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OPEN HOUSE!....Risky for Sellers & Agents

Updated on October 8, 2008
Seller Beware!
Seller Beware!

Can you be safe inviting total strangers into your home?


Does security go out the window when you open your home to total strangers? Yes. Whether you are marketing your home as a for sale by owner, or hire a Realtor with years of experience, there is no logical way to protect your home or the people holding the Open House from those who enter, on your invitation, with mischief or evil on their minds.

In this current market where there is a great deal of competition for qualified buyers...many home owners and Realtors are tempted to throw caution to the wind, and return to the ‘old school' Open House that really is not all that effective any more. With the internet and other tech advancements, any buyer can find details and multiple photos, maps and demographics for any home listed by a member of the National Association of Realtors. Even For Sale By Owners can utilize the internet to a lesser degree, and insist on a letter of pre-approval from a lender and ID, before showing the home to any prospects. A serious buyer should not be offended, and should appreciate the seller's desire for security.

From 1982 to 2000 over 200 Realtors were killed "in the line of duty" in the U.S. and most of those were in, or started in, Open House situations. All across the country and in Canada, too, there are hundreds of attacks and robberies perpetrated against home sellers and Realtors alike. They are attacked with hammers and knives, beaten, robbed and held hostage for days....all this has happened. It makes the local news but rarely is reported nationally, and no one is truly keeping a count on how often putting a home up for sale results in someone being a victim. Though there is a modicum of safety in numbers, there are instances of assault, rape and robbery of groups of Realtors and Sellers....held at gunpoint and tied up.

Hundreds of sellers and their agents become victims every year
Hundreds of sellers and their agents become victims every year

Don't discount the danger!

Realtors holding Open Houses are advised to never hold an open house alone, but few heed that advice, wanting to do the best job possible for their sellers....they just discount the danger. Incidents are rare, but they do happen and they are on the increase. More than once I've felt the hairs on my neck stand up....just a primal instinct that the person who just walked in the door is not one I want to be alone with, nor give a tour of the house to.

And what is so amazing to me is the number of times I see a For Sale By Owner advertisement bragging about their hard-wired sophisticated security system, as they invite the general public, and possibly criminals, to show up for their Open House. Assuming the system will be turned off, this sort of ad attracts the worst sort of person on person crime.

Another clear risk, which Realtors are very aware of, are the "lifters" who occasionally show up at Open Houses. They often show up in a group, and split up making it impossible for the person showing the home to keep track of their actions as they move from room to room, out of sight. They often look for prescription drugs, but small easy to conceal valuables and jewelry, and mail with account numbers from banks and creditors are also targets. They have been know to case the joint with a future burglary in mind, and may also unlatch windows and doors for easy access later....something the Realtor or home-owner may not notice, especially in larger homes without security systems. Once again, this is not common, but it does happen, too often. Logic tells us Open Houses are a very weak point in security, and simply not worth the easy as they make it for nefarious types to succeed in criminal acts.

Vacant houses pose a different sort of danger, leaning more toward violent assault. The bad guy can be fairly sure there will be no other people coming home or intruding. Women are particularly vulnerable, but men are not exempt from being attacked for cash, jewelry, laptops, credit cards, and cars. If you haven't told anyone where you'll be, and with whom, it could be a long time before help arrives. And will it be soon enough?

One of the best reasons out of many to hire a real estate brokerage to market and negotiate a sale on your home is that professionals DO screen prospective buyers. They do this for the seller's security, their own safety, and simply because their time is too valuable to work with buyers who have not shown, in writing from a lender, they are capable of purchasing a home in a specific price range. By the time a Realtor brings a buyer to your home, they will know quite a lot about them. But your agent has no way of truly screening lookers at an Open House, and have little protection for you or themselves should just one of the comers be up to no good!

If you must hold an Open House.....


I simply don't think an Open House is worth the time or the risk these days. But if you must take the chance and show a home or hold an Open House, when you do not know anything about the prospective buyer here are a few basic rules:

  • Don't show the house by yourself, or host an Open House alone...have someone, or several people with you.

  • Avoid showing the home at can't see the grounds anyway, why set yourself up for two trips?

  • Tell someone outside the house what, when, where and who you will be showing the home to. Have them check on you, if you do not check in with them by a certain time. You can have them call you or you call them during the home showing.

  • Put your purse, wallet, valuables, mail, and prescription drugs out of sight, locked if possible

  • Do not wear flashy jewelry, expensive.... or just looking expensive. Dress conservatively...clothes with pockets.

  • Park your car on the street, where you cannot be blocked in by another car.

  • Carry your cell phone and keys with you within easy reach. Pepper spray is not a bad thing to have with you; if you use it you may also gas yourself....but it will slow all but the most crazy down considerably.

