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Eat-a-thon Open Houses/Users/adamp/Desktop/APR08/Optimized/YouInce

Tired of holding the same old open house? Put together a crowd-pleasing promotion and drive traffic to your listings.

That’s what Lori Stephens started doing last fall when she launched her “Hot Dog Open House Cookout” concept. And she got eight viable leads from her first event, two of which were for listings.

“This is something I do in my farm area as a listing generation tool, and I’ve added it to my marketing plan for every listing I take,” says Stephens, broker-associate with Watson Realty Corp. in Jacksonville.
Here’s how she ensures her open house concept is a success:

1. Go All Out
Stephens’ cookouts are far from your average neighborhood barbecue. For each event, she pays a couple of junior high school students $80 each to stand out on the closest major intersection, one wearing a hot dog costume and the other dressed as a mustard bottle, holding up signs that say “Free Food” and “Open House.” She also puts out signs and balloons along the main road, and she invites the whole neighborhood—including other companies’ sales associates.

 “[A person] cooks hot dogs under a tent in the driveway. We give out hot dogs, chips and water,” says Stephens, adding that visitors must tour the property before they are given lunch. “We have them sign a preview log to go in and look at the house, and then we give them the food.”

She also borrows a couple of golf carts (or rents them if her friends’ carts are unavailable), to shuttle prospects out to see other listings in the neighborhood. “My husband is the [designated] runner, and he uses one of the golf carts to pick up things we need.” In addition to the free food, Stephens has face painters and hairstylists (with goody bags containing free hair products) on hand. “Last time, we even had a couple of women from the neighborhood get their hair done,” she says.

2. Stick to a Budget
Stephens spent about $700 in upfront costs, including one-time sign printing and a banner featuring her name and company logo that spans the length of a two-car garage, as well as the $130 she paid for the George Foreman standup grill she bought on eBay.

The events cost her about $250 each, which she says is well worth the investment. “I [used to see] open houses as a waste of time and money, but the purpose of them is to create name recognition and awareness. If I do an open house, it’s going to be an event, and you’re going to know me!”

3. Gather the Competition
Before each open house, Stephens has her assistant call all the sales associates with listings in the neighborhood and tell them about the event. “We tell them to please tell their sellers that we may be showing their property that day,” she says, adding that most are very happy to have their listings shown. “I have sales associates in my office volunteer to help me,” she adds. “They get the buyer leads with an agreed-upon referral to me for creating the event; then I get all the listing leads.”

4. Vary Your Concept
For her next promotion, “Movies on the Lawn with Lori,” Stephens will be showing a Disney movie every other month in her neighborhood. “I’m buying an inflatable, portable movie screen and projector, and borrowing my company’s popcorn machine,” she says.
 “Some people think I’m crazy because anything outside the box is looked at as wasting your time, but I don’t care if people remember me as ‘the hot dog lady’ as long as I’m building relationships within the community,” Stephens concludes.