It’s April, and that means homeowners across the country are throwing open their doors for strangers to enter their homes, test the water pressure of their showers, and judge the quality of the magazines displayed artfully on their coffee tables. Yes, it’s open house season.
Why April? Well, as the spring and summer home-buying season begins, our society enters into this weekend ritual in which we scour the latest home listings and set aside our Saturdays and Sundays for open houses—all in the hope of finding that dream home we can close on and move into before summer’s end.
It would seem strange, were it not part of what feels like an age-old tradition.
That got us thinking—how did weekend open houses become a standard in American real estate? Was there ever a time when they didn’t exist? Whose idea was it anyway?
A ‘Wild West era’ for real estate
It turns out, the open house is a tradition that started over a century ago.
Until late 1919, there were no license laws anywhere in the country, so basically anyone could declare himself a real estate broker. That meant when a home was for sale, anybody could pop a sign on a property to advertise the home.
Potential buyers had their pick of whom to contact about the house. People who were really trying to make an honest living out of real estate had a hard time distinguishing themselves from “curbstoners”—dishonest brokers who were out to make a quick buck, said Frederik Heller, manager of the library and archives at the National Association of Realtors®. (The NAR was founded in 1908 to raise the professional and ethical standards of the real estate industry.)
“The early 1900s were a sort of Wild West era for real estate brokerage,” Heller said. “Sometimes there were dozens of yard signs of brokers trying to sell the same listing. You (the buyer) would just pick the agents you knew—or throw a dart at the signs.”