At the Twilight Open House, a Novel Approach to Home Sales



Twilight at 201 W. Grand Ave. #803, Chicago, IL $1.5 million


Most people think of open houses as weekend events. What better way to spend Saturday or Sunday than wandering from house to house in hope of finding Shangri-La? The problem is, so many other things happen on weekends, too: daytrips to the countryside, brunch with friends, playdates, and piano lessons. Life is busy! But what if open houses were held throughout the week, preferably right after work and on the way home? Enter the twilight open house.

A twilight open house is, well, just what it sounds like: a weekday open house held at dusk, usually from about 4 to 6 p.m. or later. (Depending on the location and the agent, cocktails might even be served.) Introduced after the housing market collapse, when agents needed a new way to entice buyers into a glut of available housing, the twilight open house is now being tested from California to Pennsylvania—wherever busy people live.

As the weather gets warmer, days longer, people are open to doing new things with their evenings. In Meadville, PA, twilight open houses typically draw about a dozen people, said John C. White, an agent with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, the fourth-largest brokerage in the country.

“They get dinner over with and drop by,” White said. “We’re the leader in nighttime open houses, then all of a sudden other companies started following us.”

A Chicago brokerage, @properties (where I cut my teeth as a broker), also specializes in twilight open houses as full-scale, invitation-only events. When 20 energy-efficient homes in a new development were slated to be sold in Skokie, a suburb 15 miles north of Chicago, @properties footed the bill for a bartender, a caterer, and an email marketing blast that reached everyone who subscribed to a local magazine. Sure enough, about 100 people showed up and four homes were sold.

“It was a great, great turnout,” said Andy Herrmann, a broker for @properties and listing agent for the Floral Avenue development. “Especially for this location. I mean, this is Skokie; it’s not cool like River North or Lincoln Park.” For that reason alone, Herrmann said the twilight open house provided the push the development needed.

For twilight open houses to work, the properties have to be special, says Herrmann. No cookie-cutter condos or standard tract homes. “If you can close your eyes and know where everything is as soon as you enter the house, it won’t work,” he said.

True, twilight open houses are best used to draw people to spectacular homes, said Kelly Evans of Re/Max Estate Properties in Redondo Beach, CA.

“I don’t use it very often. It’s very property-specific,” Evans said. “It’s only for that house that has panoramic views, or there’s a harvest moon—something to draw people in.”

Evans says unlike for traditional open houses, people will not just follow signs and show up for a twilight open house. When they see open house signs at night, most people probably think that the agent forgot to pick them up from the weekend. They are so unaccustomed to seeing an evening open house that they ignore signs altogether—unless they’re invited.

Most agents say they invite their current clients, their past clients, and their “farm,” a building or neighborhood that an agent sends direct mail to every month. For many people, the novelty alone of attending an invitation-only open house on a weeknight might generate some warm feelings toward the home.

So don’t be surprised if you check your mailbox to find an invitation to the next new condo development in the heart of your city, or the new construction project sprouting up in a nearby suburb asks you to attend a nighttime open. It just might be fun—a happy hour (or two) spent home shopping.