Doug Heddings’s open houses aren’t all that open. When would-be buyers want to walk through the Prudential Douglas Elliman broker’s properties, they must first call for specific time slots and are escorted one group at a time. Each also needs to produce a valid I.D. The protocol is atypical, but then again, Heddings has battle scars. In November, two women stopped in at one of his listings and wound up making headlines when Heddings’s assistant caught them stealing jewelry and other valuables. (They have since been arrested and now stand accused of raiding a handful of open houses.)
But Heddings is ambivalent. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to turn off sellers, as open houses are “probably the single most effective marketing tool for properties ranging between $300,000 to $2 million,” he admits. But recent events have made homeowners and brokers a little wary, and “if my industry can effectively control open houses, it’ll make it that much easier to stay on top of people,” Heddings explains. (One client even considered hiring a security firm to man future open houses, though she has since reconsidered.) “It made me more aware of the pitfalls. You have to keep a constant vigil,” says Halstead’s Denise Rosner, who says she’ll bring in an assistant the next time she reps a large apartment. A few brokers have decided to forgo open houses altogether. Though Gumley Haft Kleier’s Laurel Rosenbluth does conduct them when she needs to, “I’d prefer to give someone my attention in individual appointments rather than act like a security guard,” she says.
Not that bad behavior’s rampant. In 24 years, Brooklyn broker Peggy Aguayo says she has “never had this occur.” Veteran agent Barbara Fox says she’s heard of some incidents of theft, though it doesn’t happen often. “In a city like this, it could be worse than it is,” she says. Adds Bellmarc’s Julie Friedman, who once had a visitor pocket an expensive bottle of perfume at one of her open houses: “It’s New York! Fifty percent of clients that come in are weird. It doesn’t mean they’re not buying.” (Still, if you’re a worried seller, be sure to stash financial documents, jewelry, prescription drugs, and even the mail, which can tempt identity thieves.) She may sound casual, but she does tail visitors around the apartment. If they’re true-blue buyers, she reasons, it shouldn’t bother them. “Anyone who’s going to buy an apartment won’t disengage just because I’m standing [next to them] the whole time.”