I'm Austin, I've never owned a "professional" haunted house. I've been doing a home haunt in my acre backyard for the last couple years.
Some advice that I've learned, make sure you spend a large amount of your budget on advertisement! the more advertisement you have, the more people will show up.
some ways to advertise:
- TV commercials
- radio commercials
- post your commercial on youtube
- soda cans (if you can get a soda to sponsor you) I hear Coca Cola and Pepsi are pretty easy to get sponsored by.
- put up posters and/or flyers in your local fast food resturaunts, and local shops.
- hang a banner outside your haunted house 3 months prior to opening, that way people driving by see it, and want to come back
Thats all I can think of as a home haunt. Hopefully a pro like Larry from the Darkness, or Ben from Netherworld will come in here and give you some better advice.
One other thing I've learned, make sure your haunt is properly lit. Last year I had one little hallway that was a tad too dark, almost everyone that went through the haunt complained about that one hallway.
Depending on the size of your haunt, start building it anywhere from May to August. If it's a huge haunt, you may want to start earlier, if it's a smaller haunt, you may want to start later. You can start sooner so it gives you time to change things up.
I personally use only static props, if youre not fimiliar with that term, it's a prop that just sits there, doesnt move. I think animatronics are a waste of money, because a good actor can scare someone alot better then an animatroic. No offense to all the pros that like to use them, I just personally don't enjoy them.
Since it's your first year, static props might be your best bet. If you like animatronics, and your budget is big enough, by all means use them. I think it's all about personal preference. If you like to have more actors, then use more actors and static props. If you like to use animatronics, then use actors and animatronics. But whatever you do, DO NOT have a haunt without actors, if you want it to be scary, use actors. A live human can interact with the patrons more, and build up suspense. They can talk, keep the patrons entertained, scare them multiple times throughout the haunt etc. an animatronic or static prop stay in the same place all the time, will actors can move around and get multiple scares on the same group of people.
alright, thats enough blabbering for now.
Hope this helps,