Real­tors get cre­ative to lure buy­ers

Not all say free tacos and iPads work, how­ever

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FINANCIAL POST - LINDA NGUYEN

TORONTO • Re­al­tor Ash Alles wanted to throw an open house to re­mem­ber.

So, he catered a food truck.

“Food is what drives peo­ple in,” said Alles, a real es­tate agent at Sut­ton Group Sum­mit Realty in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont. “We’re try­ing to make it an event, as op­posed to a tra­di­tional open house.”

The open house at the town­house in Burling­ton, Ont., west of Toronto, last May drew in more than 200 peo­ple over four hours on a sunny Sun­day af­ter­noon. There were free tacos, mu­sic, and peo­ple were en­cour­aged to bring their ba­bies and dogs along.

Al­though the even­tual buyer wasn’t at the open house, billed as a “Cinco de Mayo Neigh­bour­hood Fi­esta,” Alles still con­sid­ered the party a suc­cess.

So much so that since the spring, he has hired a food truck for five other open houses.

Alles spends about $5,000 out of pocket each time for the food truck, much higher than the typ­i­cal $250 a re­al­tor usu­ally spends to run an open house.

“I want my list­ings to stand out. We want buy­ers to come to our list­ings. We want to sell our list­ings,” he said. “What­ever we can do to drive traf­fic is worth do­ing. Yes you have to spend a lit­tle more money but that is what mar­ket­ing is and that is what is go­ing to get the house sold at the end of the day.”

From food trucks to iPad give­aways to pri­vate wine and cheese nights, real­tors are up­ping their game in a bid to lure po­ten­tial home­buy­ers to an open house, a feat that may be­come more dif­fi­cult with real es­tate mar­kets across the coun­try con­tin­u­ing to show signs of soft­en­ing.

“There has been an evo­lu­tion of what an open house can look like,” says Ryan Hartlen, a Hal­i­fax bro­ker who’s been in the busi­ness for 15 years.

“Back in the day, you put a sign out, ad­ver­tise in the paper and see who shows up.”

Nowa­days, those who at­tend open houses can ex­pect any­thing from cook­ies and char­cu­terie boards to colour­ing books for the chil­dren to give­aways of foodie bas­kets.

Al­though the even­tual home­buyer may not be the nosy neigh­bour down the street or the dog­walker who de­cided to pop in to the open house, most real­tors see it as an op­por­tu­nity to show­case the prop­erty to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.

But if you ask Brett Starke, a sales rep with PSR Bro­ker­age in down­town Toronto, he has a dif­fer­ent strat­egy to run­ning an open house.

“I don’t do wa­ter or cof­fee or any­thing like that,” said Starke, who spe­cial­izes in sales of down­town con­do­mini­ums and homes in west Toronto. “I just do straight in­for­ma­tion (about the prop­erty).”

He says it’s more im­por­tant to him to get the right kind of per­son into a client’s open house, one that is se­ri­ous about the prop­erty, rather than aim to at­tract any­body off the street.

“There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween draw­ing peo­ple in and draw­ing in a buyer,” Starke said.

To him, a suc­cess­ful open house is get­ting six to 10 peo­ple and be­ing able to give them in­di­vid­ual at­ten­tion and an­swer all their ques­tions.

“We want to spend the right time with the right peo­ple,” he said. “You’re not go­ing to buy a condo or house be­cause some­one gave you a $20 bot­tle of wine, or the peo­ple who come for the free food, they’re not go­ing to be one ones who buy the house.”

Starke says agents who em­ploy these “gim­micky” tac­tics are do­ing a dis­ser­vice to their clients, when the ex­tra money spent on the open house could in­stead be put to­ward re­search and mar­ket­ing di­rectly to the right de­mo­graphic of buy­ers.

And what about those nosy neigh­bours of­ten seen at open houses? His tip is to hold a VIP event be­fore the pub­lic open house so they don’t dis­tract ac­tual po­ten­tial buy­ers.

“Open houses have al­most be­come like a Satur­day or Sun­day so­cial event where peo­ple think, ‘Why not go see beau­ti­ful prop­er­ties in the neigh­bour­hood, get de­sign in­spi­ra­tion and spy on our neigh­bours?,’ ” he said.

“We don’t want the tire kick­ers in there, com­plain­ing about things, when the real buyer could be there, too.”

WE’RE TRY­ING TO MAKE IT AN EVENT.

ASH ALLES / HAND­OUT / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Re­al­tor Ash Alles, sec­ond from right, wanted to throw an open house to re­mem­ber, so he catered a food truck and gave away free tacos. Alles has since gone on to hire food trucks for five more open houses.

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