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© Copyright 2000-2011

By Bob Cain
Copyright 2000 Cain Publications, Inc., 
used by permission

Why Hold One?

You can prepare the property for the best showing.

When you get a property ready to rent you do many little things to get the unit ready to rent, but show it right along, even before it’s really ready to show. Holding an open house gives you something to shoot for, a goal to reach. You know you have to have it ready by a specific date at a specific time. There’s no more of this “I think I’ll go over and work on the rental for a while. I’ve got somebody coming to look at it at two o’clock.”  That means you got some things done and the place looks better, but it doesn’t look its best.  In a tough rental market, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to give the best impression. Using the open-house method allows you to wow applicants.

And knowing you’re going to have several people looking at it does wonders for focusing your effort.

You can psych yourself up for the showing.

Every time you show a unit you have to get “up” for it. Surprising as it may seem, each showing requires a fair amount of energy and a major depletion of your stress bank. As a professional speaker I know how much energy it takes to put on a presentation. In fact, I have heard the energy required and stress factor for a presentation compared with being in a minor automobile accident. Showing your rental property does take it out of you.

If you can put it all together into one showing for several people, you use only slightly more energy and it is probably hardly any more stressful.

Of course, if you get it rented from the open house, you forget all about being tired and stressed out.

Gives people who may not really thought about moving a chance to look.

Studies show that tenants decide to move 45 to 60 days before they make actual plans. You can help them along. They may get a flyer or see your sign (we’ll discuss that later) and stop by—after all, they had been talking about moving. Now you’re not competing with any other landlords. If they like your unit, they might just decide to move right away.

You can compare applicants.

When you see applicants one at a time, you have nothing to compare them with and sometimes you find yourself thinking, “well, I guess they look okay.”  But if several sets come through during a two- or three-hour period, you remember what they others were like and can form a more objective opinion.

You can play applicants off against each other to make application faster.

Prospective tenants all by themselves have no reason to hurry. But put them together in a unit with other prospective tenants and they may get off the dime. People buy things for one of two reasons: fear of loss or hope of gain. Eighty percent of people buy for the first. That means if you have two sets of prospective tenants in a unit at the same time and one expresses what might conceivably be construed as interest, the other prospective tenants may start to fear they will miss out on getting the unit.

You don’t have to say a word to help the process along. Just answer the questions of each set of visitors and watch. If both kind of hang around, not wanting to miss anything, you have two applicants right there.  Then, when the two sets start looking at each other, just ask if they’d like to fill out the rental applications they already have in their hands (see the section later in this article).

It’s more efficient.

What’s easier, driving over to show the property three times during the week and being stood up once, or spending three hours having applicants come to you?

It’s less threatening to a prospective tenant.

People who might not want to call about an ad and get a special showing, might wander through an open house. They feel as if they can be less conspicuous. And if you are friendly and non-threatening in return, you may well end up with an outstanding applicant.

Things To Do To The Property

Edge the yard, sweep and hose down the front, pick up trash for the entire block.

Have you ever watched someone drive by a rental property (maybe yours), see the sign, slow down, stop, back up, then keep on going?  Those were probably prospects.  And they saw something that turned them off. Of course, it could have been something about the property over which the landlord had no control: the yard might have been too big or too small, it might have had no off-street parking, or any number of other things.  But just as likely it could have been the yard looked shabby, the building needed touching up, or the block looked trashy.

An applicant’s first impression many times determines whether or not he or she will rent the unit. When I sold real estate there was a property that an investor had bought and fixed up to resell. A couple came to the front door to look at it and the wife walked in. Now this investor had done a super job of making the yard and living room shine. The wife said immediately, “I have to have this house.”  Mind you, the husband was still on the front porch.

Renters make decisions the same way. In fact, many times people have decided to rent or buy before they ever walk in the door.  Don’t let anything turn a good first impression into a bad decision.

Nothing your applicant sees should turn him or her off. So start at the corner at the opposite end of the block from your rental property and make sure that the street looks neat and tidy. Pick up every piece of trash and every loose pop and beer can and bottle. Sweep up things that can be easily swept up. Do the entire block. Don’t let your neighbors’ messiness keep your property from being rented.

With your own property, of course, you can be even more thorough.

Brighter light bulbs, wash windows, vanilla on light bulb.

Here are three tricks that some real estate agents know to make a property look and feel more inviting. Trust me, these work. 

First, wash the windows. As a test, wash the windows in your own house in just one room. Notice how much brighter and inviting everything looks? It’s important to do it in just one room, because then you can compare with the room with the unwashed windows.

Brighter light bulbs provide even more light. Take out those 60-watt bulbs and put in 100s. The difference will be dramatic.

Finally, a drop or two of vanilla on a light bulb smells like something baking in the oven. This one is almost unfair. What smells more like home than cookies in the oven? If your applicants look at more than one property, which one will they remember most? That bright, cheery place with the cookies baking.

