Open house tips for homebuyers

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Your dream house pops up on Zillow alerts, you scour it immediately and confirm it’s just perfect, your pocketknife is ready to carve your initials in the front tree and your car’s already idling in the garage.

If you’ve been house hunting for a while now, particularly in a hot market, you might know this scene well.

Since there’s no telling how long it might take to find a house, it can be tempting to fall hard and fast for a property. But the first step in the homebuying journey typically includes an open house.

The good news is, for those who are hopelessly hoping to find their home, sweet home, the advantages of attending an open house are abundant.


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Here are a few tips for open houses that can help homebuyers get the most out of the journey and learn more about what to expect.

Related: What to look for when buying a house—A checklist

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Benefits of Attending an Open House

At an open house, a property can be viewed by potential buyers and serves a homebuyer’s guide to what it’s really like to live somewhere.

The benefits of attending an open house include these:

  • Homebuyers can hone their house hunting skills by taking detailed notes and comparing them to past and future listings.
  • It’s a face-to-face opportunity to make a good impression on the listing agent and ask as many questions as necessary (without having to wait for a reply).
  • Sometimes listing photos simply don’t do a house justice. The in-person lighting might be brighter, the hardwoods even shinier or the master bedroom even larger than it seemed online.
  • Similarly, strategically hidden flaws, red flags and nuances that can only be detected in person are exposed to buyers so they can make a truly informed decision.

Image Credit: Fotoamator/ iStock .

What to Expect at an Open House

Some open houses are literally open, meaning they’re posted on a real estate listing or a sign out front and members of the public are allowed to stop by.

In other cases, an open house is available only by appointment and arranged by the seller’s broker.

Typically, the sellers won’t be on the scene at an open house. It’s likely their listing agent will handle the event, guiding potential buyers around the dwelling and answering questions.

There could be other house hunters or visitors (nosy neighbors, perhaps?) attending the open house.

Most homebuyers will be provided with a booklet or pamphlet featuring details about the property, which could include the year it was built, heating and cooling information (oil vs. natural gas, etc.), how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are, the size of the lot, types of appliances and exterior features like decks, porches, pools and sheds.

From there, house hunters will fill out a sign-in document that records their information for follow-up (unless this was already done in advance) and tour the property. This could occur with the listing agent in tow or by themselves, saving questions for the end.

Image Credit: Feverpitched/ iStock .

Open House Etiquette

Figuring out what to do at an open house isn’t always intuitive, but a crisp, respectful approach can go a long way:

  • Bringing along food, drinks, pets or unruly children could be considered disrespectful and distracting, starting things off on the wrong foot.
  • Following the house rules can be crucial, so buyers might be prepared to remove shoes, steer clear of personal property and ask permission before snapping photos.
  • Being polite and personable to the hosting agent can put potential homebuyers in a more favorable light.
  • Modest attire and comfortable footwear are generally a good idea.
  • Maintaining a poker face can be helpful during the open house process. If homebuyers spill the beans about how much they love the property, it could be used as a negotiating tool if and when they make an offer.

Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

Things to Look For at an Open House

Whether it’s an inconspicuous flaw on the exterior of the house or the fact that there’s no closet in the fourth bedroom, keeping their eyes peeled during an open house can help homebuyers ensure they’re not in for any pesky surprises down the road, either once their offer is accepted or after the purchase and sale.

Things to be on the lookout for at an open house could include:

  • Visible signs of neglect or damage (more on that soon).
  • Proximity to the neighbors and whether there’s sufficient privacy. A poke around the premises to see the state of their property can also tell the tale about what those new neighbors are like. Do they have a half-built skate park? A forever-barking dog? A chicken coop?
  • Closet and storage space and whether it’s enough to suit the homebuyer’s future needs.
  • What other potential buyers are up to. If they’re in and out quickly or lingering in one area in particular, perhaps it’s an indication of an issue that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

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Potential Red Flags

Aside from standard considerations like the ones above, some red flags to look for at an open house could include:

  • An abundance of sweet aromas from candles or air fresheners. This could signal hard-to-fix smells lurking under the surface.
  • Unevenly spaced tiles or crooked electrical outlets, which could signify sloppy, DIY renovations that might require costly repairs down the line.
  • Issues with the foundation of the house like large gaps, doors that stick, windows with visible cracks or uneven floors.
  • Proximity to water. Checking a FEMA flood map can also help potential buyers ensure there’s no major risk of flood damage after purchase.
  • Signs of lax property maintenance, including faded or chipped paint, leaky faucets, water damage or overgrown grass and brush. These issues could signify that the owners have neglected other vital home maintenance tasks.
  • Signs of mold: small black or gray spots in bathroom closets or cabinets, on the ceiling, or around showers, tubs and faucets.
  • Exposed pipes with visible rust or leakage.
  • Drafts around windows, doors and electrical outlets that could be a sign of neglect and a hefty heating bill come winter.
  • Stained or warped baseboards (especially in the basement) that could indicate a prior flood. A sump pump can also indicate that flood damage has occurred in the past.
  • Cosmetic damage like stains from pets that are strategically hidden by area rugs.
  • Condensation or peeling paint around windows, which could signify ventilation problems and moisture issues.

Image Credit: SpeedKingz/shutterstock.

Questions to Ask at an Open House

Knowing what to ask is an essential element of attending an open house, and it tops open house tips for helping buyers maximize the experience.

Here are a few key questions homebuyers can ask the selling agent:

  • What year was the house built?
  • Why is it being sold?
  • How long has it been on the market, and were there any asking price fluctuations?
  • Are there any other offers?
  • Are there any problems the seller can disclose about the property? These are issues that could come up in an inspection but are made transparent between the seller and buyer (e.g., health and safety hazards, structural defects, mechanical issues, previous water damage, pests or renovations).
  • Is the property part of a homeowners association? Are there monthly fees associated with it?
  • What is the local school system like? How about the neighborhood?
  • Is the sewer system handled by the town or does it run on a private septic tank?
  • What fixtures and appliances are part of the purchase: washer/dryer, stove, refrigerator, lighting fixtures and window treatments?

Image Credit: Feverpitched / iStock.

Next Stop: Buying That Dream Home

After every question has been asked, every surface has been scoured, and every disclosure has been made, it might be time to secure a home loan.

Learn More:


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