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The Not-So-Open House

Tight rules on showings keep a building livable—but may also hamper sales.

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Illustration by Mark Nerys  

The rules were straightforward: The co-op on Gramercy Park allowed only two open houses per weekend, and brokers had to request a slot the preceding Monday morning, first come, first served. It wasn’t a problem when sales were infrequent, but in a livelier market it’s survival of the quickest. Every Monday, “we’d duke it out,” says Citi Habitats’ Tracie Hamersley. Her sellers missed week after week, to the point where they (and Hamersley) took their case to the board, supported by five other agents trying to sell there. The gambit worked, and the two-per-weekend rule was thrown out.

That co-op isn’t unusual. Open-house restrictions exist everywhere, many of them enacted during the bubble years in an effort to manage crowds and keep down the weekend-morning ruckus. One chic downtown condo limits showings to one hour, and won’t let sellers schedule them simultaneously (which is exactly what many buyers prefer, so they can hit multiple places within one building). Other buildings require an advance list of attendees; doormen refuse spur-of-the-moment visitors. Some demand an army of agents: one in the lobby, another as elevator escort for visitors, and a third in the apartment. A Beekman Place co-op allows one open house per month per listing, only before 5 p.m., and never on weekends. And some buildings have simply banned them. “I tried to list one as an ‘open house by appointment,’ but that’s not the point of an open house,” says Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Scott Klein. “[Buyers] like to print out listings and go where they want. It gives them flexibility.”

A few years back, when apartments were selling after half an hour on the market, rules like these made sense. Crowds are annoying and can be a security risk. But in a market trying to hold on to its modest momentum, “people need every advantage they can get to sell their apartments,” says Klein, and open houses are (along with a great web listing) as good a selling tool as an agent has. Hamersley says half her business results from them. Corcoran’s Deanna Kory says clients “get great feedback” from them and often redecorate or adjust prices based on a Sunday’s results. Klein even hints that too-strict policies can send the wrong impression: “If someone knew of [them], it might discourage them to buy in these buildings, period.” After all, today’s buyers are tomorrow’s sellers.


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