While the Internet abounds with open house ideas for sellers and realtors, prospective buyers are comparatively overlooked. That’s because they allegedly have it the easiest. It’s a buyers’ market, after all, and, as far as open houses go, all they have to do is show up and snoop around. Yet, even if this may be true, buyers still need to know what they can, can’t, should, and shouldn’t do during an open house visit.
Before the open house tour
1. Yes, it’s ok to attend even if you’re not buying
If you decide to visit only on the basis of having seen an open house flyer in your area or an online open house ad, you might wonder if it’s really ok to do so. This may be the case especially if you’re not sure if you actually want to buy the house, if you’re only curious, and/or intrigued because your own broker hasn’t included this property in the list for you to look at. Open house visits are not just for buyers. They’re also a great marketing tool, designed for spreading the word on the house sale among friends, acquaintances, and neighbors.
2. Are you sure you’d like to live there?
If you actually are on the market, but assaulted by the barrage of listings, it’s a great idea to cull them down by area and narrow your search to strictly ideal places and neighborhoods. As a tip for buyers who have recently moved to a new neighborhood, city, or town—don’t even start going to open houses before you’re very familiar with the area.
3. Stay reasonable about what you can afford
Going to as many open houses as your Sunday afternoons allow you will help you get a good idea of the price range you’re in, based on your budget. On the one hand, you should probably avoid homes that you know are out of your reach; however, you may often be surprised to find what amenities are actually available within your price range.
During the open house visit
1. Explore on your own as much as you can
Come on in, you don’t have to knock (unless there’s a sign on the door specifically asking you to do so). You may be approached by the real estate agent or not, depending on whether or not he/she is busy, as well as on their approach—some like to allow visitors to take self-guided tours. In fact, these are usually preferable, lest you fall ‘victim’ to overly pushy sales people. You should always inform the Realtor at the open house if you have already started working with an agent of your choosing.
2. Don’t snoop!
Open houses are not a free pass to rummage through the fridges, medicine cabinets, and toiletry shelves of any one family. Typically, it’s good etiquette to ask if you can open any closed doors, and to only enter an area after the previous group of visitors has left or which is open for you to enter.
3. Do ask questions!
While it’s not ok to assault the agent with interrogation-style battery of questions, it is normal to wonder and probe. Try to glean the seller’s motivation level in selling the house quickly. Ask the agent about the neighborhood: are the schools any good? What about safety statistics? You can also ask about any other fees and assessments on the property, as well as converse with other visitors. While they may be competing with you to get the house first, and/or at a better price, they can also be a great source of insight into the market. Finally, make sure not to disclose too much about yourself, neither to the seller, their agent, or other buyers. You want to walk away in a strong bargaining position.
4. Maintain the regular level of decency
Finally, observe all the usual rules of politeness: don’t sit, touch, or photograph before checking to see if that’s ok. Don’t be rude to the realtor, even if you didn’t “click”. Make sure you get all the facts you need, like amenities, square footage, and so on.
After attending an open house
1. Leave them your name
It’s not mandatory, but it is customary and polite to write your name in the open house sign in sheet by the entrance. Don’t worry about being solicited by realtors, when you have no need for such contact. If you don’t want to receive further offers or information, make sure to specify this in a note, or simply don’t leave your phone number. However, for the seller’s safety and peace of mind, it’s nice to let them know who was in their home.
2. Speak your mind
Now is the time to express opinions and criticism. During the open house visit per se, it’s best if you follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s timeless advice: “If you can’t say anything nice, it’s better not to say anything at all”. This may be a buyer’s market, but there’s no point to be rude with a seller that’s likely stressed out already. However, you can be honest to the real estate broker, once the seller is not around anymore. Letting them know that the scented candles were too much, or that you noticed cracks in the wall siding can help the broker address the issue with the seller and be better prepared for other open house showings of the same property.