Queue here to view

Sick of the strain of keeping your home ship-shape, while you wait for someone to name your price? Open house viewings have produced speedy results in the US and Australia, and the idea is catching on in the UK. Penny Jackson reports
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The Independent Online

One of the things that really gets to sellers is having to keep their home in an immaculate condition. Eventually the chance that a buyer might take fright at what lies beyond the threshhold is preferable to the strain of unnaturally high domestic standards.

One of the things that really gets to sellers is having to keep their home in an immaculate condition. Eventually the chance that a buyer might take fright at what lies beyond the threshhold is preferable to the strain of unnaturally high domestic standards.

This is one reason Hamptons International have not found much difficulty in winning people over to the idea of selling through an "open house" system of viewing. By inviting all interested buyers to look around a property on a specific day during a given period of time, everyone gets to see the house looking its best. If vendors exhaust themselves buffing up their homes in readiness, then at least they know there's a good chance the performance won't have to be repeated.

Furthermore, a large number of people viewing the house together introduces a competitive edge, and keen buyers are spurred into making an offer quickly at the asking price or close to it. The owner is out of the way and the estate agent is on hand to answer questions.

"We find that properties can sell more quickly for higher prices this way," says David Adams, the regional director who was responsible for setting up the scheme with Hamptons, two years ago. "When someone falls for a house for the first time they only see its good points. And because they are aware that others are interested they like to go back as soon as possible with the intention of putting in an offer.

"When buyers look around on their own, however, they don't feel the same need to make quick decisions. If they go back for a second or third look, they then start spotting the faults - no built-in wardrobes, an out-of-date kitchen, a bit of damp here - and that's when the discounting begins. On an asking price of £500,000 they might well offer only £470,000. They are also likely to be suspicious of an agent telling them that other people are interested."

Initially the reception given to the open house concept was mixed. British buyers reacted uncertainly, but those from countries where this is the preferred model - New Zealand, Australia, United States, to name a few - saw it differently. "They would all say that it was about time it was adopted in this country," says Adams.

It is also appears to be equally useful in the converse situation - for the person who turns up to view a property only to take an instant dislike to it. "Normally, English politeness dictates that they will look around regardless, saying nice things. This way, they can leave immediately and no one's time is wasted," he adds.

So if it works for the vendor in bringing the process into sharper focus and for the agent in cutting the amount of time spent in arranging individual viewings, how has it been for the buyer? In a survey carried out by Hamptons, 91 per cent of purchasers who have taken part in an open house thought it successful.

One of those would surely be Nigel Gough, who dropped in on an open house in Henley when he and his wife Jilly had half an hour to spare on a Saturday between other viewings. They spotted it while dropping their son at a friend's house nearby. "We went in on the off-chance and fell in love with it instantly. It was everything we wanted and we knew it was the house for us. But it was a very busy hour and there was a point when we wished the doorbell would stop ringing because by then we had started to imagine it as ours."

First thing on the Monday morning the Goughs put in an offer, only to find there were two others and the prospect of going to sealed bids. But to the family's relief, says Nigel, the other two parties could not proceed and their offer was accepted. "Even though the house was in exactly the right location we would never have made an appointment to see it because it was 10 per cent above our budget. If we hadn't taken the opportunity to have a quick look we would have missed a house that we thought we would never find."

It had taken the Goughs nine months to sell their house in the country and during this time they had viewed at least 40 houses. Now they wonder whether an open house might have worked for them when they were selling. "We are house proud anyway, but with two children and a dog it was still difficult to keep the house clean and tidy over such a long period with one or two viewings every week. Although we had loads of people looking around, it's impossible to say how many were serious."

What open houses have exposed is the number of buyers who look around out of idle curiosity, only to be so taken by a property that they decide to move. Dulwich in south-east London is a particularly good example of an area where people stay put but move from one type of property to another. Someone might hear that a neighbour at the end of the road is selling but - if merely curious - would be embarrassed to make a formal appointment. However, an open house gives them the chance to look around in a relaxed atmosphere and sales are often generated this way.

Wallace Jaffrey from the Dulwich office of Hamptons tries to organise an open house for three properties on one Saturday a month. "We recently sold a Victorian house that had been on the market for a while for £5,000 less than the asking price. But as we usually get a good number of people turning up, even if we don't get an offer, it can be a valuable exercise because it demonstrates to the vendor that maybe the price is too high."

In the end, an open house is no more a guarantee of a sale than any other method. It may be necessary to organise a second session or revert to the usual marketing methods, and it is not suitable for all types of property - such as those on a main road or those that appear from the exterior to be overpriced. Its critics among vendors and other agents also suggest there may be security risks that should be considered, although Hamptons says that buyers are registered in the normal way.

But for anyone who dreads the thought of keeping house and garden in apple-pie order for weeks on end, the possibility that the same number of people can be trawled in a couple of hours is pretty compelling.

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