After growing frustrated with the difficulty of attracting prospective real estate buyers to rural properties, particularly in winter, Realtor Marc Small, of Prudential Steamboat Realty, hit on the idea of purchasing his own van to offer no-pressure real estate tours.

Photo by Tom Ross

After growing frustrated with the difficulty of attracting prospective real estate buyers to rural properties, particularly in winter, Realtor Marc Small, of Prudential Steamboat Realty, hit on the idea of purchasing his own van to offer no-pressure real estate tours.

Open houses serve as real estate's speed dating

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— Michelle Garner, of Pruden­tial Steamboat Realty, looks forward to hosting open houses, not because she expects to sell the house where she spends a Saturday afternoon, but because an open house can be the real estate equivalent of speed dating.

“I can’t think of a time when I sold the house where I was hosting, but I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve first met through open houses,” Garner said. “I have a client coming in this fall to look seriously for real estate. He came into an open house, and I told him I didn’t represent the sellers and asked if he was already working with a Realtor.”

The man told Garner that he had had several phone conversations with another Realtor in Steamboat and that he’d probably stick with him.

“We had a really interesting conversation, and about three hours later he came back and asked me if he could work with me,” she said.

In a difficult real estate market, the time-honored tradition of hanging balloons on an open house sign and hoping for a buyer is an evolving strategy.

Prudential’s Marc Small grew frustrated enough with the difficulty of attracting people to rural open houses to see some pretty grand homes that he took the dramatic step recently of buying a 14-passenger van and having handsome signage painted on its sides, specifically to offer real estate tours in a way that doesn’t make the merely curious feel like they are making a commitment.

“I do an open house almost every week, and I’m sitting in a $3 million house in winter, and we don’t have any tourists coming in except for maybe curious neighbors and people from Denver, Wyoming and Fort Collins” who drove their own cars to Steamboat, Small said. “We don’t get the people with the money who come on the plane.”

Small recalls that before he and his wife, Audrey, were Realtors (their daughter, Ali, also is a licensed broker here), they often stopped in at random open houses while on vacation.

“I think people enjoy going out to look at homes. I do,” Small said. “I can’t do cold calls, and I think open houses are a place for people to see property without feeling like they’ve become obligated to a Realtor.”

Garner said she pursues the opportunity to host other Realtors’ open houses on behalf of clients she does not represent, purely as a marketing strategy. But she agrees with Small that the Realtor/client relationship is sensitive and that it’s important to be upfront about why she’s on the premises.

“I greet everyone with the same speech,” she said. “By Colorado law, you have to disclose if you are the seller’s broker, a buyer’s broker or a transaction broker” which is one who works with both buyer and seller.

Garner starts by telling people arriving at an open house that she does not represent the seller but will gladly give them a tour.

“I tell them, ‘I’m here to meet people like you,’” Garner said. “‘If you think you’d like to work with me, (I’d like to talk further) with you.’”

It isn’t Garner’s style to pursue the prospective clients aggressively; she just strikes up a pleasant conversation and lets the brand-new relationship take its natural course.

Jill Limberg moved from Colorado Group Realty to Prudential to become managing broker. She’s convinced that open houses still have an important role to play.

“I do think there’s still a need of open houses,” Limberg said, “especially at newer projects. Erik and Kathy Steinberg host open houses every week, and Kim Kreissig uses them at Rocky Peak Village and at Stonewood. There are still people walking in from a curiosity factor.”

However, Limberg agreed with Garner that a big part of the effectiveness of open houses is making contacts.

“Is it worth your while to go and sit at an open house?” she asked. “It’s not really to sell that particular property. It’s more to pick up buyers. And 60 percent of the people who (come in the door) are already working with other Realtors.”

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