Hitting Open Houses is one of the most thrilling parts of the home shopping experience. And this home buyer’s rite of passage could be the key to finding your dream home. Open Houses offer a pressure-free shopping experience that allows buyers to see a house at their own pace, unlike showing appointments, where shoppers often feel rushed along to the next scheduled address.
And if you’re not quite ready to buy? Visiting open houses is a great warm-up for when you finally get serious about getting a pad of your own. Touring homes allows you a chance to learn about the housing market while getting familiar with your own home preferences.
I’ve been working with buyers and sellers for two decades as a realtor. I've hosted more than my share of open houses. Before you create your Hot List of homes to check out this weekend, I’d like to offer some guidance to help you 1) understand what to look for when walking through homes, 2) give you great questions to ask the realtor or host, and 3) learn when to bite your tongue!
Who is hosting the Open House?
Let’s start by explaining the relationships at work here. The seller’s agent or brokerage generally hosts open houses. In most states, you can expect this person to be a licensed real estate agent capable of answering standard questions about the home, the local real estate market, and buying or selling a house in general.
What’s critical to remember is that the seller’s agent has a relationship with the seller first. While they will likely be happy to help you with questions about the house, they do not represent you or your interests regarding a possible purchase of that home. They represent the seller’s interest. In just about any case, they are not going to tell you “what’s really wrong with the place” or if they “think it’s overpriced” or dish with you on “why the property hasn’t sold yet.”
Grab a cookie and take a look around. Just don’t count on the listing agent to place your concerns about buying the property over those of the sellers. That’s why you should consider getting a Buyer’s Agent to help you with your home purchase.
What should you look at while touring a home?
Before you head inside, take a walk around the block. Does the neighborhood appeal to you? Is the location a good fit for your life?
Next, take a walk around the exterior, the yard, or the outdoor space. When I tour buyers around a property, we always start outside first. I teach them to keep an eye out for water issues and water damage. We look for cracks and problems in the exterior. Check out the roof – does it look old or new or just okay? If there is a basement or crawl space? If so, you’ll need to pay the space a visit, too. Sure, basements and crawl spaces can be creepy, but they are an integral part of the house that should be evaluated. Is it wet? Are there signs of mold? Do you see cracks and structural shifting?
Once you head inside, evaluate the plan layout with respect to your lifestyle and expectations. Does it work for you? Locate the mechanicals in the home like the water heater and heating and air units. When were they manufactured, and what type of energy source do they operate on?
Even if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, don’t worry. Most buyers get a feel for a property that seems uncared for. A few tell-tale signs to check for are egregiously dirty air filters, signs of filth, safety hazards like shaky handrails and loose steps, faucets that are actively dripping, standing water, mold and mildew accumulation, musky smells or pet odors being covered up, or appliances with noticeably missing parts.
Best Questions to Ask While on the Property
While touring a property, ask about the age of the roof, water heater, and heating and air system. Is the property on sewer or septic? Has the seller recently performed any updates that aren’t obvious? What are the average utility bills for the home? Is anything still under a warranty that is transferable to a new owner? Which appliances are staying? Is the seller planning to leave any window treatments? Is there a Homeowner’s Association, and if so, what are the fees? What do the fees cover?
Oops! You’ve said too much!
As previously mentioned, the person hosting the Open House is usually a representative of the seller. It may not be in your best interest to let them in on your negotiating strategy or divulge private financial details about yourself if you want to buy that particular house. Consider getting a Buyer’s Real Estate Agent to help you prepare your offer, provide guidance on the purchase parameters, and submit your offer to the seller. A buyer’s agent is working on your behalf and therefore represents your interest in securing the contract with terms that work for you - and they'll help you get your home purchase to the closing table.
Touring Open Houses is a lot of fun! It’s the perfect way to get comfortable evaluating properties you might like to own while loading up on pastries. Along with taste testing coffee cake, be sure to walk the house carefully, looking for signs of problems or maintenance budget busters. Learn as much about the place as you can while you are there. Ask questions about any improvements and updates the sellers may have made. And make sure to walk the exterior of the property too! Take it all in, and then imagine yourself living there. Does it feel like home? If so, it may be the perfect place for you.
Happy House Hunting!