Showing homes is a crucial part of the marketing and sales process in real estate, but when young children are part of the mix, the potential for a meltdown is always there. The REALTOR® EDGE newsletter spoke with three seasoned real estate professionals about how they prevent problems from arising when kids are on the scene.
Jay Lough Hayes, a Peterborough Realtor with 29 years of experience, says she always advises sellers with young children to start their packing early - by the time they list their home at the latest - in order to keep the toy population under control during showings.
"It's easier to clean up three toys than 300,” says Lough Hayes. Parents may be wise to start packing some toys at night-time when the children are asleep, she adds. “If you ask the kids to choose which toys to pack, most of them won’t want to pack anything."
"The days go more smoothly if people aren’t hungry, tired and bored, whether they’re kids or adults.”
If the children aren’t happy about putting toys away before a house showing, Lough Hayes isn't afraid to be creative in dealing with them. “Once, I told the kids that if they helped me clean up the toys, I’d make it worth their while by taking them to a movie and their favourite restaurant,” she says. "It didn't cost me much, and I never had a problem with them again - they were after each other to clean up so they’d get a treat."
When showing homes to buyers with young children, she offers parents professional babysitting services if they wish, and she absorbs the cost. If they prefer to bring the children to the showing, she’s happy to move their car seats into her vehicle and drive them all, or jump into their car and accompany them to the property. “I’ve climbed into the middle of a minivan and sat between two baby seats,” she laughs.
Lough Hayes always carries a pad and pencil. If a child is bored, she urges the youngster to draw. She also keeps a cooler in her car for water, fruit and granola bars, because “the days go more smoothly if people aren't hungry, tired and bored, whether they’re kids or adults.”
Flexibility and adaptability are crucial when kids are part of the equation, she notes. If she senses that the children are getting bored or tired, Lough Hayes sometimes makes an unscheduled side trip to a park or kid-friendly restaurant where the youngsters can get some playtime.
“I’ll get on the phone and move all the appointments back an hour or reschedule,” she says. “However, mom and dad sometimes lose it long before the kids.”
If a baby or toddler falls asleep en route to a showing, Lough Hayes asks the parents to take turns viewing the property so that one person always stays with the child in the car.
“There’s nothing worse than trying to soothe a crying child during a showing,” she says. “No one can focus on the house. The other night, there was a child who was screaming blue murder so one of the parents had to take the baby out to the car.”
Most important, Lough Hayes tries to approach showings that involve children as something that’s enjoyable for all parties involved. “It will be fun if you make it fun,” she says.
"Sometimes I let the kids lead the way through the house or pick out a room that might be theirs.”
Timing is everything when the sellers have young children, according to Toronto Realtor Lainey Bonsell. She works hard to communicate with these sellers, talking to them about the marketing plan, preparing them for the process, and arranging a schedule of showings that works for them.
“For me, it’s important to be upfront right from the start and give the family an idea of what to expect,” says Bonsell, who has been a Realtor for 10 years. “Most of it is scheduling. The first week is a whirlwind with lots of people coming through, so I tell the sellers not to count on being home at dinnertime.”
Bonsell lets the sellers decide whether to avoid showings during naptime and arrange visits that avoid the children’s bedtimes, but she also explains the trade-offs in opportunities.
“My last few clients essentially moved out for a few weeks to the cottage or to the grandparents’ house,” says Bonsell. “It’s challenging to keep a house clean and organized with young ones underfoot, and the process can be disruptive for the kids’ schedule. The reality is that sometimes it’s easier if the family can be elsewhere.”
“Some clients today expect houses to look like model homes, and trying to keep them looking that way with little kids around can be difficult. Since houses in my market often sell in a week or two, the inconvenience doesn’t drag on.”
When Bonsell works with buyers who have small children, she doesn’t schedule more than three showings at a time, and she works around the kids’ nap times. She also makes a point of involving the little ones in the showing.
“Sometimes I let the kids lead the way through the house or pick out a room that might be theirs, instead of ignoring the fact that they’re there. You can also send them on a hunt for toys. It can be an opportunity for them to see what the house is like.”
Children may be reluctant to leave a house with interesting toys, but Bonsell gently encourages them by telling them they’ll have a new adventure when they go to the next house. And, of course, she makes sure to put away any toys that were taken out during the visit. “We never leave a mess behind,” she says.
Mark Primerano, a Niagara Falls Realtor with 27 years’ experience, says that sellers don’t mind if visiting children play with the toys as long as all items are put back in place.
“If the kids are playing with toys, they’re occupied and happy,” says Primerano. “That means the parents can walk around and look at the home.”
Visiting children can be a property’s biggest promoters, he notes. “Sometimes, the kids go into a house and say, ‘Dad, I love it! I want this house … or pool, or bedroom’.”
Children are sometimes worried about moving, Primerano finds. He says that they may be picking up on a parent’s own concerns. “I tell them all kinds of cool stuff about the house that they might like; there are so many little things you can amuse them with. They see features that they like better than what they have now and they get excited.”
“I’ve had mostly funny, cute experiences with kids,” he adds. “Ninety per cent of young children who attend house showings with their parents are well behaved and excited to see the place.”
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Tips for Working Families with Young Children
- Don’t be at home during showings.
- If that’s not possible, schedule showings around nap times and bedtimes.
- Start packing before you put the house on the market.
- Involve the children in packing as part of preparing the house for showings.
- Don’t go to see more than three homes in one stretch.
- Take breaks; children have limits.
- Ask the kids to bring a favourite toy with them.
- Keep a few toys or items on hand to amuse the kids when attending a showing, whether it’s an iPad with video or a drawing book.
- Involve the children in the showing: Ask what colour they would like their new room to be.
- Be patient.
- Be considerate.
- Be forthcoming with clients so they know what to expect.
Story by Elaine Smith
Sources: Lainey Bonsell, Jay Lough Hayes, Mark Primerano
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Editorial Policy: The REALTOR® EDGE newsletter is produced 11 times a year by the Ontario Real Estate Association. The newsletter aims to provide practical and useful news and information about the real estate industry to members of the association. The opinions expressed in the newsletter are not necessarily those of the publisher. Submissions from the real estate community are welcome, including letters to the editor, opinion pieces, events and news. The newsletter reserves the right to edit, based on space restrictions and/or suitability, and/or to refuse submitted material for inclusion in the newsletter without reason. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written permission of the publisher is prohibited. Contents are copyright of the Ontario Real Estate Association.