How to Exceed Expectations and Convert Open House Guests Into Clients

By Tips & Strategies

A 2002 study shows that not only do restaurant goers tip more when given a mint or candy along with their bill, but we tip significantly more when then server gives an additional mint and hints that it’s “especially for you.”

Is this data relatable to real estate, and with open houses in particular? I believe it is.

Going back to the study, there are three explanations for why the customers gave generously:

  1. they felt the server was friendly/nice (a quality appreciated in wait staff);
  2. the candy itself lifted the moods of the customers (sugar high?);
  3. the feeling of reciprocity — meaning, “they gave extra to me (one mint or two mints), so I feel I must give extra back to them.”

So, how can we apply this to our open houses?

Be Friendly/Nice (to Build Rapport)

Unless you hate being in real estate or open houses are your least favorite lead generation activity, you’re probably pretty friendly to your open house guests already. Your attitude when interacting with the public (aka, potential clients) at these events will largely impact whether they would like to do business with you or not. Buying and selling homes can be an emotionally difficult process in itself—no one wants to add a negative agent to the mix.

The way to turn your open house guests into clients is to build rapport with them. Rapport is your “one mint.” If the guest feels as though they can trust you and that you care about their well-being, the likelihood of hiring you for their real estate needs increases. Rapport starts with asking your open house guests open-ended questions about where they are at in the home buying (or selling) process. For example:

  • How does this home compare with other homes you’ve seen?
  • What would the floor plan of your perfect home be like?
  • How much does this particular neighborhood weigh into your decision?

The next and most important step in this process is to LISTEN. I mean truly listen—not the half-listening that makes you look like you’re paying attention while you’re really contemplating the pitch you want to give them about hiring you—it’s the kind of listening where the speaker can tell you genuinely care about every word coming out of their mouth.

Two Mint Step

Suggest items of value you can send to them after the open house based on what they said. Every other agent they meet at open houses will ask them for their email addresses so they can send them alerts every time a new home comes on the market. For the two-mint response, which is confirmation that they’re resolute on working with you and only you, you must offer something unique—something more special than what all the other agents are offering.

To continue the examples I gave above, you can:

  • Mention homes that have expired recently that may fit with what they are looking for, or that you have an “in” with some For Sale by Owner listings in the area—show them you have access to what they haven’t seen yet/what they may be missing out on. You can also mention coming soon listings, although this is becoming a widely-used open house conversation that may now fall back into the one-mint category.
  • Tell them you’re going to spend a few days next week combing through the inventory in-person to find that dream floor plan for them. Ask, “If I find that floor plan, will you meet with me to see the home together?”
  • Depending on their answer to the neighborhood question, you can offer to take them to lunch and tour other areas they may want to consider. If this neighborhood is their one and only, invite them to the next HOA meeting or community event as your special guest.

Your possibilities are endless—all you need to do is listen to your guests and find that unique thing you can do to stand out and show them they’re special to you.

Sugar High

Slipping them an extra chocolate chip cookie as they leave your open house may not get them to sign a buyer representation agreement, but there are ways we can relate this to the mint theory.

One Mint

I am a firm believer of having treats at open houses. Open houses should be viewed as an event where you, the host, want to leave a good impression on your guests. An open house with no treats does not leave quite the impression as one where a nice spread is provided; plus treats act as a good ice-breaker. There are caveats, of course, like don’t take over the whole kitchen, distracting guests from the home’s features because you have trays of cookies everywhere. But, overall a nice spread will help show the guests that you mean business and that you’re the type of agent who goes the extra mile for their clients.

Two Mints

Again, I don’t think we can convince people to do business with us just because we give them a sugar high. So while the thought of giving them a goody bag to take home with your information is a good way to stick in their minds for a while (someone posted a really cute idea for this and popcorn in my Open House Mastermind group), I think it can be taken a step further.

Think about the typical agent at an open house. Many are too shy to even strike up a real conversation with the guests. I’ve visited open houses where the agent was too engrossed in a romantic novel to look up at me (she didn’t know if I was agent before I opened my mouth), and I’ve even walked in on agent asleep at the kitchen table! What if you weren’t just good at building rapport at the open house, but you took it a step further and invite guests to meet for coffee in the coming weeks? I can guarantee you that most agents will be too scared to get to this point—insecurities prevent them. Show your guests you’re about building relationships—treating them to coffee to learn more about their real estate needs is the first date. Even if they put the idea off, you’ve made an impression on them that will last until they’re ready to make a move.


We’ve covered that agents typically offer to send listings, so this isn’t a value-add that makes you stand out against your competition. To really launch your guests from customers to clients you need to make them feel like they’ve been offered something so good that they feel impelled to return the favor and do business with you.

Of course, it’s good business practice to send thank you notes to your open house guests, and some agents take it a step farther and enclose a small gift, such as a $5 gift card to a coffee shop, in those notes. If you do this, consider dividing those tasks—slip your open house guests a generic “Thank you for coming” card with the $5 gift card inside and then follow up with the mailed letter that is more personal to your interaction with the guest. If the theory with the wait staff giving the “special” second mint increases their tips, then perhaps giving the gift card at your first meeting, rather than a couple of days later, will help you land the client quicker!

The reciprocity theory is a two-mint step all the way, and you can offer value to your guests in different ways, depending on whether each is a potential buyer or a potential seller (because both scout for agents at open houses).

Applying the Mint Concept with Buyers

If you learn that you’re speaking with a first-time, or first-time-in-this-state-buyer, offer to give them a one-on-one (or two-on-one) crash course on real estate. Let them know that this is a special, in-depth meeting that not everyone receives, because you want to make sure they know all the intricacies about buying property in your state, after all, it can save them thousands of dollars. Now you are offering them real value. Even if they think to themselves, “Ha, I’ll get all his knowledge and go out and do this on my own!” once someone sees EVERYTHING a REALTOR® does for each transaction, they’re often more than happy to have you working for them.

Other monetary benefits you can bring to the table in hopes of reciprocity are to have coupons from industry-related vendors that offer discounts on services needed during the home buying process. For example, some lenders offer free appraisal coupons to agents who regularly refer them business. You can even tie this in to your next meeting. “I’ve really enjoyed talking with you. Can you meet next Tuesday or Wednesday for coffee? I have some coupons to services you’ll need during the home-buying process that can save you hundreds of dollars.”

These things bring value to your services and are stepping stones to building a loyal relationship with your guests. And, notice that they are already things you do for all of your buyers? All it takes is actually telling them about the benefits you provide—something many agents never get the nerves to do at open houses.

Applying the Mint Concept with Sellers

In fact, you can even do this with the potential sellers you meet at open houses—you know, the looky-loos trying to size up the competition and steal staging ideas. I’ve heard agents offer these open house guests, “Give me your email address and I’ll send you comp values for the neighborhood, so you can get a good idea of what you can sell for.” But, they fail to go that extra step, “Can we meet so I can tell you about the professional staging, photography and videography I personally pay for on all my listings?” This is skin-in-the-game marketing that not all agents do and it tells your guests, “Hey, I’m willing to invest in you when you invest in me.”

Next time you’re hosting an open house, think about how you can go the two-mint steps for your guests and earn their real estate business. For more open house strategies, check out my book, Your Key to Open House Success.

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