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Realtors debate open houses over holidays

ELGIN – Is holding an open house during the holidays a waste of time, or can it really help sell your home? Many home sellers and real estate agents will be asking themselves that question in the weeks to come.

To offer some guidance, the Re/Max Northern Illinois real estate network asked a sampling of its agents who regularly hold open houses at other times of the year for their views on the issue.

The primary reason to hold an open house during the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the agents agreed, is that anyone who stops in is probably eager to purchase a home.

“People going to open houses during that period usually are dead serious about finding a home sooner rather than later,” said Sheila Yakutis of Re/Max Synergy in Orland Park. “Instead of doing their holiday shopping, entertaining or visiting family, they are out dealing with the weather and checking out listings.”

There are a number of factors that bring out buyers during the holidays, but idle curiosity, a major factor at other times of the year, is rarely one of them, she observed.

According to Elena Dan of Re/Max 1st Class Realty in Skokie, common buyer motivations for holiday house hunting include capturing year-end tax benefits, the need to relocate quickly or a belief that home prices are at their lowest during the winter months, which Dan said is not always the case.

Yet even with strongly motivated buyers in the market, many agents and sellers do cut back on their home marketing efforts over the holidays because of travel, other obligations or just a desire to relax and enjoy the season, according to Dan.

“Most sellers want to stop by the end of November, and I have to encourage them to let me do an open house during the holidays,” she said. “The truth is that one of the best months I’ve ever had selling homes was in December.”

Brian Ernst of Re/Max Action in Lisle believes strongly in the value of open houses for both sellers and their agents. He holds open houses, primarily in Naperville and Aurora, throughout the year but views the holiday season as an especially advantageous time.

“There’s less competition because other agents and sellers aren’t as active. Buyers are serious, and they have the added incentive of tax advantages if they can close by the end of the year,” he said. “Doing open houses during the holidays can benefit all my listings because if the home that is open is not quite right for a buyer, another one of my listings could be ideal.”

Another plus during the holiday season, according to Ernst, is that with friends and families getting together at that time of year, buyers often bring parents, siblings or close friends to an open house. Getting positive input about a home from such “trusted advisers” can help close the sale.

The challenge during the holidays can be drawing people to an open house when the weather is less than ideal. One way to do that is by making the event as enticing as possible, contends Starr Zook of Re/Max On Track in Aledo.

She starts by holding holiday open houses at her most appealing listings and backs that up by serving refreshments and even offering a giveaway or drawing for something like a prepaid gas card.

Once visitors arrive, it doesn’t hurt to capitalize on the holiday spirit, suggests Mike Kravitz of Re/Max Signature in Chicago.

“With the owners’ cooperation, you want Christmas trees up and a wreath on the door – make sure that it’s warm and cozy. Add scented candles to make the home smell good, and maybe bake a pumpkin pie. Even if the property is empty, do the same thing, at least at the front entrance,” he advised. “Food makes them stay longer, and that allows the home to make a deeper impression.”

As much as they generally approve of the idea of open houses during the Thanksgiving-Christmas period, the agents did point out that not every day during that period is equally appropriate for such an event.

Yakutis carefully schedules her open houses to avoid conflicts with Chicago Bears games.

Kravitz usually stops holding open houses between Dec. 20 and early February because house hunters are few during that six-week period.

In contrast, Zook reports that activity in her market around the Quad Cities tends to pick up noticeably in mid-January, and she resumes holding open houses at that time.

When it comes to holiday open houses, it’s important for both the agent and homeowner to be flexible, advises Yakutis.

“If I have a seller who really wants to get something done over the holidays, I’ll test the market and try an open house,” she said. “On the other hand, if I have a young family with kids who just wants to be free and easy, I’ll tell them to pull back and wait until after the holidays for an open house – eliminate the stress. But my bottom line is that I’m flexible. I look at the market, and if there are buyers out there, then an open house can be a great idea even during the holidays.”

The Re/Max Northern Illinois network, with headquarters in Elgin, consists of 2,100 sales associates and 110 individually owned and operated Re/Max offices.

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