History of the Open House


History of the Open House

On the heels of exploring of how Coldwell Banker got its start, Hingham Realtor Alice Pierce  brings you some interesting history about Open Houses.

We are fast approaching spring and more and more homeowners will be putting their properties on the market here in Hingham and in neighboring South Shore towns. When you do list your home, one of the components to a successful sales campaign is the “Open House.”

Many of us think of spring as Open House season since the one held belief is that this is an ideal time to sell your home. While the spring is an easy, comfortable and appealing time to be out house hunting, homes are sold every month. But the freshly bloomed flowers and greening foliage provides a captivating backdrop to any home.

An Open House is when your Realtor, or one of their licensed and qualified associates, advertises that your home will be open to view on a certain date and within certain hours. Most homeowners tidy things up and leave their home in the hands of their trusted real estate agent so that potential home buyers can come peruse your home at their leisure.

For home buyers, the search is a weekend ritual of scouring of Open House listings either online, in the newspapers or via the real estate agent who is showing them homes. Saturdays and Sundays are set aside to drive a planned route, hoping that the ideal house will be found in time to move before the end of summer.

History of the Open House

When examining the evolution of real estate itself, we can see it has a very long history. The Open House has a relatively short history because it is steeped in the real estate industry that began over 100 years ago. It was not until 1919 that real estate licensing laws became part of our culture, and before this time anyone could act as a real estate agent or broker.

Until late 1919, there were no license laws anywhere in the country, so basically anyone could declare him or herself a real estate broker. You might recall that Coldwell and Banker were two men who believed that real estate sales should move away from the swindling, fraudulent practices following the San Francisco earthquake.

In the beginning, they found it hard to distinguish themselves from the less than honest real estate brokers who had no remorse about selling homes out from under their rightful owners. But the National Association of Realtors was formed in 1908, ensuring that certain ethical practices for those in the real estate industry would persevere.

The first Open Houses were called “Inspections” and rather than Open House signs and balloons, there were newspaper advertisements stating that a property was “Open for Inspection.” Evidence for this practice was seen starting in 1917.

Most Realtors of today would be shocked to learn that an Open House often lasted for many days, and even weeks. Hours for an Open House in today’s market typically cover a time span of 2 or 3 hours, whereas in the 1910s the popular time frame was from 9 in the morning until 9 at night!

The real estate broker stayed at the home for a solid twelve hours, for days on end, as this was a way of laying claim to their representation as the sole sales person. It was not a terribly efficient model, since this meant that a broker could only represent one home at a time, unlike today when a Realtor has multiple listings.

At this time, those committed to real estate sales were actually encouraged to introduce themselves to homeowners and ask permission to place for sale signs on the properties. If you were to drive by one of those historic scenes, you would have seen dozens of different signs on one property. After all, the exclusive contract of today did not come into practice until much later on.

Generally speaking, the prudent purchase of land is a better investment for the ordinary man than stocks and bonds, because in the former case he does not pit his judgment against the machinations of a board.
Richard T. Ely, Land Speculation, 1920


In the 1920s, the National Association of Realtors profiled an Indiana real estate broker who boasted a fresh sales approach to newly built homes. The idea was to make sure that each house was completely furnished before allowing potential buyers to see it during a specific day and time. One could say that this was the beginning of modern day staging practices.

It was not until World War II that the duration of the Open House became more reasonable. This was because the real estate market exploded and radio and newspaper ads became the norm. Homes sold so quickly that real estate agents no longer had time to host lengthy, marathon Open Houses.

In the 1950s, the change was made from “Open to Inspection” to the “Open House.” Sundays became the popular Open House day, most likely because blue laws of the time prevented other businesses from operating, thus creating a captive audience for home sales.

One might wonder why the term ‘Open House’ was used. In 1829, long before we saw the first known real estate broker, Andrew Jackson decided to host an open house at the White House following his swearing-in ceremony.  The new president returned to the White House and greeted many citizens, politicians and celebrities. Jackson was shocked that thousands of people descended on the White House in their muddy shoes. In spite of the mess, the open house continued until 1885 when Grover Cleveland opted for a parade instead as he considered this a less vulnerable option.

In spite of our technology driven, digital society, Open Houses have maintained their utility. Open Houses create attention and help widen the net over potential homebuyers. Home buyers often see their dream home in the process of visiting Open Houses, and they gather important information about real estate in general. Many solid real estate relationships are also built when a potential buyer meets a Realtor that they click with.



Spring is around the corner! Be prepared for your next real estate transaction by meeting with Alice Pierce, one of the best listing and selling agents on the South Shore of Boston. Alice Pierce is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, and a lifelong resident of Hingham who knows all of the coastal towns and the neighborhoods within them. Whether you are interested in Hingham, MA, Cohasset, MA, Hull, MA, Norwell, MA and any other South Shore towns, give her a call at 781-724-7622, anytime. Alice Pierce can also be reached by email or through her Coldwell Banker real estate website.

If you prefer, feel free to use the simple form below to contact me.

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