Make the unit shine.

You know what else to do. You’ve got them inside; they are impressed by how bright and cheery it is; it smells like grandma’s house. Now don’t let anything turn them off. Polish and wax everything that should be. Touch up the paint.  A couple more hours of work could mean that you get this place rented.  

How To Promote The Open House

Ad in the paper.

This is the old standby. The newspaper is where people look for rental ads. So put it there. You might even put the ad in twice: once as a plain ad for the unit, and another time advertising the open house.

Directional signs.

Real estate agents use easel signs to show people where their open houses are, you can do the same thing. Just make sure that the sign indicates that it is a rental that you are holding open, not a property for sale. 

You will need at least five signs in a normal situation.  One sign goes at each end of the block, one sign at the corner of the nearest main street and one sign at the corner of another main street that connects with the main street nearest your property. You can get by with fewer, but the coverage is nowhere near as good.

Flyers to the neighborhood.

Make up a flyer advertising the open house and the unit for rent. If you’re handy with a computer and have a laser or inkjet printer you can make a pretty nice looking flyer.  If possible, use a picture of the unit. Get it scanned at Kinko’s or a similar company as a “tif” or “pcx” file.  The more professional looking the flyer, the better the impression prospective applicants get of you.  A professional appearance encourages good tenants and discourages bad ones. Silly as it sounds, make sure your name and phone number and the day, date and time of the open house are on the flyer. You’d be surprised how many flyers go out without some or all of that information on them.

Get at least 100 copied on colored paper at a copy shop and put them out to the neighborhood door to door. If there’s an apartment complex close by, definitely hit that.

Tell people when they call about ad or sign.

The phone rings and you have an ad call. Tell the applicant about the open house. But suppose this one sounds like somebody you don’t want to get away.

Here’s a way to really make them feel special.  Tell them, “we’re going to have an open house this weekend, but I’d really like you to see it sooner.”  Imagine the impression you would make on someone by being willing to go out of your way to accommodate them and showing them the unit ahead of everyone else.

Things To Do For Guests


You’ll have to do that a lot. It can be hard for people who are not used to meeting the public and your forced smile may seem unnatural—but it isn’t.  All people see is the smile. Chances are they’re just as nervous as the landlord when they come into the open house. Your job is to make them feel comfortable.

One way to fool yourself into feeling good about everyone who walks in is to think to yourself, “here comes the ideal tenant.”  Renting to the ideal tenant would certainly make you smile.

Greet everyone.

Just as important as smiling is saying “hello.” That lets your potential applicants know they are welcome. People who feel welcome are more likely to want to do business.

Think about your own experiences. When you go into a store, do you feel more comfortable and more inclined to do business where the clerk or proprietor smiles and says “hello?” Most people do.

Ask people’s names and use them.

People love to hear the sound of their own names more than just about anything else. So when you greet people as they come into the open house, say something like: “Hi, I’m Chris, the owner of the property. What’s your name?”  Chances are they will tell you their first name, maybe even their last name. Also, be sure to get the spouse’s and children’s names, too.   You don’t need their last name yet.  All you’re doing is being polite and making them feel welcome, not getting a rental application from them. 

Now try to remember their names. I have no suggestions for you to help with that, since I can forget someone’s name five seconds after they’ve told me. Using their name helps you remember, though.

Offer coffee or pop and cookies.

Have it available and make sure you offer it. Don’t expect everyone to take some. The idea is that you are being a good host or hostess. This also sets you apart from other landlords. An additional benefit is that if someone takes a cup of hot coffee, they’re likely to stick around longer to look at the unit.

Hand everyone a fact sheet, rental app and rental standards.

Before you start the open house, make up a packet that contains all of these materials.  Put the property information on top. Include in it room sizes, amenities, yard size, garage size, etc.  This is different and more detailed than the flyer, which lists mostly benefits, not features and amenities. Attaching the rental application is important, too. That way you know they have one. If you want, you can fill in the landlord’s name and phone number on it so they have one more way to reach you.  Finally, include the rental policies and standards, including the reason you have them printed at the top.

What if nobody shows up?

It does happen. And it’s disappointing. Here you have gone to all that work to get the unit ready to show and it all seems to have gone for naught.

But think of it this way:  you do have the unit in prime condition for showing and you  have made an impression on lots of people from the marketing.  There’s something almost magic about activity that generates more activity. The fact that you are actively marketing the property to rent for some reason stirs the pot and gets more people interested.

If you live in a slow rental market an open house could be a non-threatening and effective way to get people to look at your prime rental property.


Robert Cain is a nationally-recognized speaker and writer on property management and real estate issues. For a free sample copy of the Rental Property Reporter call 800-654-5456 or visit their web site at

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