How Well Do Open Houses Work If I’m Interested in Buying a Home?

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Buyers who want access to a broad selection of houses will usually start looking in spring and early summer when the weather gets nicer. Not-so-coincidentally, it’s the same time of year when there’ll be more open house signs posted on the front lawns of homes for sale. But the question many people have is, do open houses work — especially for buyers?

Approximately 53% of homebuyers attended an open house in 2018; only 7% purchased a home that they found through an open house. Even though the percentage of people who bought a home after discovering it at an open house may be low, the open house does have its uses and its drawbacks.

In this guide, we’ll list the pros and cons of attending open houses and answer that age-old question: “Do open houses work?”

A bed at an open house that works.
Source: (Francesca Tosolini / Unsplash)

Do open houses work, and what’s their purpose?

An open house is exactly what you’d think it means: when a home on the market opens its doors and welcomes interested buyers inside to walk through and decide whether they’d like to schedule a private showing.

Going to an open house gives interested buyers the chance to see the home in a way that pictures and virtual tours simply cannot convey. You aren’t going to know if the doors creak or stick in virtual tours. You can’t tell if the cabinets smell just by looking at the pictures. You can’t even get a good sense of how your stuff will fit in the rooms only by looking at pictures!

Top-selling real estate agent in St. Louis, Missouri, Toyin Oduwole, shares some insight about open houses:

“The benefit of attending open houses is that it gives you some time to see if this house stacks up to what you need it to be. I think that looking at the property online is one thing, which is fine to do. But, I think being able to see the property in person will show any flaws with the property that you can’t see in video or photographs.”

Other than spotting potential flaws, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of attending open houses.

Do open houses work? The pros

You can see the house at its best

Remember that saying, “A clean home is a happy home?” People want to picture their families living in the house they’re considering purchasing. That doesn’t mean they want to see fingerprints all over walls, cobwebs in the corners, or dust bunnies hiding out under the appliances.

Sellers want buyers to see their home in the best light, so they’ll give the house a thorough cleaning. They’ll take the time to clean areas of the home that probably don’t get taken care of regularly, like scrubbing the walls, polishing cabinet knobs, decluttering junk drawers and closets, for example. The seller might even invest in hiring a cleaning service to ensure their house is sparkling clean — which could cost up to $390 or more.

You can browse a house without being under pressure

If you’ve been on a showing with a real estate agent, you might have felt awkward when turning on the faucets, opening and closing windows, or flipping the switches. Open houses are casual events where potential buyers can look at the important things without feeling pressured to do only cursory inspections and keep moving.

Also, you don’t have to have an agent with you. You can attend an open house even if you haven’t found an agent you’d like to have to represent you.

“It’s a way for the buyer to interview that agent without the agent really knowing and just see if this is the person that you think you could work with,” Owudole shares. “You can see if they’re knowledgeable about the area, and even if this house may not be a good fit for you, maybe this agent can introduce you to homes that may work out for you.”

You don’t have to be pre-qualified

Usually, when you want to look at a house, the listing agent will ask your agent if you’ve been prequalified or preapproved for a mortgage. They’ll ask this because they want to make sure you’re a qualified and serious buyer. After all, time is money.

Yet, because open houses are open to the public, you don’t have to have any pre-qualifications. You can wake up one morning, check out the internet for local open houses, and make a day of browsing houses with no intention of buying.

Going to an open house can be an excellent first step for those who are thinking about buying a home but haven’t started the process yet. You can get an idea of what the housing development and neighborhood is like. You can also see how far their budget can go in terms of amenities, square footage, and location.

Source: (Marten Bjork / Unsplash)

Do open houses work? The cons

You won’t be the only one looking

One setback about attending an open house is that you probably aren’t going to be the only one there. There may be a handful of people moving through the house, and you won’t be able to look at everything as thoroughly as you’d like.

“A lot of agents use the open house as the first showing for property to get potential buyers in at one time to see the property. It also creates that sense of urgency among buyers so that they can see and feel that there’s another interest in the property,” Oduwole says.

Looking at the house will take longer than a private showing

Most real estate agents will schedule a private showing for 15 to 30 minutes, which gives the potential homebuyer time to look through the house and take note of the finer details. However, open houses usually are the first time someone is looking at the home. Since you won’t be the only one at the open house, you can expect to spend more time viewing the house.

Keep in mind that while the open house might be the first time seeing the house, it’s recommended that you view a property more than once. Ten percent of buyers will buy a home after the first viewing, but most will request two, three, or four visits before buying.

The listing agent will be there

Remember how it was mentioned that open houses are a great way to interview the listing agent if you aren’t working with an agent yet? In a way, this can be a double-edged sword because if there aren’t many people at the open house, the agent will be more attentive than if the house was packed. They might stay within earshot so they can be around to answer questions. They might even stay with you as you go through each room, trying to increase your interest by highlighting various features.

If they find out that you aren’t working with an agent yet, they might even target you as a potential client, which can be uncomfortable for some people. Non-confrontational people could also be talked into meeting with an aggressive agent at a later time simply because they couldn’t say no.

Suppose you don’t have a buyer’s agent, and you’re in love with the house. The open house was a success, and you see that there are many people showing interest. If you ask the listing agent to work with you to submit an offer, then that agent is now a dual agent, meaning they represent both the buyer and the seller. Some people don’t mind working with an agent that represents both parties, while others question whether or not the agent has their best interest at heart.

Schedules for an open house are not flexible

Open houses tend to be held on Sunday afternoons and only for a couple of hours. If you have a job where you’re off on the weekends, then you’ve got nothing to worry about!

However, if you work on the weekends or have other obligations, it’s going to be very hard to attend many (if any) open houses without some careful rearranging of your schedule. If you have to see that particular house, you’re going to have to set up a private showing with the listing agent, which will probably require the prequalification mentioned above.

An open house that works.
Source: (Taylor Simpson / Unsplash)

Bottom line: Do open houses work for buyers?

Open houses have a lot of good things that can work in a buyer’s favor. Buyers can go to an open house without needing an appointment or an agent to represent them. They can take their time looking through the house and pay close attention to the finer details. They won’t have the sellers or a listing agent shadowing them and make them feel like they have to look over things quickly and keep it moving.

Open houses allow people who have just started house-hunting the opportunity to look at the desired neighborhood the house is in and determine if that’s somewhere they’d like to live. If there are other open houses in the community, they can compare the homes to one another to find a better deal for their money without pressure from the agents.

As helpful as going to an open house can be, it won’t always be in your best interest to go to one — especially if you want to take your time looking without the listing agent being a distraction or trying to recruit you as a client.

Do open houses work? That depends on what you want! And if you don’t really know what you want yet, a real estate agent will be a valuable resource in figuring it out and how to proceed.

Header Image Source: (Vinicius Amano / Unsplash)