The Corona Virus pandemic changed a lot of things in our lives over the past year. We lost too many loved ones, we feared not only strangers but our friends and neighbors.

And we learned a lot. A lot about whom to trust, that we could survive at home with one another 24/7. Some good did come out of this very bad pandemic, but only if we remember the lessons learned.

Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic that ironically started in Kansas, not in Spain, taught us a lot about how to handle future pandemics—what to do as well as what not to do. If only our leaders during the COVID pandemic had studied the past. These past lessons may not always ward off doom, but they can provide some insights into the present and even the future.

Our real estate industry was hit hard when the March 2020 lock down was instated. Weeks into the lockdown, our industry was finally deemed an essential business, so while we were technically allowed to go into work nobody dared do so—it was too soon, too many unknowns remained.

Sales of single-family homes in San Mateo County dropped 78% during the first month of the stay-at-home order. Only homes that were vacant were allowed to be visited, and even then, with only stifling restrictive rules.

Open houses were off limits to the public. The only in-person showings were on a one-on-one basis with the buyer’s agent and their clients—the listing agent representing the seller was not allowed to attend.

The real estate market had every reason to falter during the pandemic, but it didn’t, it rallied, as we discussed in our blog post about pandemic sales in 2020—up 180% over 2019.

So, do we need open houses at all then? Or the age-old question. “Do Open Houses Sell Homes?”

This debate has been going on for as long as open houses have been in vogue, but there has never been a way to empirically test whether open houses are necessary or not, until now. 

The Facts

Now every market may be slightly different, but in Belmont, sales during the pandemic without open houses rallied. Here are the numbers:

New Listings                            Up 89%

Closed Sales                            Up 180%

Average Days on Market        Down 71%

Median Home Price                Up 4.5%

Price Per Sq Ft                         Up 25.5%

We are not saying that the lack of open houses was what helped sales, it’s just that apparently, not having open houses didn’t hurt them either. Skeptics might say that had the public been able to attend open houses sales might have been even higher. Of course, we will never know what “might have happened”. We do know that sales were up, and a lot fewer people caught the virus.

In the past, we liked open houses because we generated more new business from them. Sellers of occupied homes liked them because during one open house 50-100 people can see their home without having to set individual initial showings during the seller’s dinner time. 

We’ve held many open houses at the request of our clients, but we gladly refrained from them when they had reservations about the process.

Moving Forward

There are many new agents that are suffering greatly in the absence of hosting open homes. Without a mature book of repeat business, and a scant marketing budget, they rely heavily on meeting new prospects face to face at open houses.

Very soon open houses will once again be allowed. And we suspect newer agents without repeat clients will quickly ask their contemporaries if they can hold one of their listings open to regain some market share.

Just Say No

Throw Away Your Alarm System

That’s what you just did, when you opened your house to the public. It’s a well known fact that open house are not without their downside. Allowing unvetted and often unqualified people who wander off the street into one’s home and who are not represented by an agent, have free access to walk around and take videos as they scope out your home’s valuables as a target for burglary.

Vacant homes make for especially easy targets for criminals. Open houses allow them the opportunity to take inventory of your home’s items, find easy access during an open house, and even leave a window partially open, only to come back and take appliances—light fixtures—even the copper plumbing!

How Many is too Many?

Your home might be of adequate size, but add 50 strangers milling around all at once during an open house and all of a sudden your home just might feel too small for buyers who need more space. We once heard a buyer remark to their significant other during an open house and say, “Let’s get out of here. This house would be way to crowded with our friends”.

If you’re a seller adverse to having hundreds of strangers—many of whom are unqualified to purchase your home, peeking into your home all weekend long, you may find comfort in knowing that you can avoid placating your agent’s desire for more personal business, and instead feel free to push back and take charge of what is best for you and your family’s level of comfort and security.

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The information contained in this article is educational and intended for informational purposes only. It does not constitute real estate, tax, insurance or legal advice, nor does it substitute for advice specific to your situation. Always consult an appropriate professional familiar with your scenario.

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