Open houses and home sellers

Open houses have probably been around for as long as there have been houses. I am not referring to graduation open houses but to the kind of open house that real estate agents have so that buyers can see the house.

It isn’t necessary to have an open house in order to sell a house. Everyone knows a story about how someone went to an open house, fell in love with the house and bought it.

That is a rare occurrence it could be that it just happened a few times and everyone knows the story.

Houses will sell without an open house but real estate agents like to do opens so that they can meet potential home buyers who may be looking for a home and an agent to help them buy a house.

New agents, in particular, need to have open houses so that they can meet people and start building a client base. As visitors sign-in, they become “leads”.

There are some things sellers should do before an open house:

  1. Lock up any drugs.
  2. Remove pictures of small children.
  3. Remove valuables from the home or lock them up.
  4. Lock up important and confidential documents.
  5. Make sure that wall calendars and notes on the fridge don’t have any confidential information in them.

It isn’t just potential home buyers who show up at open houses. There are curious neighbors and people who have friends or children who might be interested in the house.

There are people who would like to buy the house but they are not able to. Sometimes people who used to live in the house show up to look it over.

I sometimes go through open houses with my buyers or I go because I know the agent and I want to say hi.

Sometimes your own agent will do the open sometimes other agents with the same company will do it. It is fairly common to run into inexperienced agents at open houses who can not answer simple questions about the house.

Open houses can be dangerous for agents who are in the house all alone.

Buyers should keep in mind that the agent in the open house is representing the sellers and should refrain from saying anything that might give the homeowner the upper hand in negotiating an offer. . . although now that I think about it owners already have the upper hand.

St. Paul property look-up


In Saint Paul homeowners who are selling their home are required to have a Truth in Housing Inspection. Those reports are not always available as they should be. Anyone can look up a St. Paul property and get the Truth in Housing Report if there is one.

The city has a list of items that they check. Most of it is basic safety and homeowners are not required to make repairs but homes have to have at least one hard wired smoke detector and any open permits finalized before the property can change hands.

Often homeowners do not know that they have open permits. That information is on the Truth in Housing Report. If the permits do not get closed the sale may be delayed. Home buyers should look up the property and check for open permits.

Sometimes looking through closed permits is a good way to find out about work that was done on the property. Sometimes it is obvious that work that requires permits has been done but there are no permits.

Some of the work done without a permit might not have been done properly which can mean that work has to be redone before related permits can be pulled and closed.

There have been cases where lenders have asked that permits be pulled and closed before they will approve a loan. That can mean tearing into a wall to inspect some plumbing. I am not making this up, it has happened. Get information about permits on the web site. I would include a link but the city moves pages around often creating broken links which are like a broken promise.

Other municipalities have a different set of rules. Minneapolis, South Saint Paul, and others require hazardous items to be repaired. Some cities do not require any kind of inspection.

How much should you offer?

It is hard to know how much to offer when buying houses in St. Paul. Homes with multiple offers will sell for more than the asking price. There is a learning curve with each price range and neighborhood. A little house hunting brings most buyers up to speed on which homes are going to sell quickly at their current price.

When I looked at what percentage of the original list price home sellers got I found that for the last two years the median is 100%.

The data used to make the graph is from the NorthstarMLS which is deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

Graph of sale price
sale price as a percentage of the last asking price

Put the family photos away

It isn’t unusual to have family photos hanging on the walls throughout a home. When I put a home on the market I often ask the owners to put the family photos away. Home buyers are distracted by family photos. Unfortunately, they are some of the clutter we talk about when we ask homeowners to declutter.

Sometimes family pictures show up in the interior pictures of homes for sale. Something to consider for those who value privacy.


We want buyers to look at the home and imagine themselves living in it instead of trying to imagine the current owners living in the home. There are many other ordinary items we have in our homes that personalize them or clutter them up depending upon how you look at it and I have found all sorts of interesting and unique items in the homes I have shown, listed or photographed including rooms with animal heads on the walls. After I leave the home all I really remember about it is the brown eyes of the dead deer looking back at me.

Do you know what your real estate agent is doing?

lowertown buildings
Downtown St. Paul

I have been writing about the seller’s market and lack of homes for sale for a few years now. It has changed the dynamics from the days when we used to “woo” buyers.

Yesterday I sent an email with a question a buyer has about a home that is being listed by a big real estate team. I got an immediate reply from an autoresponder thanking me for my offer.

I am still trying to reach the team. I think they will get offers and they don’t care about the question.

Some listings have information about which days they will look at offers and present them to sellers. I contact my home seller clients as soon as I receive an offer.  I work around my clients schedule not my own.

The real estate buying process has changed a lot. There are rules, deadlines, and ultimatums being set by sellers agents. If these agents can spend less time and money on each listing they can make more money.

Real estate agents represent their clients. Often the buyer is ticked off and even distrustful of the seller and frustrated with the process before the seller even gets the offer.

I know several successful real estate agents who treat everyone fairly and with kindness. No one has to hire a jerk to get their real estate sold.

There isn’t any advantage to home sellers in having an agent who is a jerk. I can not see any business reason for treating other agents or their clients any differently than we treat our own clients.