One of the advantages of having been in and around the Real Estate business for nearly 40 years is I’ve seen many changes evolve. Some good, some not, and a few just outright bad. When I started in this business in 1985, the MLS was a weekly book that every agent subscribed to. It was about three quarters of an inch thick, and there was only one black and white photo of a property with some relevant facts and a sales description. And that was all we had to show “walk ins”, buyers who actually came into a R.E. office to see what was for sale in a town. With the internet today, it’s extremely rare that buyers come to a real estate office anymore.

At that time, open houses weren’t all that common. It was more likely to occur with new home construction neighborhood projects, which at the time, there was a lot of those going on in Southern New Hampshire.

As Realtors in our sister towns of Derry and Londonderry, NH,  a group of us from 6-20 or so would get together on set day of the week for breakfast, networking and to talk with each other about our new listings and other business chatter. Then we would pile into 2-8 cars and proceed to “caravan” around town and tour all the latest properties to come on the market that week. That way if we had any prospective buyers for one of these homes, we would have firsthand knowledge about the homes to describe and wet the whistle of our buyers to get them to come and see them. Sounds archaic today… but at the time, that’s what we did, and it worked very well.

Around the mid to early 90’s, real estate franchises were really beginning to explode. Somewhere along the line the agents working with theses franchises who began to pound the public with national TV and radio ads touting how big they were across the country and that more home was being sold by them compared to the smaller local independent real estate companies. An aire of superiority began to develop. Franchise agent suddenly didn’t want to caravan with the independent agents anymore and thus Caravanning faded away. The franchise agents started to do public open houses with most of their own listings every weekend.

Now, one may say, “well, that’s progress”. Or you may think “Great for sellers, more and better exposure of their home for sale”. And “great for buyers because they can now see a dozen houses on a weekend without having to go to any real estate office”. Overall, better for everyone, right? Well… here’s the truth about open houses.

It turned out that open houses were really more of a marketing tool for the real estate agents themselvesrather than a way to get to showcase a home and sell it quicker. By having attendee’s sign in with their names, phone numbers,  (and a few years later, their Email addresses ) they would collect a list of potential buyers and sellers to fill up their “marketing pipelines” so they could later follow up and solicit business.  And the timing was right because this was a way for agents to get around those pesky “do not call” lists implemented by the government because, if you freely gave up you name and phone number in exchange for a cookie and a tour of a house, you were fair game for a friendly phone call from the agent who showed you that house.

So, from a sales and business point of view, this was a great idea! But like with a lot of things that start off good and well intentioned, people find a way to abuse it and take advantage. And so, more than a few bad elements began to develop.

Aside from the expected curious neighbors who would stop by the open houses, a good number of people would show up who were not financially qualified for the purchase of the home. I don’t know about you, but my feeling is if someone can’t afford to buy my home, why are they walking around checking it out? The answer in a lot of cases was to see if the house had any valuables and/or an alarm system so they could come back later and rob it. And on occasion, it would happen.  Even if the house was empty of occupants and furniture, there could be new and appliances, copper piping, and so on that could easily be stollen and sold. You see, agents weren’t asking for people’s ID’s because they didn’t want to offend them. So, they relied on people to sign in with their right name and contact information. In addition, small item like nic-naks or a watch now and then would go missing as people would go room to room usually on their own. I know of one agent who got a call from a very upset home seller that her family’s third generation silver crucifix that hung over her bed was gone. That was indeed a big emotional loss for that home seller. The sentimental value of that item was priceless. Add all that to a rise in assaults and robberies of real estate agents, both on men and women across the country, and what you have today is really not a very good idea for homeowners to have. Who knows who’s walking through their home. Or for the serious buyers who value their phone and online privacy. And sadly, it didn’t fare well for a number of unlucky real estate agents either.

If you doubt any of this, some of you who were fans of the TV show “Breaking Bad” might remember in season 4, episode 3, titled , appropriately, “Open House”. It was about one of the main characters visiting open houses to steal items for fun. So, if it’s a common enough event to be a part of a Hollywood storyline, then it’s two common for me.

Now, here’s a fact.… back then as now, only a real small percentage of homes end up being sold as a direct result of the open house that was held for it! Remember, it’s more about the agents gathering attendee’s names and personal information for future marketing. Or, getting an attendee to look at another property with the agent doing the open house. Selling the subject house would be frosting on the cake of all those names, numbers and email addresses that were gathered.

Today, we still use the MLS in its online form and other E sources that draw on MLS information for all to see. They now allow up to 40 color photographs of a home along with much more detailed information about the properties. Prospective buyers today really have a far better idea about a particular home before they even pick up the phone to make an appointment to go and see it.

In addition to that, personal and property security for all has been improved by requiring prospective buyers to be pre-approved financially and have a pre-approval letter in hand from a mortgage lender before they can make the appointment to see a home. To this day some buyers still have a problem with this request. They see it as intrusive and inconvenient. But when presented to them by a strong, experienced Real Estate professional like me, and presenting it to them from the prospective of the home seller, it goes something like this. “Sir/Ma’am… would you want me to bring people into your home, walk them through every room, seeing everything else you own, if I wasn’t sure that they could afford to buy it?” ……… I usually get a few seconds of dead phone air, or a pondering look as the thought of that settles into their minds.