Real estate agent Tim Surratt decided late last week to hold his first open house since the coronavirus pandemic broke out. He posted the details on his Facebook and Instagram accounts and put a sign in the yard Friday saying the house -- a $4.3 million new build in West University -- would be open from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
"At first no one came, but at 3:30 the doors just opened up," Surratt said. "It was nuts. I didn't leave until 5:40."
More than 40 groups came to the house, said Surratt, an agent with Greenwood King. Visitors, he said, were telling him how glad they were that there are open houses again.
As with most open houses -- especially ones in the multimillion-dollar range -- there was a fair share of curious neighbors who stopped by, but there were also serious buyers.
"I was shocked," Surratt said. "I was hoping for eight to 10 people."
Surratt said he managed the crowd by steering groups into different rooms. Almost everyone had a mask on and there was no personal contact.
"People practiced social distancing. We didn't shake hands," he said. "There was no personal contact."
Real estate has been deemed an essential industry, and even as stores and restaurants were allowed to reopen Friday, agents have been taking a cautious approach to open houses. Some have started holding them again but only in properties that are vacant.
The Houston Association of Realtors removed open house advertisements on its website last month and on Thursday said it would continue to block notices until the state's second phase of openings takes effect May 18. It has been encouraging agents to show houses online and through video platforms.
"I didn't know how it was going to turn out by not putting it on HAR.com," Surratt said. "I did put a sign up on Friday saying it would be open from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. to give people advanced notice. And of course I used balloons."