Number one: start now.
“It takes a good year to plan a house tour,” says Deborah Lalande, founder of Design Outdoors Canada in Thornbury, Ont., who organized her first Collingwood Holiday House Tour in 2011. Over 1,000 people attended.
House tours are not possible without agents
It all starts with agents — house tours are not possible without agents, says realtor Karen Willison of Royal LePage Locations North in Collingwood. She has participated in the holiday house tour since it was created. Lalande suggests speaking to your managing broker and colleagues to see who’s interested. “It won’t work if only one or two people are interested” because tours take a lot of time and effort, best split over many people.
In the past, Willison used mostly active listings because tours give homes extra exposure. But in a hot market, properties sell too quickly, so she has turned to clients who previously bought using her services. Either way, it’s easier to approach people when you have a relationship with them, she says.
Approach people you already have a relationship with
Royal LePage Locations North broker/owner Desmond von Teichman bought the rights to the house tour from Lalande in 2014. She is no longer involved with the tour because once she goes through the process with an office once, she says they can repeat the process in the following years.
Von Teichman sends homeowners a letter to explain the process. In addition to showing off their beautiful homes, owners especially like that a portion of the funds raised will go to a charity of their choice in addition to Royal LePage’s Shelter Foundation. He also gives each homeowner a $500 package for greenery, which they get to keep after the tour.
Work with decorating pros
Von Teichman sends a letter to stagers/designers/decorators that includes the benefits of participating in the tour (exposure for themselves and their business).
Homeowners and stagers/designers/decorators meet and come up with a plan. Homes are then decorated with items provided by suppliers (Lalande suggests using local suppliers).
Finding a media sponsor is also key. For her first tour, Lalande’s media sponsor, Our Homes magazine, provided a full page of advertising and photographed all of the houses to feature in the following year’s holiday issue. It’s something house-proud owners like and provides additional exposure for sponsors and supporters. The media partnership continues.
Safety is key
The To Do list also includes finding volunteers, getting insurance, hiring a photographer, finding guest speakers, creating signage, maps, tickets and tour bags, and marketing the event.
Another consideration is parking. Lalande says safety is of utmost importance. Homes on major roads are usually ruled out, as are properties with other features, such as steep stairs.
Creativity is key when tackling challenges, Willison says. This year her featured home belongs to a Jewish family. The challenge is that there are almost no decorations for Chanukah, she says. So she plans to focus on the “experience,” for example, having a couple of children playing with dreidels during the tour. The story of Chanukah will be featured, and treats will include latkas and mini jelly donuts. “I like to touch all the senses.”
Make the most out of every home
Willison makes the most of every home. One house had green curtains, so she brought in Grinch artwork and green and purple coloured balls to create a fun space.
She also likes to go over and above, hiring bands, partnering with a local restaurant or having a holiday popcorn machine. “Popcorn is inexpensive, gluten-free, and everyone likes it. I put it in white paper bags with my stamp on it.” (Marketing opportunities abound.)
At the beginning of the day, tour participants meet at a designated location to pick up maps (addresses are not revealed until tour day) and can partake in seminars or check out vendors selling holiday products. At each home, a greeter meets participants at the front door. A couple of people (sponsors, suppliers, designers, agents) are stationed inside. Most homeowners choose not to attend.
Consider decorating your listings
A side note: If you have a listing this holiday season, Willison says “yes to decorating for whatever holiday season the owners are celebrating. Early is fine, but late isn’t great.”
The Royal LePage Locations North Holiday House Tour is a win-win situation for house-proud owners, stagers/designers/decorators, sponsors, suppliers, charities (in 2019, more than $30,000 was raised) and the real estate agents who sponsor the homes.
Connie Adair is a contributing writer for REM.