Open house best practices: COVID-19

Over the course of six months our world has changed rapidly. In terms of Real Estate, agents have learned to adapt as we do with almost anything. Recently, the state of New Mexico has begun different phases to open the state back up from months of quarantine. Real Estate has always been deemed “essential” and so things have been business-as-almost-usual. As for open houses, we’ve only recently been allowing in-person open houses. There have been some changes to guidelines, and I am here to help walk you through some Best Practices.

Before the open house

Albuquerque Real Estate agent, Elizabeth Benedict, posing in a kitchen during an open house alongside disinfectant to demonstrate best practices during open houses

Maintain one entry point into a home. I use the front door for obvious reasons, but if you are dealing with a unique open/layout than the choice is of course up to you. I also lock the door in order to control the flow of groups, especially if more than one party is present.

Post sign at the door with guidelines and include Broker contact information. My brokerage provided a template with rules and regulations for parties to follow before entering the home with a place for the agent’s phone number. I would tape this to the front door. I have had colleagues tape to the front sign as well. Either works. The main takeaway is to have the sign posted so visitors are aware of the rules early on. If you are advertising the open house on your social platforms I suggest adding the rules somewhere there as well.

Turn on lights and open any closet, cabinet doors, or window coverings. In order to minimize open house visitors from touching too many things, you should turn on all lights and open anything that you think that a visitor would want to touch. In addition, open doors and windows to allow for ventilation.

Sanitize any possible touch points or common surfaces. Using a disinfecting wipe or spray, sanitize those common areas you know visitors will want to touch. They have likely been cleaned by other brokers who have visited with their buyer, but as a best practice you should go ahead and sanitize before anyone comes in.

Create a log for visitor names and contact information for contact tracing. At open houses, we typically already collect information from visitors, so we can follow up with them. Depending on the individual they may be less willing to give out that sort of information out of fear of being bothered by a “pesky REALTOR.” Now, New Mexico’s Real Estate Associations as well as the Southwest MLS advise visitors to sign in, so they can be contacted in the event someone visiting the property falls ill. I use an online platform connected to my company website, however pen and paper work just as well. I strongly recommend having only the broker (or an assistant) write or type the information to minimize unnecessary touching.

Provide masks, sanitizer & disinfectant wipes. Have hand sanitizer at the ready along with wipes and masks for visitors that do not have one. Masks are required before entry, so if they do not have one you can offer one.

Set up a handwashing station for guests. Washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds regularly is suggested by the CDC. Be sure to have some soap and paper towels ready for your guests. I set mine up at the kitchen sink where it is easy to see, but you can also set it up in the bathroom.

During the open house

Go over the following with visitors before they tour the home:

  • Everyone must wear masks and disinfect hands with sanitizer before entry (offer hand sanitizer at the door).
  • Only ONE party is allowed in at a time with no more than FIVE people at one time.
  • Inform visitors to avoid touching any surface in the home. In addition to avoid using bathroom facilities.
  • Ask guests to inform you/and or the brokerage if they fall ill or are diagnosed with COVID-19 with 14 days of visiting the open house. Provide your card with contact information, so they can do so.

Complete the contact log with visitors. After your “rule spiel,” quickly fill out contact information for at least one member of the party. This includes name, phone number, and email. Tell them this will be used for contact tracing, but that you can provide additional information about the home or similar properties if they are interested.

Require visitors to maintain 6 feet of social distancing. You don’t have to go as far as tape on the ground, but you should give your guests at least six feet of space at all times. If you are a real estate agent who likes to follow, just be sure to give them some extra space. I prefer to stay in a common area like the kitchen, that way I give guests enough space and can ask questions keep up conversation still since EVERYONE ends up in the kitchen at some point.

Sanitize touch points or common surfaces after each visitor/group. Using your handy dandy spray or wipes, go ahead and clean up those common touch points visitors may have touched. If you have another broker, assistant, or partner with you, this helps to get it done faster.

An additional person in attendance should control entry and review guidelines with new arrivals. Having a buddy is always great, especially from a safety perspective. If you have a popular property and more than one group at a time arrives, it is important to have your partner at the door to review things with the next party while the other finishes their tour.

After the open house

Turn off all lights and close all opened doors. Just like any other Open House pre-pandemic, you want to close up shop by shutting off all lights, closing doors, and locking everything up.

Clean all touched surfaces with disinfectant. To make things easier, I like to have my disinfectant wipes or spray with me as I complete the first step. This makes for a quicker close and covers those common touch points.

Treat yourself to cold one (beer, cocktail, iced coffee/tea, or smoothie)! Open houses are exhausting whether there is a pandemic going on or not. So, treat yourself to something cold, especially here in New Mexico where heat reigns supreme over the summer. Follow up with leads and get that house sold!

Elizabeth Benedict is an Associate Broker and REALTOR® at ERA Sellers and Buyers Real Estate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She holds a Masters in Literature from the University of New Mexico. When she is not helping her community buy and sell houses she is usually writing.