10 Open House Etiquette Fails You Can Learn From
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- 5 min read
Christine Bartsch Contributing AuthorCloseChristine Bartsch Contributing Author
Former art and design instructor Christine Bartsch holds an MFA in creative writing from Spalding University. Launching her writing career in 2007, Christine has crafted interior design content for companies including USA Today and Houzz.
At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.
Open houses offer a sweet deal for visitors. Whether you go to indulge in the free wine and snacks, sign up for giveaways, or gush over waterfront views, you’re welcome to drop by.
That’s the beauty of an open-door policy (and why attending open houses has become somewhat of a hobby for real estate enthusiasts). There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy these events, especially as a serious buyer on a mission.
But just like any public outing, there are expectations for what’s polite and courteous…and what will draw attention as being rude or inconsiderate.
Rather than present you with a bunch of boring rules, we’ve made it a little more fun with a list of buyers you don’t want to be just because you weren’t familiar with open house etiquette:
1. The permissive parent
Whether you should bring kids to an open house is a dilemma any parent understands.
In many cases, depending on your child’s age, temperament, and how much planning you’re able to do, it’s often better to hire a sitter and leave the kids at home. Towing them along presents safety risks and headaches for you as a parent.
But it isn’t always possible to find child care when both spouses work (which is the case for 66% of American families) or if you stop by an open house spontaneously and have the kids with you. In that case you’ll need to keep a close watch and set some ground rules.
“If you bring your kids to an open house, don’t let them run around unsupervised, or interrupt the home tours,” says top-performing agent Ann-Marie Sharp of the Atlanta, Georgia suburb of Cumming.
“Tell your kids to be respectful and treat the house like it’s a museum, so that the seller’s agent doesn’t need to be concerned about damage to their client’s property.”
Try to avoid scheduling back-to-back open houses with kids, too. Take breaks to have lunch or split up the tours over a couple of days. Even if you’ve scheduled breaks, be aware of your kids’ energy levels and attitudes so that you know when they’re about to hit a wall.
2. The early bird or late arriver
This one is an age-old rule that Emily Post included in her iconic book on etiquette way back in 1922: Do not arrive at an open-house party too early, or too late.
Open houses are by definition events that invite guests to come and go as they please — but that only holds true for the duration of the event.
If an open house is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m., don’t show up at 1:15 or 5:30 and expect to be welcomed with open arms.
“Most real estate agents are on the clock 24/7, but we still do have families,” says Sharp.
“When buyers arrive at the open house after hours, that may intrude on our valuable family time — not to mention the homeowners, who simply want to come home after the open house and live their lives.”
If you can’t make it during the open house hours, schedule a private showing at a later date.
3. The helicopter buyer
When you’re the only buyer at an open house, it’s natural for the seller’s agent to give you their full attention. However, if you’re at a well-attended open house party, don’t monopolize the agent’s time.
Open houses offer a large number of buyers a first look at the house, simply to learn if the house has the right size, layout, or design to suit their needs.
If you decide you’re serious about purchasing it, chat with your own agent about your interest and to come up with a list of questions you’d like to ask the listing agent.
Then have your agent set up a showing to find out more information and discuss what it will take to put together a successful offer.
4. The mysterious lurker
No agent likes a buyer who’s constantly in their face with endless questions, but there is such a thing as being too quiet at an open house.
“Our rule is safety first. So, I’m always wary at open houses, especially when a potential buyer expects me to walk ahead of them into the basement or a closet,” says Sharp.
Some buyers are introverts who hate crowds and parties. If you’d rather have a one-on-one, private conversation about the property with the listing agent, the open house isn’t the place for that.
Instead, have your agent arrange a private showing for just you, your agent, and the listing agent.
5. The private investigator
You’re welcome to open a closet or two at the open house and peek in the kitchen cabinets to get a feel for a home’s storage space. But don’t act like you’re searching a crime scene. If you’d like to make an offer, you’ll be able to check out a house more in depth at that time.
