Death, taxes, and the open house

many open houses
Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

Certain things you can just count on.

Open houses are a quirky piece of Americana we just can’t seem to shake. You may think they’re a stupid waste of time, or you may think that your home’s salability depends entirely on the curious, time-worn Sunday ritual. But, either way, you know they are going to happen.

I happen to reside in the “open houses are as productive as creating an ice sculpture with a blow torch” camp. They are generally a monumental time-waster. They are an archaic, outmoded practice, a throwback to the days of yore.

In “yore” (my 40s), we didn’t enjoy the broadcast channels we have today. Agents scampered around clutching their MLS books, and buyers knew about the inventory only because their agents told them. The uncommitted buyer, on the other hand, was left with two options to satisfy his do-it-yourself tendencies. He could brazenly waltz into the Real Estate Emporium for a “free list of homes,” but this was dangerous business. Try as he might to avoid any eye contact, he would routinely be greeted, like chum in the shark tank, by the “up” agent who had left a path of overturned chairs, filing cabinets, and other agents in their wake in order to get a shot at the incoming live one.

Or, the do-it-yourselfer could just hit the open house circuit.

Fast forward from yore to today. Any agent with even the most basic of life-skills and an Internet connection will have effectively put the world on notice that your home is for sale, which relegates the open house to an opportunity for your neighbors to size up your decorating skills and for the hobbyists to entertain themselves on their way Costco. Sure, some serious buyers may stumble through, but most serious buyers would have stumbled through anyway, with an agent and a confirmed appointment, had they been truly interested.

Yet we continue to sit Shiva. We can’t (won’t) make it stop. So, rather than rag on the open house, I’ll rag on the manner in which they are advertised.

Stop it with the signs already!

I harped on this a while ago and, the more things change, well, you know. In our local market, there seems to have been a recent rebirth of the weekend sign wars. The practice of open house signage was originally, before MapQuest and smart phones and navigation systems, and during the days when the events were actually advertised in the newspaper (remember those?), born out of a real need to direct people to the destination. What grates on me is that, today, this practice has evolved into only a very obvious act of self-promotion. It is self-promotion in the sheep’s clothing of “doing work” and it is done at the client’s expense.

As Steve and I wound our way home from hunting and gathering (fetching dinner) last night at 7:15 PM, we reflected on the signs which remained on the major thoroughfare trumpeting one agent’s self-bestowed “neighborhood specialist” ranking. The signs, which had been resident since the early morning hours, were placed at approximate 12-inch intervals. I counted at least eight in a quarter-mile span, all pointing in the same direction which, at this hour, led to nowhere.

Wearing my civilian hat for a minute, I have to say that I was not left with the intended positive impression of this agent and his purported omnipresence in the local real estate market. In fact, I felt a little offended. Did he think I might accidentally make a u-turn across two lanes of oncoming traffic had it not been for that seventh sign assuring me I was continuing in the right direction? Did he think that I thought that he was really still pulling cookies from the oven as the sun was setting? Or, maybe he just “forgot” to pick of the signs at the conclusion of the big event in his haste to return to the office and start making those follow-up calls. “Oops. My bad!”

It’s transparent, it’s cheesy, and it’s sign pollution. And it is becoming infinitely obvious that we are unable or unwilling to self-police. In the post I wrote back in 2007, I suggested that the signing rules in the San Diego San Elijo hills community were too onerous. Now, I think they may be on to something.

From their sign policy:

Only one sign directing traffic either left or right may be installed at each corner. The first… agent to reach an intersection on route to their open house will place their sign at the given location. (If an agent reaches an intersection and a sign is already in place), agents should continue to the next intersection on route… place their sign as necessary.

Doesn’t this make perfect sense? And at the risk of sounding un-American, I’ll see their restriction and raise them one. What if we required all signs to be “unbranded?” Alas, our Department of Real Estate requires that our brokerage names be displayed on our signs (a rule some agents, by the way, appear to be unaware of). But, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how many signs would be present next weekend absent the ability for the agents to display their names in big-giant-all caps-screaming font? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how many open houses were held at all?

Like so many stupid-agent tricks, I cling to the notion that the customer is smarter than we tend to give them credit for. And, over time, like the MLS books, the cross-directories, and the “free list of homes,” they will see this practice for what it is, rendering it ineffective and ultimately obsolete. One can hope.

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