Nicole Solari is a top-producing broker-owner in Northern California whose regular bimonthly column, which covers real estate marketing, selling strategies and working with clients, publishes on Tuesdays.
We’re going to assume the home you’re about to hold open has not only been cleaned within an inch of its life but smells like it, that all repairs are done and all personal items — including all political signs, religious items, jewelry, prescription drugs, firearms and the stuffed remains (mounted and not) of deceased animals, etc. — have been removed and that the home has been staged to highlight architectural assets, minimize flaws and ensure good traffic flow.
Then, and only then, should you begin preparing for an open house — especially one in winter! At minimum, you’ll need to make that house look shiny and warmly welcoming despite gloomy skies and chilly temperatures. At worst you’ll have to compete with holiday activities and horrendous weather.
Our best advice: Start prepping for the open house a day or so in advance by doing these 10 things.
1. Ensure all walkways, porches and driveways will be cleared of leaves, snow and ice
In cold weather climates, that might require having snow professionally removed and walks and drives de-iced. In warmer regions, you can get by with having the landscaper blow leaves and trim the lawn and shrubbery a day or two before the open house.
But, ask for a quick walkway and driveway clearing the day of the open house, and be prepared to sweep the front walk immediately ahead of your open house. Leaves — like snow — fall in big drifts at the worst possible times. So keep that broom — or shovel (and someone dressed to use it) — on standby.
2. Clear spaces for people to park
This is where the warmly dressed broom- or shovel-wielding associate/intern really comes in handy. Make sure that visitors’ cars not only have clean spots to park in but also that the people who get out of them have a dry, leaf-, snow-, and ice-free spot to plant their feet.
And keep de-icing those driveways and walks if the weather is super cold. The very last thing you want a potential buyer to do is to slip and fall on the way into the home.
3. Make sure your own vehicle is clean inside and out
Trust me: Everyone knows what a “real estate car” looks like even if the back seat isn’t piled with open house signs and balloons. So make time to run it to the car wash with the crew that will clean it up inside and out the day before your open house.
Also, consider parking it a bit away from the main parking spaces for visitors so your own car isn’t taking up valuable parking real estate best used by prospective buyers.
4. Prepare open house signs and other marketing materials in advance
During the holidays, even open house signs can be festive — festooned with seasonal-colored balloons, greenery and even bows.
But before you start decorating open house signs, get your open house ads into newspapers and online sites, print enough property flyers to hand out at the open house, and create a property book with photos, comps, tax records and other reports to go through with serious prospects.
You can take signs, flyers and books with you, of course. But you’ll arrive fresher if you place them at the property in advance — along with a seasonally appropriate guest book.
Then, on the day of the open house, you can arrive early, grab your open house signs, place signs and pre-scouted locations and end with the one in front of the house a few minutes before the open house begins. (Another reason to have all your marketing materials set up inside ahead of time: There will be early birds who see the signs and follow you to the door.)
5. Get the homeowners out
This should go without saying, but all inhabitants of the home need to be out well before the open house begins.
And they should not return until you call or text them with an “all clear” and a report on how things went.
This ban includes pets — no matter how small and no matter how cleverly they’re hidden — even in cages. No one wants to listen to dogs bark, to open the back door and have a cat streak past, to peer into a closet and discover a child’s pet rat or to listen to the seller’s parrot shriek obscenities!
You — plus an associate if it’s a two-story home — and your open house visitors should be the only living beings present for the duration of the open house. (And we’ve already covered deceased beings.)
6. Make it comfortable
Make sure the home is pre-heated to a temperature that remains comfortable throughout your open house.
Calculate for constantly opening exterior doors. And, perhaps, start out a little on the warm side, especially if there is no fireplace providing an auxiliary source of warmth. If the house has more than one story, adjust upper-level heat vents as needed so visitors don’t faint when they get upstairs.
7. Schedule the open house as close to mid-day as possible
You want the absolute best light nature can provide. Even then, winter light is notoriously low (and, depending on the weather, can be almost non-existent).
So, even though it may mean turning the thermostat up a few degrees, pull all blinds up and push draperies as far aside as possible to enable windows to scoop up all the natural light possible.
Then, augment that by turning on all the lights (inside and out) — even the one in the hood over the stovetop. (You can leave bathroom lights off if one switch simultaneously turns on a light and a noisy fan).
8. Have a fire burning brightly in the fireplace if possible
You will, of course, have the owner run through the operation of the damper and/or gas starter or log-set ahead of time and practice until you’re confident or the owner agrees to do it just before they leave.
You do want to confine the blaze to the fireplace at all costs. So, in addition to a nice basket of logs and pine cones beside the fireplace, you might want to stash a fire extinguisher someplace handy, as well.
9. Be prepared for any turn of weather
Start with the front walk and porch. Nothing is quite so dispiriting as seasonal decor that has frozen and thawed. So, work with the owner to limit the decor to sturdy greens, weather-proof wreaths, judiciously used (white) lights and other non-perishable items.
Under no circumstances should they be vying for first place in the neighborhood display of lights and yard ornaments while their home is for sale.
Make sure the front porch is web and icicle free and that it sports a luxurious but heavy-duty rug for a good pre-entry scrubbing of muddy or snowy footwear.
Inside the entry, provide a coat tree, an umbrella stand, a bench (or other seating) for cleaning shoes, footwear wipes (and a container to dispose of them). Also provide a boot tray and slippers, freshly laundered slipper socks or other (non-slip) alternatives to shoes if you expect people to remove their footwear.
In threatening weather, it’s best to have a couple of large umbrellas on hand to ferry guests to and from their cars if they arrive unprepared for a cloudburst or snow. Also note, if you’re planning to have handouts, you could do worse than lip balm in cold weather.
10. Get something bubbling that smells wonderful
Think cinnamon sticks and other spices in water or cider on the stove or in a crock pot. Fresh cut greens on the mantle or in swags up the stairs add a nice fragrance near the holidays as do paper whites (or other early spring bulbs) forced into early bloom in a tall glass vase.
When all these things are done, lay the Sunday paper on the coffee table (preferably in front of the fire), and pray that you’ll never get a chance to read it because the only deluge you’ll be facing is a flood of prospective buyers drawn in by your excellent pre-opening marketing and property preparation.
Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.