People attend Sunday open houses for all sorts of reasons. There are curiosity seekers; neighbors might stop by to see a house if it hasn’t been on the market in years; and some come in search of decorating ideas or to check out prices in the neighborhood. In other words, most people who walk through an open house aren’t really buyers.

This fact infuriates some sellers who feel that public open houses are a waste of time for everyone except perhaps the agent holding the house open who might pick up a client. However, in an area where listings are in high demand, public open houses can be an effective way to drum up buyer interest.

When there aren’t enough homes for sale to satisfy the need, buyers gravitate to the limited supply that is available. An active open house can create a sense of urgency. This is particularly the case when a listing is new on the market in a sought-after neighborhood.

During the hot seller’s market of a couple of years ago, public open houses were a useful marketing tool. In some cases, listing agents held off letting any buyers preview the home until the first public open house, thereby forcing buyers to attend the grand opening en masse.

In most markets around the country, these frothy days are over. Some markets that didn’t heat up a couple of years ago are doing well now, like Raleigh, Austin and Salt Lake City. But, generally, the market has softened in most markets that were previously hot.

Even in a soft market, some buyers find the house they buy at a public opening. However, a sale is much less likely to occur this way. In a soft market, buyers are more reticent, as there is less impulse buying than there is when prices are increasing.

In a slow market, there are fewer buyers and it takes longer for listings to sell. Buyers usually have more to choose from. A listing that’s held open often in a market like this can send the wrong message. It can telegraph a sense of desperation. Or, it may indicate that the price is high, or that there is something wrong with the property.

HOME SELLER TIP: A strategic use of open houses is recommended in a buyer’s market. You might have your home open when it’s new on the market, and periodically during the marketing period so that the prospective buyers and their agents are aware that you are still actively searching for a buyer. But, it’s generally not a good idea to have your home open every weekend. You might overexpose it to the market.

It’s not absolutely necessary to have a public open house to sell your home. The Internet has made it possible for buyers to preview listings without even getting into their car. A good Internet presence for your listing on well-attended Web sites like www.realtor.com, which includes quality photos of the property, is critical. Eighty percent of today’s home buyers use the Internet to find a home. When buyers see a listing they like, they request a showing.

There’s another aspect of public open houses to consider. If there are a lot of listings on the market, an open house can give buyers an easy opportunity to run through the house and cross it off their list.

THE CLOSING: The most productive showings are the ones where the buyers are accompanied by their agent who can help them work through any objections they might have to the property.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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