First, know that not everyone wants to see your expensive redesign, and if they do, they don’t want to hear every detail
If you’ve bought a new home, completed a significant renovation or are just very house proud, you’ve likely given tours of your abode to friends and neighbours. From this experience, you know there’s an art to being a tour guide at home. But by giving tours, you’ve also likely learned there should be etiquette for those who are being shown around.
Of course, you first have to ensure the people on the spin around your home actually want to see it. As difficult as it is to imagine, some people aren’t interested in real estate, even yours, and a tour for them is like looking at endless photographs of strangers’ children or watching someone’s dog do tricks. On the other hand, some people are too shy to ask for a tour, but their reticence should not be confused with indifference. I’m a fairly good judge of who wants a tour, however, I’m still tentative when I suggest giving one, so guests can easily say, “how about that drink first” and then subtly ignore the offer.
Conversely, as a visitor, if you want a tour, ask for it. Everyone is proud of what they’ve spent a bundle on. If you don’t want a tour, well, don’t ask — but never, never refuse one if it’s offered. If you say no, you might as well tell your hosts their house is so ugly or boring it’s not worth a five-minute perusal.
Always expect that, if you have a new or intriguing house, people will want to have a look. Make the beds, put laundry away and tidy up. If you don’t do that much, a tour gives too much information. Mess reduces a tour’s commentary to excuses rather than sprightly banter about how you’ve turned down several home magazines who want your home for a cover story.
If you’re on a tour, never barge ahead of the guide. The door to the master bedroom is closed because it’s not on the tour. And contain your curiosity; it’s likely because the room’s not finished, not because it’s become the secret site for satanic rituals. Children’s rooms are especially sensitive areas. They’re never neat, but should always be private; if the child is in residence, snooping will create a big issue and your host will pay for the invasion of privacy for weeks.
Only one person should conduct the tour. Husband-and-wife teams fight when they give jointly conducted tours. Ditto gay couples.
When conducting a tour, walk briskly. No one is that interested in every detail. If they’re fascinated by something specific, they’ll pause and ask. Respond to questions, don’t lecture and never prompt a compliment: “Isn’t that wonderful … I said, isn’t…”
Be particularly careful about comparing your home to others. For instance, saying “I always hated my old side-split,” will undoubtedly pinpoint the exact feature the person you’re showing around loves most about his house.
When you’re the tour guest, walk briskly. You’re neither buying the house nor doing a psychological assessment of its owner by studying his or her possessions. Never touch anything. Don’t say something nice about everything — that’s too phony. Don’t even stare too intently at things, it makes the tour guide/owner nervous. (Something wrong? Do they think I shoplifted that lamp?)
If you’re giving the tour, be modest. Acknowledge the praise, but stop yourself from going on and on. Never discuss the price of anything other than to suggest it cost more than you thought it would, as this is, obviously, a truism all can relate to. If you’re asked about the cost, be vague (“I honestly can’t remember the cost of anything, it’s too traumatic.”) Besides, it’s more amusing to let people guess what things cost. My experience has been that people tend to think you’ve spent more than you did.
If you’re the guest, gush but not too much. If you can find nothing you like, fake it. Never remain silent on a tour; your hosts will spend the rest of the visit pondering what your lack of enthusiasm means. Avoid any sense of one-upmanship. Comments such as “Love your sink, we bought the deluxe version of it” are cruel, even if accurate.
When you’ve finished giving the tour, stop talking immediately about your home. It’s difficult, I know, but your guests have heard plenty. But if you’ve just been taken on a tour, and are now finally getting a cocktail, don’t stop talking about what a wonderful job your hosts have done or what great taste they have. They can’t get enough of this.
© The Vancouver Sun 2006