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Door closes on era of open house

Open houses, such as this one Sunday in Tampa, are becoming rare as buyers turn more to Internet shopping.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Open houses, such as this one Sunday in Tampa, are becoming rare as buyers turn more to Internet shopping.

The open house, long a staple of the real estate industry, is fading as potential buyers increasingly shop by computer and smart phone.

Before the digital revolution, open house signs littered street corners. There are far fewer today, which is fine by many real estate agents. They say open houses attract unqualified buyers and people who view houses just for fun.

"I haven't held one in years," said Rae Catanese of Prudential Tropical Realty in Tampa. "You don't know who is walking in the door. A lot of clients don't want random people walking through their house. It's a safety concern."

She holds open houses only at a customer's request.

The National Association of Realtors urges agents and owners to take extra security precautions before opening homes. And many buyers prefer to show their houses only to serious buyers, given the turmoil in the housing market.

Technology has also changed Realtors' daily routines.

The days of driving customers to 10 houses in one day are over. Buyers now sit on their couches and take virtual tours of dozens of homes before narrowing the choices to a handful.

"They come in and want to buy one of those homes," said Jaci Stone, an agent with Century 21 Beggins Enterprises in Apollo Beach.

Open houses are still popular in some locations, she said. They are held daily in Sun City Center, a retirement community in southern Hillsborough County, where the older clientele grew up with the concept.

A 2008 survey conducted by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University found that many agents deemed open houses ineffective in selling property. But they do draw prospective buyers who ask about other properties.

Although customer open houses are declining, showings restricted to real estate professionals always lure agents.

"I want to see what is out there for sale," Stone said.

Poul Hornsleth of R.W. Caldwell Realty in Gulfport, a 38-year Realtor and former member of the Florida Real Estate Commission, still carries signs in his trunk for open houses.

He has seen a decline in open houses since 2004 but cautioned that pictures of homes on the Internet can be deceiving.

"I still think it's a good tool," he said. "A lot of people still drive through the neighborhoods to look firsthand. I am a supporter of them."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.

Door closes on era of open house 04/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 8, 2011 9:35pm]
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