Whether you’re actively shopping for a new home or just curious about what different neighborhoods have to offer, there’s no better way to start your research than by attending open houses. Open houses are excellent tools that serve many purposes: finding a house you’d like to buy, dipping your toes into the housing market to see what you like, or to understand what your money can get you in the area you are looking to buy.
Open houses are nothing to be scared of, and they can be excellent learning experiences, but if you’ve never gone to an open house before, you might be nervous! We’ll walk you through the process and teach you how to go to an open house like someone who does it every weekend.
Step 1: Know why you’re going in (and be in alignment)
There are many reasons why someone might attend an open house, and it’s important for you to understand why you are going.
Define your open house mission:
- Did you just move to a new area and want to look at what’s available with hopes to buy eventually?
- Are you looking in an area where you don’t currently live to see what types of homes are in that market?
- Are you a current homeowner who wants to see what’s trendy on the sales market?
- Are you looking for your forever home (or your “for now” home)?
- Maybe you’re just looking at homes that are similar to yours to get new design inspiration.
All of these are totally acceptable reasons to attend an open house, but you’ll want to make sure you’re clear in your own mind around what you’re hoping to get out of your open house experience — and that friends, partners, or family members attending with you are aware of your intentions and on the same page with you.
Step 2: Talk to an agent first if you’re interested in buying
If your open house goal isn’t to buy soon, then there is no reason to involve an agent — but otherwise, an agent can give you valuable insight about different homes that you can’t get elsewhere, and also help you access open houses you wouldn’t be able to find on your own.
Agents are people, too, and often, they know each other! Tell your agent what open houses you are planning on attending, and often, they will be able to tell the agent listing the open house to expect you. This will show the seller that you are serious about buying and that you already have an agent representing you.
If you plan in advance, your agent may be able to attend the open house with you. If you see an open house while taking a walk and decide to go spontaneously, it’s unlikely that your agent can drop everything and come — but let them know that you went anyway. Pro Portland, Maine agent Holly Mitchell, who completes 12% more sales than the average agent in her area, says, “If you are already working with an agent, it’s always great to see if your agent can meet you at the open house. If they can’t, always tell them where you’re going — and be specific, because your agent can reach out to the listing agent.”
Mitchell adds that you can always sign the guestbook with your agent’s name instead of your own: “if a buyer wants to attend but they don’t want to have all their information out there to get emails or calls, it’s perfectly appropriate to sign your agent’s name. That way, the seller’s agent can follow up directly with your agent.”
Step 3: Get preapproved for a mortgage if you want to buy
This is another step that you can go ahead and skip if you are not looking to buy at the moment — but if you are, then getting preapproved for a mortgage while you are still in the process of attending open houses will ensure you’re only spending time touring homes that you can actually afford to buy!
If you do get preapproved for a mortgage, but you’re not totally sure what you want, it is a great idea to attend open houses that are within the price you are approved for to see what you will get for your money in the area (or areas) you are looking at.
Step 4: Decide how to organize your notes
No matter why you’re going to an open house, you probably want it to be a learning experience of some kind, and in order to remember what you learned, you’ll want to take notes.
There’s no doubt that the homes will start to all blur together if you don’t have a way to keep track of your experiences. Take notes, photos, and videos if you like, and be sure to highlight the specificities of the home that make it stand out.
Consider utilizing a house-hunting checklist or another way to document what you loved or didn’t love about each home — and which was which — to keep it all straight.
Step 5: Confer with experts about common red flags
When you are attending an open house, whether or not you are interested in buying right now, looking for potential damage will give you a greater understanding of the home’s price and teach you some red flags to look out for. Local real estate agents, home inspectors, and home contractors can help give you an inside scoop on common issues with homes in your area and their signs.
The big ones to check for typically include:
- Leaks under sinks, sticky windows and doors
- Cracks in ceilings and walls
- Water stains on walls and ceilings
- Evidence of mold or pests.
Research any common issues found in homes in the area that you are looking to buy, and find some folks who can educate you at a high level about how to find them.
Step 6: Find the open houses you want to attend
Strolling through neighborhoods where you’re interested in finding open houses can make for a fun Saturday, but it’s not the most effective way of finding open houses in your area.
To find all the best open houses, you can look online at your local MLS (multiple listing service), on real estate platforms, or posted on flyers or signs around town, especially at local real estate agencies.
Popular days are Saturdays and Sundays, so keep your weekend afternoons free if you are looking to attend several open houses.
Step 7: Plan your open house day
When you’ve got a list of houses that you’re excited to tour, you’ll need to plan your open house day.
Most open houses are only open for certain time windows, and if you want to hit several, you’ll need to plan which you’re attending first, and account for traffic and travel time, too.
Be sure to pay close attention to the time windows so you won’t be overbooking yourself and miss open houses that might just be the one!
Step 8: Be prepared to sign in
It is standard practice for open houses to require attendees to sign in. If you think about it, you’d probably want a record of any complete strangers who happened to have access to your house if the roles were reversed!
Many sign-in sheets will include fields for an email address, which you can withhold, but be ready to write down your real name and show an ID.
If you are interested in buying, you can also put down your agent’s name and email so the listing agent can get in contact with them.
Step 9: Know how to behave
There is a lot of literature out there about open house etiquette, so we’ll just cover the basics here.
Don’t crowd other buyers, and don’t overcrowd or take up too much of the seller’s agent’s time.
Don’t be a creep! Opening closets and doors to check out storage space is usually fine, but don’t start rummaging through drawers, papers, or personal items.
Always ask before taking pictures, and follow house rules. Open house rules can include requests like taking off your shoes, wearing booties, or wearing a mask if asked.
It’s common for agents to provide refreshments at an open house, but don’t expect to be fed, and don’t bring in outside food.
Most importantly, consider how you would like people to act if you were hosting an open house, and be respectful of the seller’s wishes.
Step 10: Ask lots of questions
Agents are there to help, and even if you aren’t actively shopping, they typically don’t mind answering your questions, so ask away. After all, this house might be a great fit for someone you know!
Agents know details about the house that might not be visible even a thorough glance. Mitchell says, “Agents will have property disclosures, and they should have copies available at open houses that you can look at while you walk around the home to learn about it.”
This property disclosure (which isn’t required in every state) will have many details about the house, including information about the age of systems in the home, the condition of the roof, any known plumbing issues, and much more.
Step 11: Don’t disclose too much about yourself!
If you are looking to buy, telling the listing agent at the open house your exact budget and why this is the perfect house for you is likely going to backfire if you get to the negotiating stage — so be polite but noncommittal about your opinions, and only talk in general price ranges, not specifics.
Unlike renting, where showings can feel competitive, buying requires a bit more of a poker face to get the right price. Also, don’t get stressed and start disclosing information about how keen you are to buy based on the number of attendees at an open house.
Remember, people go to open houses for all kinds of reasons, including just for fun. Rest assured that even a crowded open house might not get swamped with offers, though it does depend on the market.
Step 12: Wait until you leave to discuss the house with fellow attendees
You don’t want the agent to report back to the seller that you loved or hated the place, so wait until you’re in more private environments to debrief with your friends and fellow attendees. Go have a latté and mull over your pros and cons in private!
Whatever your open house needs currently are, don’t be afraid to head in. As long as you are respectful to the seller’s wishes and you stay mindful of the listing agent’s time, you’ll have a great opportunity to add to your home research. And you never know — you may end up closing on that home after the opening!
Header Image Source: (Sophie Nito / Unsplash)