BRADENTON -- Don't want to do an open house to sell a home in Bradenton? Area real estate agents aren't taking "no" for an answer.
Bradenton is one of the top cities in the United States when it comes to holding open houses. A recent listings survey by online real estate brokerage HomeFinder.com showed Bradenton had the sixth-highest number of open houses in the country during the second week in March with a total of 54. Sarasota also made the list at third place with 121 open houses behind national champion Honolulu.
Miami was the only other Florida city to make the list, coming in eighth.
While local real estate agents were surprised to find Bradenton so far up the rankings, the value of open houses is not lost on them. The events bring serious house shoppers in contact with selling agents and can be key to pushing a house shopper to become a house buyer, and to selling a home quickly. That's a big incentive to listing agents and sellers to hold open houses early and, sometimes, often.
Craig Cerreta, a Realtor with Premier Sotheby's International Realty, holds open houses for most of the homes he lists. This week, he and selling partner Toi Estes have three open houses, a record for them during a busy spring. The pair takes open houses seriously, bringing in sponsors including Truman's Tap & Grill to provide lunch and giveaways.
If the promise of swag and free food isn't enough, Cerreta and Estes send out email blasts, post signs and even invite neighbors to stop at their open houses.
"The goal is to get as many looks as we can," Cerreta said.
Those looks often turn into sales. Citing a National Association of Realtors study, HomeFinder CEO Doug Breaker said open houses are the third most-used resource by buyers doing offline home searches, behind contacting a real estate agent and seeing a yard sign. HomeFinder has tracked open house numbers for several years but released those numbers publicly for the first time in March.
The results, paired with feedback from agents through a HomeFinder app, show a surging housing market.
"We see an 88 percent increase in people walking through open houses compared to the same time last year," Breaker said.
High traffic counts are par for the course in Florida, where year-round sunny weather is an inducement for any house shopper to hit a few open houses on a given weekend. Pam Ali, the managing broker for the Bradenton office of Michael Saunders & Co., said the six to 10 open houses her agents schedule on an average Sunday would be extraordinary almost anywhere else.
"We do do more open houses than any other area of the country," she said.
Florida real estate agents also seem to do open houses well. Ron Cornette, the marketing and training director for Bradenton-based Wagner Realty, said many of the Wagner agents holding the roughly 20 open houses scheduled companywide this weekend have gone through a class he teaches on the subject.
In the class, he stresses the basics: Make sure the house is presentable, publish an ad about the open house and "invite the neighbors."
"They are curious about how you and I live," Cornette said. "And they might know friends who they'd like living near them."
Some properties require a master class treatment when it comes to open house time. On Wednesday, Cerreta and Estes held an open house in a Lakewood Ranch home complete with a catered lunch. Had the showing been on a weeknight at a waterfront condo, the crowd and the occasion would have called for a cocktail party -- provided the possibility of a sale justified the out-of-pocket expense. Agents generally pay for open houses themselves.
"You can't just go out and do a $2,000 party without the thought process," Cerreta said.
How home shoppers find an open house can tell a listing agent whether they're in the mood to buy. If a shopper simply stops by after seeing signs advertising the open house, he or she is likely there to just "kick the tires," Cerreta said.
Shoppers that attend after seeing the open house advertised in a newspaper advertisement are "usually pretty serious."
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.