Until then, you shouldn’t:
- Check medicine cabinets
- Pick at peeling paint
- Pull down the attic ladder
- Flip light switches
- Play with the blinds
- Flush toilets
- Run faucets
- Open up the electrical box or other main systems of the house
If your worried about the condition of the house, ask your home inspector to pay careful attention to any items that have you particularly worried — after you put in an offer.
6. The guitar strummer
You’re free to observe a home’s lovely crown molding, enjoy the views of the backyard, and size up whether the bathrooms have enough counter space. But you shouldn’t get up close and intimate with a homeowner’s personal property.
It would be inappropriate to do things like:
- Thumb through books on a shelf
- Strum guitars or plunk on pianos
- Turn on the television
- Pick up décor like sculptures or vases
- Use hand lotions or spray perfume like you’re at a department store
“No one wants someone coming into their home and touching their private things,” says Sharp. “When you do that at an open house, you’re creating a lot of stress for the seller’s agent, who has to spend time protecting their client’s belongings rather than staying focused on selling the house.”
7. The hungry ‘helper’
Drinks and snacks are complimentary at an open house, but that doesn’t mean you should get carried away at the refreshment table spread, bring to-go containers, or assume you can grab extra beverages for the road.
“An open house isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet, so don’t take so much that there’s nothing left for other guests,” says Sharp.
“If the open house isn’t successful and the seller’s agent invites the few buyers who came to take as much as they’d like then, by all means, eat your fill and take some from the road. Just don’t do so without asking first.”
One refreshment per guest is the accepted limit for beverages and each food item (basically, if there’s a selection of three to five different hors d’oeuvre, you’re free to take one of each).
The only exception is if the open house is serving up both alcoholic beverages and water bottles — then one of either is acceptable.
8. The footwear offender
Stick to these three basic footwear rules when you attend open houses:
- Don’t wear shoes that leave marks or scuffs
- Only take off your shoes if the host asks you to or there’s a sign instructing you to do so
- Put on the open house shoe booties at the door on request
Taking off your shoes automatically is a major open house faux pas — especially if you’re in bare feet. You’re making yourself too at home.
Be prepared for any scenario, though — wear socks with your shoes, or bring an extra clean pair of shoes along.
Also be mindful of stilettos. If you’re going to wear them to an open house — stay off the lawn. These heels are notorious for making holes, which will end with you leaving tiny mud tracks throughout the house.
9. The time waster
This one is for those “buyers” who aren’t actually potential buyers — you’re there to check out the house, but you don’t plan to make an offer.
Maybe you’re a curious neighbor who’s always wanted to see inside this house. Or perhaps you’re currently in escrow on a house nearby and you’re attending to satisfy your FOMO (fear of missing out).
Most agents are actually fine with both of those scenarios — as long as you’re honest about your intentions.
“It’s fine for neighbors to drop by an open house, just be honest about why you’re there,” says Sharp.
“That way the seller’s agent knows your intentions, and they won’t devote any time to selling you on the house or giving you information that you don’t need.”
Agents expect the neighbors to come take a look when they have an open house; what they don’t need is a lookie-loo wasting their time pretending they’re a serious buyer.
If you’re just there because you’re curious, come on in — but there’s no need to pretend you’re serious about putting in an offer.
10. The know-it-all
As you tour the home, avoid the urge to comment on things like how much the landscaping adds to the water bill, or when things will need replacing, like the HVAC, windows, or wiring.
If you suspect a possible issue, ask the listing agent about it or discuss it privately with your own agent. Don’t go announcing your unsubstantiated thoughts out loud. This will offend the seller’s agent and misinform other buyers at the open house.
The well-behaved open house guest
Courtesy and respect are the foundation of good behavior in any situation — and it’s vital for open house guests.
You’re going to be exploring someone else’s most private space while they’re not even around to keep an eye on you — so act how you’d want someone to behave if they were in your own home.
After all, the fact that strangers will be snooping about their house while they’re not home is why some nervous sellers actually stop by their own open house!
And if the owners happen to swing by and spot you misbehaving in one of these ways — you risk them rejecting any offer from you before you’ve even made one.
Header Image Source: (RossHelen/ Shutterstock)