  • Tell the prospective buyer you will need to see a letter of approval from a lender and ask for ID...write down the info and put it in your pocket. It may not mean a thing, but it shows the prospect you're sharp and cautious. Though some qualified buyers might refuse to give a FSBO this info...perhaps for their own security concerns, they rarely refuse to give it to a licensed Realtor when it is explained ahead of time this will be part of the process, and why. And if they do refuse, they do not get inside the house!

  • Trust your instincts. Cut it short if your little voice is shouting at you, stay away from basements and back rooms, at the first sign of real aggressiveness or trash like hell, lock your car doors, drive away and dial 911. Don't worry about your house or your stuff at this point....personal safety is paramount.

  • For Sale By Owners might think about offering a 'broker's consideration'...a fee for selling the home which is less than the larger fee for a full listing, marketing plan, and seller representation. THEN host an Open House for all your local brokers only. Send out notices to their offices. (Serve a little light lunch or some sort of tasty treat if you really want to get their attention!) If they do bring you a buyer, they will legally represent the best interests of the buyer, BUT they also legally owe you honestly and fair dealing....a legal term they must adhere to. As you knew going into a FSBO sale, you will be representing yourself, unless you hire an attorney, which is much more expensive than a Realtor...and does not have the advantage of a marketing plan. But the buyer's Realtor cannot legally misrepresent any aspect of the buyer or the contract, or real estate law....or violate your rights. And they will make sure the paperwork is in perfect order, and that no state or locally required document is overlooked....on behalf of their buyer's best interests, but also to your advantage.



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    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      11 years ago from New Zealand

      It might be worth checking the immigration laws again they change all the time- and we are pretty desparate for anyone who can do anything at the moment! The economy is weird - like in Australia China will buy anyting we sell and the strong $ means that the oil price doesnt hurt as much as it normally does - but usually when NZ goes bad it goes real bad - the price of a small economy!

    • Mary Tinkler profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Tinkler 

      11 years ago from Gresham

      Wow. so glad to hear that your economy is still solid. I wouldn't wish what is going on here on anyone. And for the most part a global economy means a global melt-down when something goes wrong. And I do believe it was all calculated. (Read my Mortgage Nightmare.)

      When I was a young woman I dated a man from Christchurch, NZ...gorgeous guy named Malcolm McSporan. He told me a lot about NZ. Somehow my holiday there has been put off....and put off. In recent years, I looked into immigrating (Bush is THAT bad). But your immigration laws are stringent and I was approaching the cut off age or 55. Oh dear. I shall have to content myself with someday taking that dream trip. I'm also a great fan of Ngaio Marsh!

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      11 years ago from New Zealand

      Yeah I would and I have - not if I had a really exclusive house with limited appeal but for an average house yes.  My current home we bought after seeing it at an open, the last 2  rentasl I bought at open homes (at one literally - writing out the offer in the car as someone else wrote out their offer inside ) - though it was conditional on a bit more due deligience.  I have seen houses go unconditional within 24hrs of an open - i.e. offer on the Saturday - unconditional once the lawyers /banks open up on Monday! We have been having a bit of a boom in New Zealand though! If you are interested I wrote a hub on NZ property investing :-)

    • Mary Tinkler profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Tinkler 

      11 years ago from Gresham

      Interesting to know how it works in other parts of the world Lissie. Actually Open Houses very rarely, I mean once in 16 years for me....sell the house. All brokers know this. (Though in my case the client stuck with me for years and I totalled 6 different sales from her and her family till she left the state). In truth agents do them to pick up new buyers who may need help, and have not committed to another broker. And most shoppers/lookers at open houses don't like to be bothered. Some are downright rude. I do not push people, because I don't like to be pushed. Sadly I am better at marketing a house, and really good at contructing iron clad fair to everyone contracts, than I am at promoting myself!

      Stats show that now 89% of buyers shop online first, call us, or the agent they've chosen to work with for a private showing. That is why good online photos and lots of infromation (don't hold back the address!) is the new way to market.

      The question is, if you were selling, would you open your house to strangers you know nothing about?

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      11 years ago from New Zealand

      Fascinating! Open Homes are common in Australia and NZ & I never heard of an assault at one - though petty theft can be a problem if you are silly enough to leave jewellery and laptops lying around. As a buyer I much prefer a home open - much less pressure and often more efficient than being teaken to all the stuff the agent is trying to off load. Asking for ID is common - you always have to sign a register. I would never deal with any agent/owner who asked for preapproval from my lender - first the preapproval means nothing because they don't know what house I want to buy - second I often use anothe rproperty to borrow against and that line of credit is my concern not yours


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