Top Open House Fails to Avoid in the Winter

Summer open houses are easy-breezy. The sun is shining, the air is warm, potential buyers are out in force, and your curb appeal is on point thanks to blooming flowers and a lush green lawn.

Winter is a very different beast when it comes to open houses. Buyers huddle inside, wary of the cold and snow. Foot traffic can slow to a trickle during the holidays, when folks spend time with family and friends and suspend their hunt for a home.

And if you create additional hurdles for potential buyers before you even open your door, it could be a long slog through the snowy months. Avoid these seven gaffes when throwing a winter open house, and make buyers feel the warm fuzzies for your home.

1. Not clearing a path, for goodness’ sake

No one’s going to be happy at your open house if you make them trek through a month’s worth of built-up snow to get there—or worse, if they slip and fall on an icy surface. Of all the open house mortal sins, causing a potential buyer to fracture a hip is definitely up there.

“To bring people to your door, you have to literally clear a path to your door,” says Joe Moshé, a broker and the owner of Charles Rutenberg Realty in Plainview, NY.

And clearing a path isn’t just about shoveling: Try laying down rock salt to keep any melted snow from refreezing.

And make sure to look beyond your sidewalk. Snow buildup on your street might make your home less visible, or it could mean potential buyers will have to park farther away—and have ample time to snap out of the buying spirit. Shovel out plenty of parking spaces for visitors.

2. Skipping the ‘landing zone’

In most places, winter means snow and rain. And snow and rain mean scarves, jackets, gloves, and muddy shoes. Try as they might to be polite, potential buyers are tracking in all kinds of muck—all over your professionally cleaned or staged home.

Create a landing zone by your entrance to keep the mess at bay. Add extra hooks and a coat rack so no one is forced to tote around a heavy parka. Put up a placard kindly requesting guests to remove their footwear, and provide baskets or cubbies to stow the items. Don’t forget an umbrella stand.

Want to be really nice? Purchase inexpensive slippers so guests won’t have to shuffle about in their socks. They’ll love it.

3. Overheating the place

Piles of snow cover your yard, icicles dangle from your trees, and you can’t step outside without six layers of clothing. Winter isn’t coming—it’s here. But a serious chill doesn’t mean you need to turn your home’s interior into a sauna.

Find a reasonable temperature for your thermostat, Moshé says—and that does not mean 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Your potential visitors will be entering your house from a much colder outdoor temperature,” says Justin M. Riordan of Spade and Archer Design Agency, a home staging company in Portland, OR. Buried in hats, coats, and boots, they will find the 80-degree temperature downright steamy. Stick to 68 degrees to keep everyone comfy.

“If they find the temperature inside the house to be uncomfortable, that may sink any chance of making a sale,” Moshé says.

4. Phoning it in

Nobody likes a Scrooge, particularly at this time of year. Don’t limit yourself to the standard plate of supermarket cookies and bottled water. A winter open house requires more effort—and will be appreciated by those who had to abandon their warm spot on the couch to come see your home.

“Host a big open house by doing something fun and unusual to draw a crowd,” says Christi Beca, a Realtor® in Dallas. “Make it a big deal. Families love that.”

If you’re truly feeling the spirit, you could go bold and hire Santa to come take photos with the kids. Or take a simpler approach. Beca recommends hiring a caterer to provide seasonal treats, snacks, and hot chocolate. And make sure to flaunt that fireplace to give things an extra cozy feel. After all, you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) light that sucker for a summer open house, so you might as well take advantage of the season.

5. Going too far

But when you’re planning your blowout winter open house, make sure to keep the essential tenets of staging in mind: Buyers need to see themselves in your home.

Yes, you love your crystal Christmas tree and the Mannheim Steamroller–themed light show that overtakes your front yard. But not everyone celebrates the same holidays as you.

Skip the holiday décor,” Riordan says. “Your holiday decorations will tell a story about your life and your traditions, which may very likely be different than the person who is buying your house. These decorations will have the buyer thinking about you when they should be thinking about themselves (in the house).”

If you do keep any seasonal decorations up, keep them tasteful and subdued: A red-and-green plaid throw or pine garlands, for example, can look festive without overdoing it. Skip the front-yard life-size nativity scenes for now.

6. Lacking light

Darkness and dreariness rule during winter, but you want visitors to find your open house bright and cheerful.

“Lighting is one of the most important factors in selling a home,” says Than Merrill, the CEO of real estate investment education company FortuneBuilders. “Second only to location, lighting is the one thing that every buyer cites as a necessity.”

Sure, you’ve survived with your lights as is for long enough, but are they enough to entice your buyer? Give each room a long, hard look. If it lacks can lighting or any kind of built-in light fixture, double up on lamps to make the room pop.

Adding more bulbs isn’t the only way to brighten a room. Merrill recommends removing drapes, scrubbing the windows, increasing your wattage, and trimming outside bushes to let the sun shine in.

7. Forgetting to keep an eye on the weather

You can host an open house in a flurry, but if those flakes become a full-strength blizzard, be prepared to reschedule. Know the forecast. A little flexibility can mean the difference between a low turnout and a house full of happy potential buyers.

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