past 3 years, but still have white, & that market would have seen Stainless as a major upgrade. Didn’t expect fridge to go so soon. Would have been better to have “mixed” kitchen for a few years.

  5. Ethan Atkinson

    I have worked both sides for a number of years-renters and buyers. Only about zero percent can see past the reno work. The easiest, fastest, smartest route I found is to sell or rent the completed product only. How do you build the list of prospects beforehand? Using postlets or your agent(I use both because I’m an agent) get some of the finished exterior pics and advertise as coming soon. Do this about 2-3 weeks before completion. As you finish certain areas, or when they look good enough in the photo, send out another email blast to all the agents around and update postlets. If your agent doesn’t have a list of a few hundred agents tell them to check out zipyourflyer.com. I just sent an email in the north Atlanta market of 4,800 agents. Once complete post an ad as “Conpleted Full Remodel/Renovation and get it on Craigslist and all the other marketing places you use and at that point there should be a good amount of interest to have an effective open house or better yet some applications and a deposit or two ready to go. If you’re in a busy area get multiple agents involved who handle renters or buyers and have them all compete with their sign in the yard. Pay the one who brings the best candidate. BLAMMO!!

  6. AJ Smith

    Most people have no imagination and are short fused as to say and impatient. I would only show finished product to potential future tenant unless you selling to another investor, developer etc.. Good try though!

  7. Jesse T.

    I think for rental people are less interested in potential of a house vs. reality.

    I think the idea might have some potential for flips in a tight market. For that I think agents vs. buyers would be the ones to target. Also the outside would probably have to be in good shape. I think the key would to be able to present at least a computer model of how it will look when it is completed.

    If you have a lot of similar flips or possibly even rentals using one as a model to market ones still in the process might be a way to go.

  8. Mary Hoskins

    When I posted my primary residence for rent (my only rental so far) I initially posted 1 pic of the front of the house then gave a good short description of the inside. Monthly amount and move-in fee. No address posted just neighborhood. Contact me first for more info. This was my prescreening method. I also had a viewing weekend scheduled. You get the address if all went well over the phone. My focus was the area. Walk score is big in L.A. Proximity to transportation and shopping, nightlife, parks, etc. All good… First couple of responses, can you send pics of the inside before we come see it? How big is the back yard? Okay…Fiiiiine..I redid the posting adding pics of all rooms and the back. Got a better 1st contact response after and a good turnout on viewing day. Lesson…Give up the goods on the posting so interested parties will have what they need to make a decision. Building curiousity didnt really work for me….

  9. Colin Smith

    Definitely a creative idea, but I can also definitely see where other people just don’t have the imagination. Thats why we sometimes feel the need to stage properties where buyers can’t picture how it should look like.

  10. Katie Rogers

    It might not be a problem of imagination at all. If I were a tenant responding I might have trouble signing a lease on the basis of promises the landlord might not keep. Even if I could go to court to get out of the lease, who really wants to do that? And in the meantime, I might have passed up any number of good rentals, and now I have no place to live. This is a real problem in coastal communities with 1% or less vacancy rates.

  11. Stephanie Dobbs

    Well at least you tried and learned from it. That’s the most important thing to me, is learning, so that my knowledge becomes earned income. I am on the market for a rental (to actually live in the unit while my hubby and I build up credit and capital) and the first thing I look at is pictures, if the agent (especially the agent) does not include pictures, I almost don’t consider it. If it’s not presented well, or needs tons of work (even though you were fixing it up) my husband tends to take it as a money game, where the landlord will just be collecting while we’ll be dealing with numerous issues that will not be tended to in a timely manner. Just thought I’d inform you of the other perspective. Otherwise, great learning curve, and great luck on successfully renting the finished unit!

  12. Thanks for sharing your story!

    The important thing is that you learned from your experience. I’ve gone through the same ordeal in the past. Though, I’ve actually had prospective homeowners insist on seeing the inside of the home when my contractors were working on them without a sign in the yard. Complete disaster!

    I enjoyed the post! 🙂

  13. Ashley Robinson

    Ouch! I’m not surprised that people can’t see past the ugly and see the potential. The property management company that I’ve worked for has a strong, non-negotiable policy of only showing units that are 100%, totally and completely ready, and for the exact reason you experienced. If there is obe thing left to do, it doesn’t get shown. I’ve bended the rules in hopes of getting a lease and rarely did it benefit me. It’s unfortunate there are so many narrow minded people around. But maybe it opens up more opportunity for those of us with an open mind!

  14. Caithleanne Pont

    While I agree that many people do not have much imagination I don’t think this particular situation can be ascribed to lack of imagination rather than to expectations. When people, especially a couple looking for a place to live are presented a house or apartment in the throes of being built or renovated that reaction is to be expected. They didn’t expect to see a mess but a nice homey atmosphere.

    The problem lies not with a potential tenant but with the renovator’s unrealistic expectations. When a tenant is ready to rent, he or she wants something that is complete NOW.

    Fred Grant’s raw sausage analogy says it best.

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