10 Home Seller Tips For A Successful Open House

Xavier De Buck
Published on February 18, 2016

10 Home Seller Tips For A Successful Open House

Hoping For A Successful Open House? Check Out These Home Seller Tips!

home seller tips

10 Home Seller Tips For A Successful Open House

Ready to make that first impression?

By the look of things, unfortunately, a home buyer will give you one and only impression!

After about 30 seconds on your property, prospective home buyers will already have had plenty of opportunities to judge it: whether it is the clean pathway to the front door, the condition of the driveway, mown front lawn, flowers in your reception area or your spotless kitchen!

Let me ask you: is your home ‘show-ready’ at this very moment?

Wouldn’t you agree that having your home look as inviting as possible will only increase the possibility of potential home buyers being drawn to it, and subsequently improve the odds of good offers?!

For the record, depending on which country you’re operating in, real estate agents might use different versions to express the same concept when it comes to open houses: if the agent was to say they’re holding an open house in Dallas (Texas), show house in Brussels (Belgium) or show day in Northcliff (Johannesburg) you’ll know they’re all talking about the same thing!

Below I have listed the top 10 Home Seller Tips For A Successful Open House:

#1 of Home Seller Tips – Clean & declutter!

Without a doubt, the best return on your money – or your time – when selling your home is definitely a thorough clean and declutter!

As mentioned in the introduction, you only have one chance at a first impression, and you do not want interested buyers turned off because your home looks like a pig sty (so to speak of course!).

Furthermore, these buyers might use the ‘untidy condition’ of your house as an excuse to put in lower offers, hereby causing you as the home seller to potentially miss out on thousands!

And all of this because it would have cost you some extra good old elbow grease?

You would be surprised how many home sellers believe their homes to be in a great condition, only to eventually arrive at a huge list of ”to do’s” prior to the showings! Any top real estate agent will be able to provide you with honest feedback on what to do next.

The best way to think of it would be to treat your home as being ready to show at any moment’s notice.

Yes, I know it’s not a museum and it does get lived in (especially with kids leaving their mess everywhere all the time – trust me, we all know how that can go!). However, if you make the extra attempt at keeping it tidy, once the agent calls to see if he can take some buyers through, that last minute touching up will now be a breeze instead of a mad scramble!

Years ago, my wife would say I’m not the ideal person to be telling people how to properly clean, yet I have helped 100’s of client do exactly that! (for the record: I’ve gotten much better at it over time – yes, both at home AND with clients!)

If possible, try to involve a neighbor, good friend or relative in cleaning your home. Each of them will tend to clean differently than you, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as for years, you’ve been skipping that one particular corner of the dining room for cobwebs, and now it’ll finally get the attention it needs!

Some of the more detailed areas you would want to touch on (pun intended) when cleaning the house:

  • Wipe all the window sills;
  • Buff all the necessary surfaces in the kitchen and living areas;
  • Wash the windows, inside and out;
  • Countertops throughout the house need to be cleared of magazines, toys, ornaments etc;
  • Give all those tiled floors a renewed shine;
  • Get those bathrooms sparkling again;
  • Towels, rugs, bedding might all need some extra fluffing;

In other words, if there’s one of the home seller tips you ought to do, make sure your home appears as clean and sterile as possible!

And while we are doing the major Spring clean, we might as well get some decluttering done at the same time!

What may look like special memories or collectables to you, looks like clutter to most people. Sorry, but all those porcelain dolls everywhere from since you were (much) younger need to be placed out of sight! I’m sure we can find something else to replace that empty spot with.

We all have our personal preferences of things we collect over the years, but there’s no way around it: if you would like to have your home look its best during the showing (and particularly open houses), you will need to declutter!

You’ll realize very quickly how it opens up the spaces in your home.

If anything, now is a great time to start packing those boxes already! Quite a few of your personal belongings, collections, clothing, which you’ve got stored in the garage can already be boxed up and stored away. Similarly, the children’s rooms and toys can also be clutter-minimized as to what’s laying around. Let’s not forget about excess furniture as well!

Given your home will be selling sometime soon anyway, you might as well get most of that stuff out of the way while you’re doing the cleaning and decluttering now!

Over the years as a real estate agent in Northcliff, I do come across home sellers who insist on leaving things where they are. Why bother moving some of my furniture around, after it’s been there for the past 20 years? It looks great there! How do you mean I need to box up my beautiful magazine collection?

Whereas it may be very personal (emotional?) to each home seller to leave certain items untouched, as a real estate agent – and outsider – it’s much easier for me to point out certain elements which might detract from the interested buyer’s eye!  If that’s the case, I ask to compromise and have them remove ONE piece of furniture per room.

