How to make your “for sale by owner” open house feel professional

So, you have decided to sell your home "by owner." Hosting an open house without the aid of a realtor can be tricky, especially if you aren’t used to entertaining or having strangers in your home. What can you do to put your guests (and yourself) at ease to maximize your chance of a sale?

What to Do to Prepare

Let interested buyers know when to show up
Once you decide the dates for your open house, be sure to include the times in any ads you have created for your house. You can also put up signs around the neighbourhood advertising the house along with the date, time and address about a week in advance.

Increase curb appeal
Any small jobs that can be tackled on the outside of your home should be done before you start advertising. If you don’t have a hidden place for unsightly things like garbage bins and shovels, find a place to stash them out of sight (this goes for inside the house, too).

Hide anything valuable beforehand
Go through every room, and ask yourself “Would it make me uncomfortable if someone I don’t know touched this or saw this?” and “Would I be heartbroken if this was broken?” If the answer is “Yes” to either, figure out what to do with it. Perhaps you want to rent a storage space, lock up valuables inside a secure box, or send some items to the home of a family member for a few weeks.

Put away personal items
Your guests need to be able to visualize living there, so as lovely as your family photographs are, they will only serve as a distraction and make it hard for prospective buyers to visualize their future in this space.

Create a sense of space when guests walk in
No shoes or other garments should be visible when your guests walk in. Help your closets appear more spacious by removing all off-season apparel. Any bulky furniture near your door should be gone—the last thing you want is for your guests to feel crowded as soon as they enter.

Clean, clean, clean!
You want to give the impression that you take great pride in the upkeep of your home. The kitchen, bathroom and all your closets should be gleaming. Empty all your trash bins and recycling; there should be no dust or dirt in sight. Hire a professional cleaner if you need to. Kitchen clutter and all unnecessary items should be out of sight. If you have pets, get rid of all the accessories for the duration of the open house. Any litter boxes should be taken out a few days in advance if at all possible, as a cat pee smell can be a major turn off for buyers. If you can’t banish these items entirely from your home, ensure they are spotless and scent-free.

Dehumidify anywhere that needs it
Your basement, cellar and laundry area might benefit from running a dehumidifier for a few days before the showing. If anywhere has a musty smell, be sure to use a dehumidifier as well as an air freshener.

Occupy the entire family
Find somewhere for your kids and pets to go during the open house (the backyard doesn’t count). Make sure they will stay away for the entire open house. If you are having family members all help, make sure everyone knows exactly what they will be doing and how they should treat guests.

Showcase what they won’t see
If putting on an open house during winter, you might want to have a prominently placed photo of your garden or yard in full summer splendour. If your house looks like it is straight out of a Christmas card when covered in snow, include a picture of that. If you live in a great neighbourhood with lots of amenities, find a way to showcase them.

Create magic with light
Open all your curtains wide to let the light in. If a window has an unattractive view, leave up a sheer or semi-sheer window covering. Turn on all the lights, and add a few spotlights to dark corners.

Encourage interaction
Don’t lock or close doors completely and drape some inviting throws over furniture. Put cards with more information throughout your home, encouraging them on their journey and calling attention to key things, such as a recent furnace replacement, a low overhang they might bump their head on, an original fireplace, or any other details a buyer might want highlighted.

Make it feel fresh with flowers
Grab a few simple bouquets on the day of the open house to add a lovely scent and a splash of colour.

Welcoming Guests

Be friendly and inviting
Once someone is in the door, don’t give them a list of house rules. Welcome them warmly, let them know that you are available if they have any questions or concerns, and invite them to take as long as they like. Offering some snacks or refreshments is a good way to encourage them to relax and take their time.

Don’t crowd them
Think about how awkward you feel when a salesperson follows you closely through a store. Be available if they want to talk, but let them have privacy to discuss the home without the current owner hearing every word.

Make sure they are physically comfortable
Offer to take their coats when they come in if putting on a showing during the colder months. Make sure the thermostat is set to a comfortable temperature. Turn the heat up (or the air conditioning up) for a little while before the showing starts, and turn it down when people start arriving to avoid having a loud furnace or air conditioner distracting them. Avoid scents that people might be allergic to, like air fresheners, perfume or scented candles. If you are creating an inviting smell by simulating baking, be sure to have some actual baked goods to offer the guests.

Get feedback
Leave a guestbook or some question cards out, and encourage people to fill them out. If you missed the mark on something, they will hopefully let you know so that you can do better next time. Happy selling!

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