People don’t usually think of it, but an open house as an invitation for strangers to case your place, but it is. Most people who come through an open house come alone. They don’t bring an agent with them. That means they’re wandering through each room of your house – your bedroom, your office – often unsupervised for a chunk of time.
I’ve been around the block enough to know a lot of weird and dangerous things can happen, even at such a happy and exciting occasion as an open house.
The Scary Part We Don’t Like to Think About
You’re a good person who wants to think the best of others and not assume the worst. I get it. I do too. Wisdom, however, is thinking the best of others while preparing for the worst anyway. Here’s the thing; people coming through an open house can have a wide range of motives.
You get the curious neighbors and previous owners who just want to see what changes you’ve made to the place. You get people who are actually house shopping and pop by to get ideas or see if it’s a fit for them. Sometimes, you can also get people gathering intel on you or your family for whatever reason – maybe for a divorce proceeding, or a child custody case, or a lawsuit. The house is also open to anyone who straight up wants to steal - to swipe some jewelery or check out your alarm system and possessions so they can come back later.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever have one necessarily (though they are among the least effective for actually selling your home), just that if you do host an open house, make sure to protect yourself as much as possible.
7 Ways to Protect Yourself (and What to Hide)
Before Your Open House
There are things that should never, ever be out or accessible at an open house (or a private showing, for that matter).
Never have your family calendar visible. If you do, anyone at all can find out exactly when your vacation is, when the kids are in hockey, or when you’re meeting with the agent. This can give a buyer (or their agent) ammunition for their negotiations (perhaps gathering from the data that you’re in a time crunch to sell, or emotionally vulnerable in some way), or give a thief a lovely timetable for their return.
There are people who actually thumb through a calendar in an open house (yes, even a private showing). It happens. So hide it.
Mail, Brochures, Anything that Reveals your Plans
Remember, the seller and their agent will use whatever they see and hear to gain a better footing in negotiations. Hide anything that is even remotely connected to your plans. If they see the condo or life lease brochure, maps of lakes, or info on schools, that’s all too much information. Don’t give intel to the other side.
Yes, this may come as a shock but people actually will steal your meds if you leave them out. It’s happened often that youth will swipe their parents’ medications and take them to pill parties. It’s a thing. Protecting youth and your wallet aside, your pharmaceutical needs are another piece of intel that can reveal something about your house needs and bargaining position, so don’t leave it out.
Valuables and Financial Stuff
This might seem like common sense, but it’s left out more than you might think. If you’ve got loose change, jewellery, a wallet, credit cards, a jewellery box, or even an earring tree or ring dish, hide them. All of those are valuables that can easily be picked up and walked right out.
Take special care to hide your small electronics like phones and laptops. Careful where you hide them though! Don’t put them in a dresser drawer or tuck them into an enclosed space or they might overheat and we all remember the Galaxy Note 8 issues! The best thing is to take them with you.
Personal Stuff That Can Identify Yourself.
You’re not going to like this one, but the family pictures, the wall of Christmas cards and photos of friends and family all needs to go. That certificate of graduation from dental college or engineer college or wherever you went to become who you are? Hide it. Not just because of the intel factor, but also because the buyer wants to see themselves in that house, not explore who you are.
Fragile or Irreplacable Items
Sometimes we want to leave our beautiful collections of ivory in our curios, displayed grandly for all to see. After all, it’s part of what makes our home so beautiful and comfortable. You won’t like this one either, but an open house is not the forum for this. It's not a showroom, you’re not running a New York Museum. Pack it away, put it out of sight. It protects your possessions, Murphy's Law could possibly befall your treasure with someone accidentally knocking it over. Besides, this allows your home to be more of a blank canvas for buyers to envision themselves in, and… you’re selling, so you’re going to have to pack it up anyway, right?
The Real Point of an Open House
As home owners, our home reflects us. Naturally then, we want to showcase the best version of us for an open house. Trouble is, that’s not why people come to an open house. For once, people really are coming to see the house, not you.
Your job, during an open house, is to remove yourself and help the buyer to imagine themselves there instead. Work to give the home a neutral look, though not sterile, and clear as much clutter as possible.
I realize it’s unlikely that a notorious art thief will be popping by your open house with evil motives. However, like I said, I’ve been around the block and know this stuff happens, so it’s best to be pro-active and protect yourself.
Protect yourself from a bad buying experience or financial fall-through.
Trust me, they happen a lot. Especially with the new mortgage rules!
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