Once everything’s been cleaned and decluttered, 99% of the work has been done. It’s just a matter of making sure that the day-to-day activities remain ‘under control’ when it comes to creating a new mess!

There’s completely no need for a panic attack every time the real estate agent now calls to inform you he’ll be stopping by with some potential buyers in about 30 minutes.

Who says selling a home needs to be stressful?

#2 of Home Seller Tips – Enhance curb appeal!

It really comes all down to presentation: from the moment you clean and declutter, done the much-needed repairs to the house, the professional photographer your real estate agent hired, to the detailed marketing brochures offered to potential buyers!

I always say there are 3 crucial elements to a successful open house (or marketing event): price, pictures and presentation.

The price and the photographs will draw in any interested buyer, while the presentation of the home should be the cherry on the top. If done properly, you’ll hopefully be looking at a speedy marketing process, and consequently, a sale!

In other words, get started on getting that curb presentation part right!

Do what you normally do to keep your garden up-to-date, and pay extra attention to weeding those beds, pruning those shrubs and trimming the lawn!

Go stand at the entrance of your property and have a critical look around which parts of the outside might need some attention! There’s always something you’ll find you can improve on!

#3 of Home Seller Tips – Neutralize odors!

neutralize odors

Odors have no place in open houses!

Once we have tackled the cleaning, decluttering and curb appeal aspects of preparing your home for the upcoming showings (open houses), I need to point out the importance of odors.

At first, it may appear odd for you to hear me bring this up, and you as a home seller might wonder “What the heck does this have anything to do with selling my home?”.

Can I comfortably state that we all agree that every home has its own smell, right?

We might not necessarily realize it ourselves anymore, but wait until you’ve gone on vacation for a couple of weeks and return home.

Isn’t the smell of your home immediately triggering happy brain impulses? It’s good to be home!

Having said that, not every room triggers those impulses as there are certain factors at play, which might give off a certain smell. Certain spicy style of cooking? Smoking? Pets?

A non-smoker will pick up right away there are smokers in the house (or in certain areas). Regardless what the buyers think of the remaining of the house, do you think they’ll appreciate observing that their future home is currently being lived in by smokers?

It will leave an unnecessary lasting impression on them!

And, instead of being excited about just having visited your home and its many features, the talk in the car on the way home will more than likely include the current presence of smokers. No doubt about it!

Here are some of the areas which might have ‘odor issues’:

Kitchen odors

You know those favorite dishes you like to make with loads of overpowering spices – it might be time to place a hold on those for the time being! Showings can almost happen at a moment’s notice, but the aromas left behind by that cooking aren’t gone as quickly.

Another source of kitchen odors is the garbage disposal, which has a very quick solution to it: throw some leftover pieces of lemon down the disposal! That’s more than likely take care of that smell!

Obviously, your trash needs to be taken out on a more regular basis to make sure nothing is left to chance! Any smelly garbage cans or trash bags (or better, even before they start to smell) can quickly be treated with bleach.

Pet odors

The reality is that not everyone is a dog or cat lover! There’s no doubt about it: our little furry animals do have a particular smell!

Imagine these buyers’ reaction if they were to walk into your home and you’ve got a few cute fluffballs running towards them to give them a warm welcome!

Whereas most of us would extend our hands and get lovies all over, some might immediately think of the hair it may leave on their pants, their allergies, or the danger of being bitten!

If you think that was something they’d get worried about, there’s no way to describe what’ll happen once they start seeing the food bowl laying around or smell the (used) kitty litter box!

Talk about killing a home sale!

Is your house as clean as it can be? Up to a point, yes (assuming you now take care of the ‘cute critter evidence’). If you were to ask those buyers, guess what they would say?

Time perhaps to get a professional carpet cleaning service to finally take care of any lingering pet smells or replace parts where our little friends have made ‘accidents’? It wouldn’t hurt to place the litter box in a more discrete place, and make sure to regularly refresh it! Plus, going forward, an extra couple of sessions of vacuuming will go a long way as well.

Finally, I’ll say it out loud: pets shouldn’t be around during the showings.

There’s no way around it!

Besides the logistical problem of making sure that the dog is kept inside the house, or visitors are told to keep a certain portion of the garden closed off due to the presence of a dog, there’s a danger of scaring away potential buyers or worse, the danger of being bitten!

On the day of the open house, why don’t you do yourself (and your dog) a huge favor and go take your poochie for a long walk in the park, or go visit some dog-loving friends? It’ll be way better for all involved!

Overall, the quickest (and cheapest) test is to invite a close friend or family members to come do a smell test of different areas in your house. They’ll be able to give you honest feedback which places might need some extra attention once the smell brigade starts its duties!

Most of the time, a thorough (professional) cleaning of the house where all the rugs, carpets, and curtains get special focus, will do the trick in removing any unwanted kitchen, pet or musty odors!

