It’s 2 pm on a Wednesday. A listing agent receives a call from a buyer’s agent. The buyer’s agent wants to show one of the listing agent’s properties to a “very motivated” client — four hours from now.

However, the home’s listing states that the sellers have a newborn baby at home and need 24 hours notice for a private showing. The listing agent reminds the buyer’s agent of this, requests more advance notice, and suggests that the buyer attend Sunday’s open house. The buyer’s agent doesn’t respond, and this “serious” buyer is a no-show on Sunday. In short: If the listing agent hadn’t been down this road before, he’d have sent his clients scrambling just to accommodate a pushy agent.

Showing property is essential to the home selling process, of course. But there are things that buyers, sellers, and agents should be aware of regarding open houses, private showings, and lock boxes.

The Open House

Most people making their first foray into the real estate market usually pick up the local paper or launch the Zillow iPad app on Sunday morning and decide to check out open houses that afternoon. Open houses, which are typically held Sunday afternoons but sometimes also on Saturdays, are ideal for that. Attending open houses helps buyers get a feel for the market without committing to an agent or the process.

Open houses are great for sellers, too, because they can be assured that, within a two- or three-hour time slot, a good number of buyers can get in to see the property.

But open houses are truly open to anyone — and yes, that includes some nosy neighbors. Many agents throw up sandwich boards on nearby street corners to encourage as many people to come as possible.

Private Showings

At some point, a buyer will go to an open house and the property seems like a good fit. They want to see it again, but this time, in a private showing.

Private showings can be a challenge for some sellers, especially those currently living in the property. It requires maintaining the home in its “staged” appearance and then getting out of the house before the buyers and their agent show up.

Because private showings can be so intrusive, sellers who live in the home and their agents try to reserve them for serious buyers. Ideally, those buyers have attended at least open house and need more time to take a closer look. The buyer usually wants to feel at liberty to poke around and really get a feel for the place. It’s a huge decision they’re making, and they need the opportunity to investigate the property without feeling rushed.

Lock Box Showings

In some cases, the home for sale is vacant. Or the sellers work all day out of the house. In this case, the property can be much easier to show. To make it easier for everyone, a lock box is placed on the front door. Inside the box is the key to the home, and agents use their local MLS key to open the lock box and get the key inside.

For a newer buyer in the market who may not be available on the weekends, lock box properties can be a good way to start getting a feel for the market. Also, if an agent has an out-of-town buyer coming in for just a day to see properties, lock box listings might be the way to go. The buyer can come into town for a few hours to get educated on the market.

Lock boxes can also enable buyers and their agents to pop in and out quickly of a property, without having to time their visit to an open house or arrange for a private showing. This is an easy way for buyers to get up to speed quickly on the types of properties available.

Advice for Buyers and Sellers

Buyers and their agents should be mindful of the home-viewing process and always be respectful of the seller and the listing agent’s time.

Sellers who are serious about getting their home sold should be ready for anything. Always keep your home tidy and as close to staged condition as possible. Private showings may be inconvenient — but they may also lead to a sale.


Brendon DeSimone is a Realtor® and real estate expert based in San Francisco and New York. He is a contributor to Zillow Blog, has collaborated on multiple real estate books and is often quoted by major media outlets. Follow Brendon on Twitter.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

About the Author

Brendon DeSimone is the author of "Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling," the go-to insider’s guide for navigating and better understanding the complex and ever-evolving world of buying and selling a home. DeSimone is the founder and principal of DeSimone & Co, an independent NYC real estate brokerage providing individualized services and a fresh, hands-on approach. Bringing more than a decade of residential real estate experience, DeSimone is a recognized national real estate expert and has appeared on top media outlets including CNBC, Good Morning America, FOX Business, HGTV, FOX News and Bloomberg. Consumers often call on Brendon for advice and to help them find a real estate agent. You can follow him on Twitter.

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