Conducting a Safe Open House

By Nicholas T. Smith, Consumer Protection Officer

Seller clients entrust their listing agent to effectively market and expose their property to many prospective buyers. Holding an open house can be an effective marketing tool to gain exposure for a client’s property and can be a great way to find potential buyers. While this additional exposure can be advantageous for selling a home, conducting an open house poses additional risks to a broker and the seller and it is important that brokers take precautions to protect themselves and their client’s property when holding an open house. 

Recently, a man and a woman posing as potential buyers were arrested in connection with multiple thefts occurring during open houses in Southern California. The male suspect distracted the agent conducting the open house while the female suspect went from room to room stealing desired items. Although more rare, brokers also have been victims of violent crimes during open houses, more often when they are alone.

A broker should be sure to discuss with their clients the safety risks of holding an open house and describe the precautions that should be taken to protect the property. When discussing preparations for the open house, a broker should remind their clients to take valuables and prescription drugs with them, or secure them in a safe place. While there is always a possibility of theft from a burglar entering the home under the guise of a potential buyer, the seller stands to lose less when valuables are removed or secured. Additionally, potential burglars who may be “casing” the property to determine if there is anything of value may be less inclined to return later.

Consider taking the following steps to better protect you and your client’s property and ensure a safe open house:

Preparing for a safe open house:

  • Enlist the help of a teammate, assistant, spouse or friend to accompany you during the open house, especially with multi-level properties.
  • Notify the neighbors of the open house and introduce yourself if time permits. They may notice something out of the ordinary, such as someone removing electronics.
  • Consider setting up a webcam to record prospects’ images as they enter the property. Avoid audio without talking first to an attorney about how and when audio recordings are permissible.
  • Do not advertise the listing as vacant. Doing so may attract a criminal’s attention.
  • Establish escape routes from each level of the house.
  • Check for cell phone service in a prior visit to the property and ensure your phone is adequately charged before the open house.
  • Arrange to check-in with the office or a buddy at pre-designated times during the open house.

During the open house:

  • Park where you can get out quickly and ensure you will not be blocked in.
  • Keep your keys and cell phone in hand.
  • Be watchful and observant. Pay attention to who is entering the home and take notes if possible (car description, license number, and physical attributes).
  • Use a registration system and encourage prospects to sign in.
  • Touch base with your office or a buddy at pre-designated times.
  • Always follow a prospect, never lead. Avoid attics, basements and small rooms that are difficult to exit.

After the open house:

  • Take time to ensure you leave the property as you found it. Ensure everyone has left the property by checking all the rooms.
  • Be sure to lock all of the doors, return the key(s) to the lockbox and properly close the lockbox.
  • Report to your clients on the open house and ask them to double check to be sure none of their items are missing.

Editors Note: Credit is also attributed to the authors and contributors to the NC Safety Guide including the North Carolina Association of REALTORS ® and the Washington Real Estate Safety Council.