As a home seller, the ‘last lasting impression’ you want interested buyers to have is that of the house with the smell

#4 of Home Seller Tips – Hire a cleaning service!

In all fairness, not everyone can be bothered or even has the time to put in the much-needed elbow grease needed to get the above 3 tips sorted out.

Unfortunately, believe me – every house needs it!

What are we suppose to do then? Leave it as is? Make a poor attempt at cleaning and see how it goes?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

There’s something called a cleaning service! How about that!

I know it’s not necessarily something you like to use on a regular basis, but guess what? You are selling your home! Even if a cleaning service needs to come through a few times to get the entire place thoroughly cleaned up, so be it!

There is NO better (and cheaper) way to get your home in tip-top shape in no time than having it properly cleaned!

Somebody once told me that home buyers will not notice whether your home is spotless; they will notice if it isn’t!

#5 of Home Seller Tips – Make repairs!

got maintenance problems

You can’t get out of doing maintenance!

We all know that buyers are on the lookout for imperfections:

Any excuse to justify a lower offer!


So, make sure all the much-needed maintenance issues have been taken care of. Don’t let that burned-out light bulbs, leaking faucets, slightly-broken window glass give them that excuse!

I’m talking about small maintenance problems – I’m not saying to go and replace your old bathroom! Upgrades of that nature this late in the process will cost you a lot of money, stress, and isn’t guaranteed to give the return on your money you were hoping for!

Over the years in the real estate business, there are 2 points which still stand out for me and I would like to emphasize here:

(1) If you’re going to be doing bigger jobs, make sure to time this well in advance of your property sale: if the repairs are done too close to the showings (open houses), buyers will notice the recently repaired items and will now actually start questioning why one had to fix these just before the showings?

Is there something this home seller is trying to hide from us? Perhaps this home doesn’t look at nice as it appears!

Do you see where I’m going with this?

(2) Concentrate on the small fixes: give those walls a fresh coat of paint, repair all the door handles, make sure all closet doors are operational, put higher wattage light bulbs to make the rooms look brighter, repair torn screens, creaky doors, dripping faucets, cracked caulking, re-do the grouting in the bathrooms (you’d be surprised how fresh and clean it looks again!), etc.

All these repairs are relatively easy to do, don’t have to cost a lot of money and WILL result in you getting a great return on your money & effort!

Talk about one of the cheapest home seller tips around, yet with the highest ROI!

It only makes sense when a home buyer sees your property in such an immaculate condition, that (1) it’s fair to say that if it’s been well maintained over the years, hence unexpected surprises are less likely to happen, and (2) the buyer can have peace of mind putting in a better offer on the property, as he will unlikely face extra costs fixing hidden problems.

#6 of Home Seller Tips – Remove family pictures!

This is not an easy conversation to have with a home seller, let me tell you!

How do I as a real estate agent tell you as the home seller that you need to take down all your personal photographs from the walls, out of the entertainment areas, and off the nightstands, just because you’re having a whole bunch of strangers walk through your home?

I will be the first to admit that I love family pictures throughout the house! I’ve got them myself alongside our staircase in these A5-sized, white-washed (distressed) frames. Awesome to see our loved ones over the years and at different family gatherings!


As a home seller, you need to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Interested buyers are there for one reason only: to see whether your home is a match for what they have in mind. Creating a personal sanctuary is making it quite tough for the buyers who are trying to pictures themselves living there.

I’m not saying you need to get rid of the welcoming feel you have in your home, but you do need to “take the home out of the house”! All your personal items (i.e. family pictures, religious artefacts, etc) are almost marking the territory as being yours (well, technically it is!) but I’m sure you understand that it’s very difficult for the buyer to visualize the house as being theirs!

#7 of Home Seller Tips – Keep privacy & security in mind!

Although all parties involved (home seller and agent) will be excited about holding the open house, one needs to keep the ramifications in mind when it comes to open house security and privacy!

Unfortunately, not everyone visiting the open house will have ‘good intentions‘, so the home seller should make sure to be prepared. Securing one’s home for the open house is a very simple and straightforward process:

  • Take all small valuables (such as jewellery and electronic devices) and store them away safely;
  • Remove any personal information, such as phone bills, bank statements, and credit card receipts from the dining table, kitchen countertops, and office desk;
  • Double check if all spare keys and garage door openers have been locked away;
  • Any prescription drugs should be placed out of sight, including taken away from the medicine cabinet.

The above list ought to take care off any unpleasant surprises when the home seller returns after the open house. Even though it only takes 5-10 minutes of your time to do the necessary to ensure privacy and security are intact, it will cost you a lot more if this valuable tip gets forgotten!

#8 of Home Seller Tips – Set the stage!

