buyers real estate agent real estate industry Holding an Open House

Spark Imagination: How to Get Buyers to See Potential During an Open House

By Todd Sumney on June 07, 2019
Todd Sumney

A visitor comes through the doors of your open house, and the clock starts ticking …

You only get a certain number of minutes with buyers (looky-loos notwithstanding) before they leave the property, possibly with zero interest in what they just saw. That period of time varies by buyer and what they are looking for in a home, but it’s nonetheless finite and usually short. The challenge becomes making the most of those minutes and getting visitors to see potential, whether they are intrigued by the listing or have already formed a negative opinion.

Your job as the real estate agent is to spark buyers’ imagination and help them see potential that might not be evident on a five-minute stroll through the home. Here are some tips for getting open house visitors to see beyond their initial impressions:

Before the Open House: Virtual Staging

Empty homes present a unique challenge: They don’t give a buyer a good idea what they would look like as a livable space. Virtual staging—via a service such as or—can digitally add furniture and other features into images of empty rooms. After you post these pictures online, add them to flyers and use them to create virtual tours with before-and-after toggle buttons, buyers who are researching open houses can get a better idea of what the property would look like as a functional home before they visit. Display these virtual tours and pictures on your laptop, tablet or mobile phone at the open house as a sort of before-and-after. This isn’t just a great idea for empty houses; if a home’s furniture is lacking (because it is old, beat up, too kid-oriented, or just plain ugly), virtual staging unlocks potential without the need to buy new furniture.

Depersonalize for a More Personal Experience

Staging and decluttering are important to present the illusion of more space in a listed home and help buyers to imagine living in the house. Along the same lines, depersonalizing for an open house gives visitors an almost clean slate when assessing a property’s appeal. Family pictures, artwork on the refrigerator, the whiteboard that has all the kids’ chores listed, that indifferent but adorable cat wandering around—these seem like touches that make houses feel homey, but often, they produce the opposite effect. Buyers see such things and may think, “This home is filled with other people’s stuff; how does my stuff fit in?” Put away personal items, and recommend to the sellers that they take their pets with them during the open house.

Let There Be Light

Open houses that aren’t well lit don’t give off the best impression for a number of reasons, including:

  • Buyers come away from a dark house thinking it would be a dreary place to live.
  • The best features of the house aren’t immediately apparent.
  • The potential each room holds becomes difficult to see.
  • Buyers might become suspicious you are trying to fool them by limiting what they see in plain sight.

Good light matters both empirically and psychologically: It shows off what makes the home great and gives buyers a positive vibe about the property. Therefore, open shades, drapes, curtains, and blinds throughout the house—especially in rooms that are inherently darker because of paint or limited windows. Also, turn on lamps and overhead lights as needed to give open house visitors a clear view of the property.

Allow for Exploration

Interacting with open house visitors as they wander the house is a tricky balance. On one hand, you want to give buyers space to look at the property, but on the other hand, you don’t want to ignore them completely; plus, your selling instincts may tell you to point out every last detail. Resist these instincts and allow visitors to explore at their leisure, perhaps occasionally checking in and making small talk. Putting on the hard sell when buyers really just want to form their own opinions is a turnoff and may hasten their departure because they formed an unfavorable opinion—of you.

Hit the Highlights

Giving open house visitors space doesn’t mean you can’t be enthusiastic about what makes the property great. Pick a few of the most appealing features to share with buyers as they begin their self-guided tour (e.g., “The living room has vaulted ceilings, and be sure the check out the pool!”). Without hovering, hang out as much as possible by these highlights to answer questions or even to comment (e.g., “Isn’t that fireplace something?”). Nudge visitors into noting these features and remembering them. This is where an “Open House Survey” on a clipboard given to each visitor upon entering the home can really facilitate this type of effective discussion. As buyers conclude their look at the house, ask them what they liked and what they thought of the best features (e.g., “How did you like the layout of the kitchen?”). Your subtle parting recommendations will stick in their minds. If the highlights were highly impressive, they might just want a second look at the property—which is a result you should be more than happy with.

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