Knock Knock! Are Open Houses Obsolete?

openhouse Knock Knock! Are Open Houses Obsolete?

Don’t take this away from us. (kletch, flickr)

Are nosy New Yorkers in danger of losing one of their favorite weekend pastimes? The New York Times sent a reporter to investigate whether open houses—a staple of so many Sunday afternoons—are soon-to-be scuttled relics of the pre-internet age. You know, when people began their days by reading actual newspapers.

Brokers, at least, would be happy to abandon the ritual—a practice that is as detested by real estate community as it is beloved by the common man. After all, in a city where so few of us can afford to buy, open houses are downright therapeutic, an opportunity to fantasize about a future that doesn’t involve endless rent hikes and increasingly diminutive apartments.

“It’s a form of entertainment,” Michele Kleier, the president of Gumley Haft Kleier told The Times. “It’s cheaper than Broadway.”

Elaine Clayman, a managing director of Brown Harris Stevens, said that brokers who want to attract serious buyers hold open houses on weeknights, a time generally considered so miserable that only the truly driven will turn up: “On the weekends they may come because they saw a movie in the neighborhood. It’s a Sunday sport.”

After all, brokers note, those actually in the market to buy can better spend their time scouting possibilities online via video/photo tours. Or their broker can. They can set up appointments. They don’t need to schlep around the borough pushing a baby carriage.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who just want to see how other New Yorkers live? Who want to connect with our fellow man by checking out what he keeps in his closets and judging him based on his wall art?

Things may look bad, but not all hope is lost. Because guess what? Sellers want to have us in their homes, snooping in their closets, judging their taste in books and decor. The Times reports that the continued existence of such events is basically all the sellers’ fault—who misguidedly believe that an open house is a great way to find a buyer—and pester their brokers to spend their Sundays tying balloons to front doors and herding guests through their house.

They even leave all kinds of nice things for their visitors, The Times tells us: candles, fake flowers, never-read books and an apparently ubiquitous black and white photo of a solitary tree propped (never hung) against a wall. Do they really believe open houses will work? Or are they making an offering to their fellow New Yorkers, feeling a kinship in their desire for a bigger, better place to live? Are they cognizant of the despair that would grip the city if New Yorkers were reduced to spending sunny Sunday afternoons in their apartments, huddled over virtual tours of bright two-bedrooms with hardwood floors that they know they’ll never set foot in?

kvelsey@observer.com