A Minute-by-Minute Breakdown of What a Real Estate Agent Does 30 Minutes Before an Open House

published May 22, 2022
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Realtor Christine Malich takes a final bite of salad in her car at 11:29 am in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her next open house is at noon, and the Samson Properties agent has to get her “open house” signs, called directional signs, up quickly.

Though data from the National Association of Realtors indicates that well under 10 percent of sales result directly from open houses, these events do publicize the home’s availability through visitors, drive-bys, word of mouth, and viewings by other real estate agents.

So at least eight directional signs — within a mile around, “where there’s a possibility someone could turn the wrong way,” Malich says — need to go into the dirt. Let’s start the clock on what happens in the mysterious 30 minutes before a typical open house opens to the public.

11:30 a.m. It’s spring, so Malich doesn’t carry the hammer she might need if the ground were frozen. But she does have to watch for errant cars (“How often have I nearly been hit near the interstate? Often”). A neighbor might get crabby, too, even though the strip of land between sidewalk and street is public property.

11:41 a.m. At the house, Malich flips on all the lights in case a potential buyer shows up early. “It makes you crazy when you’re not ready,” she confides. Plus, a bright house is cheery and welcoming.

11:43 a.m. While zipping around, she also makes sure all toilet seats are down. “Seats that are up are like money down the drain,” she says. “I’m almost superstitious about this.”

11:44 a.m. The agent washes her hands, then plops prepared cookie dough onto sheets and into the oven. Soon the delightful, “homey” aroma will fill the house. Cookies encourage visitors to linger and talk the place up to friends, family, and their dogwalker’s hairdresser’s cousin.

Credit: Richard Stumpf
Christine Malich sweeps a sidewalk at a Maryland house before visitors arrive.

11:47 a.m. Malich steps outside with a broom to clear any leaves off the sidewalk and patio. It’s more than aesthetics; she doesn’t want visitors to track them inside.

11:50 a.m. Malich sets up and lights candles and starts gentle background music on a portable player. So far she’s appealing to visitors’ senses of sight, hearing, taste, and smell.

11:53 a.m. Time to find an empty table (there should be plenty after the home stager has done his or her work) in a prominent place in a front room. She props up the required notices as well as a sign-in sheet. 

11:54 a.m. Nearby, Malich displays an assortment of COVID-conscious items: hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, and booties (for keeping the carpets clean). 

11:55 a.m. Time for spot-checks. Did homeowners or stagers leave any trash behind? Is there a smudge she needs to wipe off a window or the refrigerator? Anything out of place on a countertop to whisk into a drawer or cabinet? Did the homeowner leave any valuables lying around?

“Sometimes people forget — money, keys, even a phone or weapon,” Malich says. A former neighbor and client once claimed that a visitor stole an item of her mother’s during an open house. The truth wasn’t clear, but Malich always does a sweep to avoid such issues. 

11:59 a.m. Malich finds a mirror and makes sure there’s no spinach in her smile. That late-morning salad was essential because she won’t get another chance to eat for hours — not even those fresh cookies.

Noon. Knock-knock. The first prospective buyer is here. “Hello!” says Malich. “Come in!”