Come On In! Getting the Most From Open Houses

New Yorkers are a famously busy bunch, always looking for ways to maximize their time. Buying or selling an apartment can be the most time-consuming process imaginable, and city dwellers are always eager to try out ways of moving things along: Hence the enduring popularity of open houses - one of the most efficient ways of unloading or snapping up real estate. But how do group events stack up against private showings? And what's the best way to run an open house? Are there mistakes to avoid? Read on, and the open house will be an open book.

Strength in Numbers

For sellers and their brokers, open houses are an unbeatable selling tool. They save time, they can help move an apartment faster, and they give brokers a great opportunity to reach lots of clients simultaneously. "An open house helps you cast a wider net," says Susan Wolf, a broker for Stein-Perry Real Estate, Inc. in Manhattan, which specializes in marketing uptown co-ops in the $125,000 - $400,000 range. "You always have clients who are already looking in the area and come to you unsolicited, but an ad for an open house attracts people from all over. It's a great way to reach potential clients who might not otherwise look in your neighborhood. And even if the apartment they came to see isn't right for them, they often ask to see what else you have."

Those spontaneous inquiries often mean more clients for the broker, and more exposure for that broker's sellers. Open houses can even spark competition and help sellers get a better price. "Sometimes you'll get a bidding war," says Pamela D'Arc, a vice president of Stribling & Associates, a firm that handles mid-range to luxury properties starting at around $400,000. In addition, "They're a good way to take the temperature of the market," notes Irwin Cohen of A. Michael Tyler Realty Corp., a Manhattan-based real estate management firm and brokerage house that handles properties ranging from modest to very high end. "You immediately get a feel for whether your asking price is appropriate. And you get to meet everyone in person - which gives you a quick read on whether prospective buyers will pass muster with the board," he says.

Everybody Wins

Open houses are also convenient for the apartment-hunters. "Buyers really seem to like them," says Wolf. "They feel like they can control the situation, and make their own judgments in an independent way. It's efficient for them because they can often hit several in one day. I think it's almost become a hobby of sorts for a certain segment of the population. People used to go to art galleries on Sunday, but now you get people who like to shop for apartments," she reports. "Clients like the flexibility," adds D'Arc. "They have the freedom to cancel if they decide not to go that day. They can send someone ahead to scout it out and then call others to come see it if they like it. They can spend a longer time in the apartment than in a private showing." All in all, it seems like the way to go - but what about the alternatives?

Far From the Madding Crowd

Although many brokers like to do open houses whenever possible, there are situations in which an open house isn't the best approach. Not everyone enjoys asking questions while half a dozen other potential buyers are simultaneously sniffing around like a pack of barefoot women at a shoe sale. "High-end buyers often want more personalized service," says Cohen, "And there just aren't as many people shopping for a two-million-dollar apartment."

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