Now that you’ve done all the heavy lifting to get the house in tip-top condition, the day of the open house finally arrives!

Is there something special you as the home seller can do on the day itself?

Remember last October when you set the dining room table for your closest friends and family to celebrate your promotion at work?

Well, THAT is how I would like you to set the table for an open house! 

Don’t go overboard by using elaborate table settings! Make it as natural as you can – pretend you’re having a bunch of friends over for a nice dinner this evening!

Of course, nothing stops you from putting that finishing touch on things a few hours before the first open house visitors start to arrive:

  • opening up all curtains;
  • airing out the house;
  • turning on every single light switch;
  • give the rooms a ‘once over’;
  • display some fresh flowers.

Show off how great your home is – it shouldn’t be that difficult! After all, you loved living there all these years!

#9 of Home Seller Tips – Please leave the house now!

Mr seller please leave

Home sellers should be asked to leave their home!

Unfortunately, there really is no comfortable way of saying it!

Initially, I used a number of different lines when trying to tell the home seller that it’s time for them to leave as the open house is about to start, but then I quickly realized that the best time to bring this message across is at the time of the mandate signing.

By establishing such expectations early on and preparing the home seller to the fact that they will be asked to leave the house during EVERY SINGLE house showing event (including the open house), there’s no awkwardness anymore when the time comes!

This will be one of the most important home seller tips you can get. Honestly!

The report between buyer and real estate agent will be much better and honest feedback will more than likely happen, whereas none of that will be the case if the home seller is hovering around, as I move from room-to-room with the buyer.

Will the home seller appreciate hearing certain ‘frank conversations’ from potential buyers about the home? How would that influence the home seller’s perception of the buyer, and offer if one gets presented later on?

If for whatever reason, the interested buyer does run into the home seller and starts asking him questions, there are too many things which could go wrong! I make sure to prepare my home sellers if that were to happen, there’s only one answer to give: “You will have to ask my real estate agent that question.”

It’s very simple:

Have you had any offers, Mr Seller? You will have to ask my real estate agent that question, Mr Buyer.

How long have you been on the market, Mr Seller? You will have to ask my real estate agent that question, Mr Buyer.

Are you more negotiable if I were to pay cash, Mr Seller? You will have to ask my real estate agent that question, Mr Buyer.

Let’s not forget that anything the seller might answer differently, could and very likely will be used against him if that particular buyer were to put forward an offer and initiate negotiations!

Just don’t say you weren’t warned, Mr Seller!

#10 of Home Seller Tips – Ask your real estate agent questions!

In the end, the home seller will very likely have been prepared by the real estate agent as to what to expect during these open houses and which preparations for the open house should ideally have been done in order to present the house at its best.

Nonetheless, I’m sure many home sellers will have questions of their own to ask the agent.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions my clients have asked me over the years:

  • Will the real estate agent himself be present during the open house?
  • Will the visitors be personally guided throughout the home?
  • Will the number of visitors be limited to make sure everyone will get a proper tour of the home?
  • Will the visitors be asked for identification for security purposes?
  • Will the visitors be allowed to take their own photographs?
  • Will the open house be cancelled in case of rainy weather?

There really is no right or wrong answer to these questions as each situation, agent and home seller will be different. 

The home sellers need to be assured their home is in good hands, which means (1) the real estate agent needs to make sure to clarify any ambiguity concerning the open house activity, where the agent will have set guidelines, and (2) sometimes the home seller will request certain rules to be followed regarding visitors (i.e. require to show identification to scare away ‘elements with bad intentions’).

Closing thoughts

By now, as a home seller, you hopefully have a clearer understanding of how you can contribute to a successful open house!

Some of these home seller tips are quite straightforward and easy to implement, others might require some extra elbow grease!

There’s quite a bit that comes into play during the preparation stage of it, so please make sure you use that time to do all the necessary changes, needed repairs, cleaning and decluttering!

Once your home goes on the market, not only won’t there be a lot of time to do much of the repairs, the interested buyers will have already seen it and made their first impression!

Let me ask you the question again: do you now think your home is ‘show-ready’ at this very moment?

Happy selling to you!

Other Helpful Home Seller Tips For Open House Resources:

As a seller, if you’re aiming for a successful open house, please use the above home seller tips in mind!

Who knows, it might not only result in you making an extra few thousand, it might surprisingly be a quick and smooth transaction!

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About the author: The above article “10 Home Seller Tips For A Successful Open House was written by Xavier De Buck, your top-producing Johannesburg real estate agent. Xavier has been nationally recognized and awarded for providing service excellence, exceptional property sales, whilst exhibiting the highest level of professionalism. With over 15 years combined experience as a real estate agent and real estate investor, if you’re thinking of buying or selling a home in Johannesburg, Xavier would love to share his property knowledge and expertise.

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