Saturday, July 01, 2006

Open House Tours Go Upscale

Jul. 1--With the real estate market cooling and a $1.7 million Hayden Lake home to sell, Realtor Julie Anderson knew she needed a novel approach to getting people through the front door.

Taking a page from the Street of Dreams, Anderson worked with other real estate agents to stage the "Hayden Lake Loop" tour.

Thirteen homes for sale were gussied up for public viewing. Guests took shuttle vans from house to house, dining on gourmet hors d'oeuvres at each stop. People who visited all 13 residences were eligible for drawings that included a roundtrip ticket from Southwest Airlines, jewelry, and a free stay at an Oregon Coast condo.

Anderson's event, held in late April, attracted 120 people, resulting in a flurry of spin-off events.

Coffee and cookies, standard freebies at open houses, have been replaced by quiche, key lime pie and drawings for gift certificates. Many of the events focus on getting other brokers and real estate agents to preview the property, with the goal of getting them to show the house to their clients.

Though Anderson didn't get an offer from the Hayden Lake tour, she considers the event a success. "It was great exposure," she said.

The elaborate open houses reflect a vastly changed real estate market. Last summer, "For Sale" signs were often the only marketing needed in North Idaho. Homes were snapped up within days of being listed, and sellers had the luxury of choosing from multiple offers.

This year, more homes are competing for a smaller pool of buyers.

Since May 2005, active residential listings in Kootenai County have increased by 120 percent. The number of sales, though strong by historic standards, has dropped by 20 percent.

Higher-end homes, in particular, are taking longer to sell, Anderson said. Windermere Realty, the franchise she works for, recently released a study comparing the number of homes for sale in Kootenai County by price bracket to projected demand.

For properties of $400,000 or more, it's a clearly buyer's market, Anderson said. The study estimated that the county has a 20- to 25-month inventory of homes priced from $400,000 to $1 million-plus.

Though the market is less saturated for lower-priced homes, agents are looking for ways to increase their properties' exposure, said Carolyn Joslin, another Realtor.

In May, Joslin was part of an open house tour in downtown Coeur d'Alene. As an incentive to drop by the three houses she was listing, Joslin offered drawings for dinner at an Italian restaurant. She ended up selling a $285,000 house as a result of the tour.

A June open house tour of nine Hauser Lake properties featured key lime pie, baked by a sous chef.

Open houses have always been part of Realtors' marketing strategy, said Gary Schneidmiller, owner/broker of Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty. This year, however, his firm is holding more of them, due to the slower market.

A grouped tour of 15 homes, held last month, was considered so successful that Schneidmiller's marketing department is considering putting on one per month. He didn't know if any homes sold as a result of the tour. People who attended were eligible for a drawing with the prize being a gift certificate to the Davenport Hotel.

Open houses are mostly about buzz, Schneidmiller said -- getting people acquainted with the property and talking about it.

Anderson may plan another event in the next few months. Meanwhile, she's still looking for a buyer for the Hayden Lake property.

Her client has dropped the price to $1.35 million. It's a three-story house on the water, with a boat dock in a private cove.

"We're just looking for the right person," she said.