Ask just about any homeowner who has ever sold a home — the looming prospect of an open house is daunting.
There’s the cleanup involved (it really doesn’t matter if you’re normally a very clean person, there’s just something about people coming into your home that brings you to your grout with a toothbrush at 3 a.m.) There’s the fact that strangers are coming to your house where your stuff lives, and you really, really hope they like what you’ve done with the house with your stuff.
But not so much that they take your stuff, which is what happened to one Highland Park homeowner recently after an open house.
We’ve talked about what every seller should know before an open house before, so I thought I’d reach out to my colleague (and stager extraordinaire) Karen Eubank — who has written about this previously — to see if she recommends anything else.
“Potential buyers will peek in your medicine cabinet, try to get a glimpse at the labels on your clothing and check out the invitations on your refrigerator,” she said. “Your wall calendar and that pile of mail on the counter are enough to tell a complete stranger your life story.”
“Most folks that come to see your home are legitimate buyers on a mission but let’s face it, they’re still nosey,” Eubank added. “It’s human nature. We’re all curious about who lives in a house.”
Eubank said that while those things may seem innocuous, if the wrong person took a gander at your wall calendar, they might be pretty interested that you have a vacation coming up. “Oh and that you have a great concealed wall safe that has been pointed out at the open house as a selling feature,” she added.
So lesson one: Eliminate your life from the equation. You may adore the pictures of your children, but that also tells a neer-do-well that you’re away from home at specific times of the day (and it also tells them you have kids and what they look like). Cute wall hangings in the kiddos rooms with their names on them also give more information than you’d think. Put away calendars, and store banking information securely.
Lesson two: If it’s important to you, secure it. “We encourage our sellers to remove or lock up anything of value or anything that can easily be pocketed – jewelry, watches, along with small electronics,” Heather Guild with the Heather Guild Group of Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate, said. “And we tell them to remove all prescription drugs from their medicine cabinets/bathroom drawers.”
Massachusetts-based Realtor Susan Kadilak said communicating with sellers repeatedly is vital to making sure that everything is secured.
“We discuss it at the listing presentation and again when we are signing contracts,” she said. “Once the house is on the market valuables should be removed or secured for all showings and open houses.”
“While it’s rare that something will go missing you don’t want to take a chance that something will end up in the wrong hands,” she added. “In addition to valuables like computers, iPads, cash, and jewelry we also ask clients to secure any prescription medications and guns.”
“We also e-mail them a reminder with other general information once the house is officially listed.”
Highland Park Department of Public Safety Capt. C.W. Gore said his 28 years of experience has told him that when it comes to open houses, our third lesson comes into play: Out of sight, out of mind.
“I would not leave anything of value that I could not live without lying about, and if possible, make sure these items are locked away in a secure and/or inaccessible location at the residence,” he explained. “If there are larger items of similar value, I would invest in some type of off-site, secure storage.”
Our fourth lesson is simple: Safety (and security) in numbers. Ask your Realtor how many agents or representatives will be assisting in the open house. I’ll tell you one story that will make you see why — about three months ago, my family and I were house hunting. One Saturday afternoon, we hit a few open houses, and every single one had at least two people on hand to answer questions, encourage people to sign in, and give tours.
Until our last one. We walked in about 15 minutes after the open house was to start, and nobody — I mean, nobody — was in the house. It was unlocked, candles were burning, but there was nobody inside. No sign-in sheet. No way of knowing who was walking in and out of a home that was clearly still inhabited, and still had electronics and such inside. We were there for 30 minutes or so, waiting to see if someone would come that could tell us more about the house. Eventually, we left.
So yes, do ask if your Realtor (or a colleague) will indeed be on hand.
“For safety reasons, we typically stay in a main living area of the home and often ask a lender partner or another agent on our team to be the second set of eyes at the open house,” Guild said.
Gore says Guild’s precautions were on point, and gave further advice. “Realtors should be identifying any people who a”re allowed to roam the residence unescorted, and should possibly preclude them from wearing heavy/baggy/object-concealable clothing like overcoats while doing so.”
‘It is also common in these types of offenses that the criminals will sometime work in pairs so to distract while the other steals,” he added. “They will also’“inventory’ a house for future theft and/or burglary at their opportunity.”
And our fifth — and final — lesson is simple: It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Once the open house has ended, Realtors and homeowners still need to take additional, diligent steps to make sure the home made an impression — but only with prospective buyers.
“Property caretakers should verify that the residence is totally secure after an event to preclude any unlocked or sabotaged ingress points to the home,” Gore said. “This includes all windows, second-story doors, backyard gates, and garage door openers.”
“They should then to an inventory of any valuable items they have not been able to move or secure, to verify their presence.”
It’s a practice that Kadilak said has come in handy a few times post open house.
“ I had one open house where I was immediately bombarded with people and even though I had another agent there it was impossible to keep track of everyone,” she said. “At the end of the open house, I was walking around to lock windows, doors, and make sure everything was in its place when I saw the homeowners laptop left out in the open for everyone to see!”
“Luckily nothing happened, but something easily could have,” she added. “The client got a little scolding for that one.”
Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at email@example.com.